New York, NY Jefferson Hotel Fire, Jan 1901

Thrilling Rescues At A Hotel Fire

The Jefferson on East Fifteenth St. Burned Early Yesterday.

Two Women Were Killed.

A Score or More Were Severely Injured and One Hundred and Fifty Lives Were Imperiled.

Fire broke out at 4 o’clock yesterday morning in the Hotel Jefferson, 102, 104, and 106 East Fifteenth Street, between Irving Place and Fourth Avenue, and before the firemen got the flames under control two women were killed, a score were more or less severely injured, a dozen thrilling rescues were made, and the lives of over 150 guests were imperiled.

One of the women, while in the act of being saved by the firemen when the rope broke that was holding her, and in the presence of thousands of spectators and in the glare of a fire engine searchlight, fell headlong six stories to the sidewalk. Her head was crushed, and she was so certainly beyond help that for a while the body was left to lie untouched on the sidewalk, while the firemen in the rush and roar and confusion went on with more urgent work. Another woman was found suffocated and partly burned in her room on the seventh floor.

The Dead:
ELEANOR D. DOWNING, a Bellevue Hospital nurse, who was killed when the rope swinging her to safety broke.
KITTY FAY, a chambermaid, employed in the hotel.

The Injured:
Mrs. E. WALDO NASON, whose newborn baby died only the day before, and who was being attended by the nurse who was killed, suffering seriously from shock and exposure. Taken to a private hospital.
E. WALDO NASON, who was ill with grip, and whose condition is considered precarious; taken to a private hospital.
Col. WILLIAM GILDERSLEEVE, a lawyer, severely cut about the body by broken glass.
J.P. WALSH, a contractor, cut by glass about head and body.
H.W. BOLTZ, hands lacerated by sliding down a fire-escape rope.
JOHN KELLEHER, a porter, burned about the face and arms while coming down a fire-escape in the rear of the hotel.
Mrs. J. E. CHATFIELD, wife of the proprietor of the hotel, lacerated hands, torn by lowering her mother out of a sixth story window.

Many other were there who received medical attendance from the ambulance surgeons and doctors I the neighborhood, but escaped in the confusion without giving their names to police.

The cause of the fire is ascribed to defective insulation on electric light wires in the pantry, next to the dining room and adjoining the elevator shaft on the ground floor, on the Fifteenth side of the hotel. From here the flames spread rapidly, breaking the glass window leading from the pantry to the elevator shaft.

Up the shaft the flames roared as if the huge chimney had been especially provided. Clear to the top floor they went, spreading out in the seventh floor like a huge fire tree. In the shaft on the different floors were glass windows. These were broken by the heat, and volumes of smoke sucked up with the flames, were sent into every floor of the hotel, at once spreading terror, even before the inmates were half awake.

Many Women and Children There.

The Hotel Jefferson is a seven-story brick family hotel. Many of it guests are permanent occupants of apartments, and have for years made the hotel their home. There were many women and children in the hotel, therefore, shortly before 4 o’clock yesterday morning Night Clerk FRED W. ROBERTSON left his desk to awaken the cleaning girls on the seventh floor. Everything seemed in order at that time. ROBERTSON called the girls and was on his way down stairs on the ground floor when he smelled smoke. Almost at that same instant the door of the pantry burst open, and thick volumes of smoke poured into the hallway. ROBERTSON ran toward the pantry but was driven back and, pulling the special building fire alarm box he ran up the stairs to notify the proprietor. Mr. CHATFIELD’S room was on the sixth floor. He jumped out of bed as he was in his pajamas, and in bare feet rushed down the stairs. The smoke on the ground floor was already so stifling that CHATFIELD had to stoop low toward the floor to catch his breath. He heard the flames crackling in the pantry, and the first flame leaped up the elevator shaft, lighting the darkened corridors bright as day. Without waiting he threw open the street door. He ran into the street and sent in another alarm from the box at Fifteenth street and Fourth Avenue. Before he could get back Truck 3 from Fourteenth Street had pulled up in front of the hotel.

