New York, NY Mason House Fire, Jan 1905


William T. Mason, Wife, Two Children, and Servant Lose Lives.


Former Police Commissioner's Son and His Wife Went Upstairs to Save Little Girl.

The entire family of William T. Mason, a young lawyer of 63 Wall Street, and son of the late Police Commissioner Joel W. Mason, was lost in a fire at his home, 133 West One Hundred and Thirtieth Street, early yesterday morning. Mrs. Mason, her two-year-old daughter, Marion, and a servant girl, Annie Wells, were burned. Mr. Mason and the two-months-old baby, Helen, were apparently smothered to death.

The whole house was on fire and the family beyond help before any trouble was discovered. How the blaze began nobody knows yet. But the firemen suspect it started from an overheated flue from the furnace in the cellar. Before the streams of water had stopped playing on it the interior of the house was practically destroyed.

Policeman Mangin discovered the fire. He smelled smoke at 1:30 o'clock, but couldn't detect its source for several minutes. Meanwhile he turned in a fire alarm, anyway. Then he saw smoke coming from the Mason house.

Rushing to the basement window, he put his hand against the pane of glass. It was so hot that it burned him. Then he dashed up the stoop and tried to break in the window on the first floor. A puff of smoke and flame drove him back. Then he ganged heavily upon the doors of the near-by houses and shouted to the families living in them to get out if they wanted to save their lives.

By this time the first fire engine had arrived, with Capt. Hughes in charge. Shivering, half-clad men, women, and children poured out of the houses. The fire in the home of Mr. Mason was well under way then; the inside was a furnace, and the firemen were unable to get inside. Several thought they heard a scream. Three engines were puffing away, and in the street, which had been still a few minutes before, there was a racket. Yet there was no sign of the Mason family.


A tall fireman called to his companions and made another dash up the stoop into the flames. Four or five of his fellows followed. A minute they were out of sight of the crowd, and a cheer went up. But it was only for a minute. Swept back again, the men had to retreat to the street.

When it seemed certain that no help could reach the family in time to save their lives some of the neighbors of the Masons began to cry out. Three or four women, standing as near the house as the firemen allowed them, were evidently close friends of the victims. Their despair was so violent that they had to be led away and back to their homes.

At last the streams of water began to tell on the fire. Capt. Hughes and his men were able to get on the first floor and fight it from the inside. When the way was cleared to the third floor, policemen and firemen found the victims. The bodies of the family were lying on the floor lifeless. Mrs. Mason's hands were stretched out toward her two-year-old daughter. The father of the family had come up from the second floor to help in the work of rescue, and had been overcome in the hall.

Policeman Hayden carried the bodies downstairs.

"I've seen a good many tough things," he said, "but this was the worst. There was the whole family---father, mother, and two daughters---killed all in a minute. I believe they died in two minutes from the time they work up and found out their house was on fire.


"Mr. Mason and his wife were sleeping on the second floor with the young baby. The little girl, Marion, was on the floor above with the servant girl, Annie Wells. When the smoke woke them up--you could tell by the way their bodies were found---the father picked up the baby and the wife rushed upstairs to the other little girl. The house must have been a furnace by that time. They rushed upstairs, the wife in front, toward the room where their daughter was sleeping with the girl. Before they got there they both collapsed. The two on the upper floor may have died without waking."

Mr. Mason's brother, Joel Mason, heard of the fire after it was all over. He went to the house and made an examination to find out just what had happened. He had the doors closed, and everybody but relatives of the dead family was excluded from the house. The search for the cause of the fire led only to surmises. The only was it could have begun, the brother of the dead man thinks, was from the furnace in the cellar.

The street in front of the house was crowded all day. Many of the curiosity seekers tried to get into the house, but they were barred.

There was one member of the household who escaped the fate of the rest. This was a negro maid, Nellie Doyle. She was not in the house at the time of the fire. She had gone out the night before to a party, and did not return until after the house was in ruins.

Mr. Mason's father, Joel W. Mason, who was once Police Commissioner, was a chair manufacturer. He sent his son William to the New York City schools. Afterward the boy went to the Columbia Grammar School. Later he attended the Columbia Art School and the Columbia Law School. He was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa and of the Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity.

After finishing his college course he entered the practice of law in this city. About three years ago he married Miss Claire Higgons.

Mr. Mason was Superintendent of the Sunday school at the Mount Morris Baptist Church, in Fifth Avenue, near One Hundred and Twenty-sixth Street, of which church he was member of the Seventh Regiment. His specialty was real estate law. He was thirty-one years old.

The funeral of the Mason family will be held at the Mount Morris Baptist Church to-morrow evening at 8 o'clock.

At the meeting of the Rockefeller Bible Class, at the Fifth Avenue Baptist Church, yesterday the announcement of Mr. Mason's death was received with surprise and sorrow. He had often attended meetings of the class, and was well known to its members.

The New York Times, New York, NY 16 Jan 1905