New York, NY Tenement Fire, Aug 1889




New York, Aug. 19. -- Undoubtedly one of the most awful horrors which this city has known for years came early this morning when a crowded West-Side tenement-house suffered a partial destruction by fire, and many of the tenants losing their lives. As a result of the calamity the Nineteenth precinct station on West Thirtieth street has been converted into a temporary charnel-house, and nine charred and blackened bodies tell the story of the frightful disaster.
At 5:45 o'clock this morning the tenement-house No. 305 Seventh avenue, near Twenty-seventh street, was discovered on fire. On the firemen reaching the place the building was ablaze from ground floor to roof. In the street outside there was the wildest excitement. A crowd had quickly gathered, and many tenants who had made their escape in their night clothes stood among the throng weeping bitterly, and almost frantic with despair.
The firemen did their work well and in fifteen minutes they had the conflagration in hand, while in half an hour all danger from further destruction was over. At first it was thought that all the tenants had escaped in safety, but a rumor was spread that a woman was badly burned in one of the rooms directly over the basement restaurant. One of the ambulance surgeons who had been called, but whose name could not be learned, climbed up a ladder over the fire escape and into the window, through which dense clouds of smoke still poured. He soon appeared at the window with a woman in his arms and carried her bodily to the sidewalk below. Although still alive she was unconscious and died almost as soon as she reached the street. The firemen then began the work of hunting for the dead in earnest. On the first floor, in addition to the woman, NELLIE McGEOGHAN, aged 20, there were found WILLIAM McKEE, aged 47, and WILLIAM GLENNON, aged 60. They were both smothered in their beds and probably were not conscious of the fire. On the second floor lived MARY WELLS, a mother thirty-one years old, and her two children, JANE, aged four, and THOMAS, aged two. They were all found dead in bed together, the children being clasped in each others arms as if sleeping peacefully. On the third floor were found BERTHA LUSTIG, forty years old, and JANE JEFFREY, sixty-five years old. The former was discovered but a few feet from the window in the front of the house, and the latter in bed in a rear room. They were both dead. On the top floor was found the body of an unknown man, about forty-five years old. The body was considerably burned, and was blackened from head to foot. All the bodies were taken in a patrol wagon to the Thirtieth Street station.
So far as at present known the only persons injured by the fire were two sons of William Glennon, WILLIAM JR., and JOHN. They were badly burned about the limbs and body and were taken to the New York Hospital.
The cause of the fire has not yet been definitely ascertained. It is stated, however, that it began in the restaurant of John Snyder on the ground floor. According to Snyder's story he was on the sidewalk sweeping the flagstones when he saw a blaze in the kitchen in the rear of his place. In the kitchen at the time were Walter Brooks, the colored cook, and Joseph Plunkett, a waiter. Snyder rushed back into the restaurant and with the help of his employes tried to put out the fire. When he found this was impossible he sent one of the men upstairs to alarm the tenants. The fire, however, had gained such a headway that this alarm did but little good, and Snyder, becoming frightened, rung in an alarm from the box on the street. Both Snyder and his two men were arrested and locked up.
Brooks, the cook, said that the fire resulted from an overheated range, and that the drum of the range took fire first, and that it then communicated to the woodwork about the kitchen.
Snyder's restaurant is said to have been a place of questionable character, and at the police station this morning it was openly alleged that Brooks, the cook, was drunk when he was arrested.
It is said that $3,000 will cover the loss on the building, which is insured. Many of the tenants lost all they had. Mr. Sire, the senior partner of the firm which owned the building, said this morning that he would furnish places for all the tenants to live in free of charge until the burned building is repaired and again ready for occupancy.
Acting Captain Schmidtberger of the Thirtieth Street police station said: "The circumstances under which the fire occurred are, to say the least, suspicious. I have questioned the three men separately, and there are certain discrepancies which they should be called upon to explain. Snyder has kept the place four or five years, and his reputation is none too good. It was open day and night, and occasionally some very lively scenes have taken place in it. The colored cook, Brooks, says that they have not done much business lately. Snyder had $1,000 insurance on his fixtures, which, I think, is more than they are worth, The policy expires September 24, and, strange to say, had the policy in his pocket when arrested."

The Rolla New Era 1889-08-31