“I went with the firemen, who were dragging in hose, intending to show them the way to the pantry, but the fire was already in the dining room, and I was driven back by the heat.” Mr. CHATFIELD said, relating his experiences. “The firemen went into the room, dragging their hose after them, and how they stood the scorching I will never understand. In they piled with more and more hose, while the crews of other engines and trucks ran upstairs to awaken the sleepers. Owing to flames and smoke I could not get near my own door, therefore I ran to a side door, which I found locked. I knocked and my wife opened the door. She was standing in the room and her hands were uplifted and bleeding. She had lowered her mother, Mrs. F.A. STREETER, out the window by means of a fire-escape rope, and she had cut and lacerated her hands. I found my wife almost completely dressed, but I made her put on a fur coat, and, as I looked out the window to think about the chances of lowering her to the ground. I saw Truck 20 had its ladders up to the fourth floor and that the men were making preparations to use the extension ladder to get us out. As we were waiting for this a shout of horror arose from people in the street, and something white flashed by the window. As the ladder was nearing us I saw a fireman already on top, waiting for the instant it would touch the wall. I was fully dressed except for one shoe, which I could not find. The fireman jumped into the room. He would not let me hunt for the shoe, so I went down with him and my wife with one foot uncovered. I found my wife’s mother in the Irving Place Livery stable, where policemen were taking the rescued to, and, after leaving the women with each other, a fireman loaned me a pair of rubber boots, and they are the ones I have been wearing all day.”

The NASON’S Thrilling Rescue

While the CHATFIELD’S were being rescued the audience of thousands on the street had been shocked with one of the most weird sights ever seen at a night fire. On the sixth floor of the hotel on the Fifteenth Street side, and adjoining the Union Square Hotel, lived E. WALDO NASON with his wife. Mrs. NASON was seriously ill, and NASON himself was confined to his bed with an attack of grip which had come upon him the day before. The trained nurse, ELEANOR D. DOWNING, therefore had two patients on her hands. It was while the fire was at its height, and when it threatened to prove another Windsor horror, that the plight of these people was discovered. All of the electric lights in the hotel had long since gone out, dense volumes of smoke were belching from every window on every floor, and the firemen had to feel every inch of ground they covered, when a momentary burst of flame from the roof lighted the forms of three persons in the window of the sixth story. The searchlight was turned on them, and orders came from a dozen speaking trumpets below which bellowed, “Don’t jump! Don’t jump!”

The window at which stood the NASON’S and the nurse was within ten feet of the house line of the Union Square Hotel, and about the same distance lower than the roof of this building. Deputy Chief AHEARN and Policeman SCHICK had run into the Union Square Hotel, and, as they appeared on the roof armed with a rope, the glare of the searchlight was turned full on the group. The men on the roof leaned far over, and letting down the rope to the level of the window, they swung it back and forth, pendulum fashion, until it swung far enough to be reached by the man and two women. A mighty cheer went up as NASON caught the rope, and a minute later Mrs. NASON was let out of the window. She swung back and forth on the end of the rope, and then hands from the window in the Union Square Building, directly under where the rescuers were standing, reached out and drew the woman to safety. Mr. NASON, being ill and weak, the nurse tied the rope under his arms, and he in turn was swung to safety. Only the nurse remained. The smoke by this time was pouring out of the NASON’S apartment, and no time was to be lost. For the third time AHEARN and SCHICK swung the rope over toward the window where the woman stood. Despite the searchlight she could not see the rope, so thick was the smoke, but a draught cleared the view, and she seized it and tied it under her arms. Then she jumped into space. Almost at the same instant there was a wild shriek from the woman, and before the crowd realized what had happened her body, outlined in a white nightdress against the black smoke, shot down headfirst through the glare of the searchlight and to the sidewalk. There was a groan from the crowd as the body struck the pavement. The ninety-foot extension ladder was still against the sixth floor, and firemen were rescuing people down it when at the window of the fifth floor a woman appeared. She stood on the coping of the window, and, while the crowd yelled to her not to jump, she sprang out toward the underside of the ladder, and for an instant seemed as if she must lose her hold. Then she lowered herself hand under hand, sailor fashion, until within eight feet of the ground, when she weakened and lost her hold. She fell into the arms of a fireman.

Fireman TIGHE of Engine Company 13, not on duty at the fire, happened to pass the hotel s it was ablaze. He rushed into the work as a volunteer, and was one of the first men up the ladder. He brought down a Mr. and Mrs. MARKS. Policeman SCHICK, the same who had assisted in the rescue of the NASONS, ran into the hotel about this time, and fighting his way up against the smoke and heat found two men in a hallway. They were too badly frightened to get out, and had to be dragged out. One of them was S.P. ANDERSON, a commission merchant of Philadelphia, and the other’s identity is not known. Fireman MUN of Water Tower 2 had followed SCHICK into the hotel, and brought Mrs. MAX [illegible] from the fourth floor.

