Brooklyn, NY Conway Theater Disaster, Dec 1876

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The Brooklyn Theatre Fire was a catastrophic theatre fire that broke out on the evening of December 5, 1876, in the then-city of Brooklyn, now a borough of New York City, New York, United States. The conflagration killed at least 278 individuals, with some accounts reporting more than 300 dead. One hundred and three unidentified victims were interred in a common grave at Green-Wood Cemetery. An obelisk near the main entrance at Fifth Avenue and 25th Street marks the burial site. More than two dozen identified victims were interred individually in separate sections at the Cemetery of the Evergreens in Brooklyn.

The Brooklyn Theatre Fire ranks third in fatalities among fires occurring in theatres and other public assembly buildings in the United States, falling behind the 1942 Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire and the 1903 Iroquis Theatre Fire.

Fatalities mainly arose in the family circle, typically the highest tier of seats in a theatre and offering the least expensive seating. Only one stairway served this gallery, which sustained extreme temperatures and dense, suffocating smoke early in the conflagration. The stairway jammed with people, cutting off the escape of more than half of the gallery's occupants, who quickly succumbed to smoke inhalation.


Conway' s Theatre, Brooklyn, N. Y.

Date: December 5, 1876.

Time of fire: During the last act of the performance of " The Two Orphans."

Number of people in audience: About 1000, viz., 250 in parquet, 350 in balcony, 405 in the gallery.

Cause of fire: A border caught fire from the border-lights, perhaps owing to a sudden draft, caused by opening a window. The fire was increased by the opening of a large door at the back of the stage.

Number of persons killed: 283, all from the upper gallery.
Location: Building stood detached on three sides.

Construction: Ordinary, but with well-arranged exits, permitting the emptying of the theatre in from 5 to 6 minutes.

Plan of theatre: Considered comparatively good at the time.
Chief defects: No fire-proof curtain, no water available for fire purposes. No fire-hose at the fire-hy­drants, nor any other fire-extinguishing appliances available. Auxiliary exit doors for the gallery kept closed. Only one staircase for the gallery. Stage
overcrowded with scenery. Loft over the auditorium filled with much inflammable scenic material. Pro­scenium of wood. During fire the gas was turned off in the street.

Twelve Prominent Theatre Fire Calamities of this Century [1800s] from Theatre Fires and Panics: Their Causes and Prevention, New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1896, pages 14-15