Mrs. CORWIN’S Rescue

Aided by the searchlight, the firemen returned to a window on the fourth floor and brought down Mrs. CORWIN, who, although scantily clad, wore valuable jewels. When she was halfway down the ladder she told the firemen she could finish the descent unaided. They let her climb down the rest of the way alone, and, when she got to the bottom, she jumped from the rungs of the ladder and thanked the firemen for their assistance.

The searchlight was turned on a window at the seventh floor, at which it was thought a woman had been seen, and the ladder was raised to that window. A moment later the stalwart form of a policeman appeared at that window. He had heard screams and made his way through the smoke and fire to find the person who needed help.

“It’s only a cop,” said the firemen, leaving the policeman to make his way down the ladder unaided.

Fireman HAGEMAN searched for the woman, but could not find her, and returned to the street. It is believed that the cries for help were uttered by the woman, KITTY FAY, whose body was afterward found in her room.

Meanwhile, while the crowd was gazing on the rescues from the front of the building, stirring scenes away from the searchlights and the assistance of scaling ladders were being enacted on the fire-escapes on the rear of the building. The hotel adjoined on the rear a Hungarian restaurant, the roof of which came to the third story of the hotel. The distance between these buildings is five feet. Three employees of Steinway Hall were awakened, and at once climbed onto the roof of the restaurant to lend assistance. As the men came out they saw a man pick up a woman and throw her bodily across the five-foot chasm. Then he threw a trunk after the woman and jumped himself to safety. The man was E. LYNCH of San Francisco, and the woman was his wife. The Steinway men procured planks and bridging the chasm, helped many who had climbed down the fire-escapes to the level of the roof.

One of those rescued in this way was EDWARD MARSHALL, the war correspondent, who was shot in the spine in Cuba.


“I was awakened by noises in the house, and was about to go to sleep again when I saw a man with a lantern on the fire-escape outside my room. ‘What’s up’ I asked ‘House is on fire’ the man answered,” said Mr. MARSHALL speaking of his escape. “I had that night, received from my publishers a new novel, which I had written for revision. I had only the one manuscript, and the first thought was to save that. Neither of my legs is any good. The one is cork and the other paralyzed, and it struck me it would be a good thing to get my cork leg if I intended to leave. I could not find it for some time, and finally when I did it would not work. But I got over the planking of the Steinway people, and went from there to the street. There were many poor women sitting in the cold shivering, and I bought them whisky and hustled around and go them clothing. That took me until 10 o’clock and I was tired, so I went over to the Fifth Avenue hotel and had a good sleep.”

The fire was scarcely out when complaints began to arrive in the East twenty-second street station that guests had been robbed during the confusion. The police admitted that much money, jewelry, and many valuable papers had been stolen, and they said they thought they could arrest the thief. Acting Capt. FAGAN was at the fire shortly after it started and policemen were stationed at all entrances of the building to prevent outsiders from coming in.

After the fire was out the rope that had broken and caused the death of the nurse was examined by the police. The rope was part of a patent rope fire-escape. This consisted of cotton belt provided with snap hooks, and intended to pass under the arms. The snap hooks fastened in the front and hooked into the “lower-away rope” which was provided with a lever to allow slower or faster descent as desired. The rope was one-half inch cotton woven window [illegible] rope. When the body of the dead girl was picked up five feet of the “lower-away rope” including the belt and the regulating lever, was still attached. There was a clean break in the rope, as if it had been cut by the sharp edge of a window coping. To whom the rope belonged is not known. The rope fire-escape in the NASON’S room is of a different patent. Besides the regular rope of the Hotel Jefferson, belonging to the NASON’S room was found in its place untouched and coiled.

The NASON’S were taken to the private hospital at 82 East Thirty-Fifth Street, where they are attended by Dr. E. A. TUCKER. Dr. TUCKER said late last night that both patients were in a precarious condition, the wife owing to shock and the husband to pneumonia, which was almost certain to develop.

The New York Times, New York, NY 31 Jan 1901