New York, NY Park Avenue Hotel Fire, Feb 1902 - part 1

New York, New York
Park Avenue Hotel Fire
February 22, 1902

Swift Moving Flames Destroy Lives on the Upper Floors.

Seventy-first Regiment Armory Destroyed by Fire Just Before the Hotel Caught.

Fire Thought to Be Incendiary --- MRS. FOSTER, the “Tombs Angel” Killed in the Fire.

Sixteen persons lost their lives and about fifty others were injured in a fire in the Park Avenue Hotel, at Park avenue, between Thirty-second and Thirty-third streets, Manhattan, early this morning.

All of the dead and injured were guests of the hotel, many of them from out of town. Most of them had rooms in the upper stories of the hotel, and when the fire, which is of mysterious origin, reached their rooms they were hemmed in by smoke and flame and cut off from escape. One of the dead is MRS. FOSTER, well known as the “Tombs' Angel.”

The Dead.
PIPER, ALEXANDER A., colonel, U.S.A. Retired.
HORN, THOMAS P., of Denver, Col.
IVISON, WILLIAM, of Denver, Col.
ROBBINS, GASTON A., of Alabama.
WALKER, WILLIAM, of Tennessee.
FOSTER, MRS., known as the “Tombs' Angel”
BURNHARDT, W. G., of Chicago.
BURDETT, Colonel CHARLES L., First Infantry, U.S. Vol., Conn.
SPAHN, JACOB, of 34 Concord street, Rochester.
Unknown woman, supposed to be MRS. E. W. McGINNISS.

The Injured.
The following persons are known to have been injured:
BENNETT, HAROLD, face and hands burned; Bellevue Hospital.
BROOKMAN, WILLIAM S., the Rev., Norfolk Conn., burns.
BENNETT, MARAGARET E., 26 years old, Park Avenue Hotel, face and hands burned; Bellevue Hospital.
GOVE, WILLIAM A., 52 years old, Park Avenue Hotel, suffocation and burns, shock; New York Hospital.
GREGORY, CHARLES A., 67 years old, lawyer, Park Avenue Hotel, face and hands burned; Bellevue Hospital.
HALL, CAROLINE I. R., 79 years old, 29 Hill street, Newark, N. J., widow, body burned and shock; New York Hospital.
HALL, ANNA G., 56 years old, single, 29 Hill street, Newark, N. J., body burns and shock; New York Hospital.
HALE, WILLIAM B., Williamsville, Mass., suffocated; New York Hospital.
HEARNE, E. S., 40 years, Atlanta, Ga., burns of body; Bellevue Hospital.
LIVINGSTON, EMILY I., 49 years old, Park Avenue Hotel, guest on fourth floor, burns of face and body; Bellevue Hospital.
PEARSU, JOSEPH, 62 years old, feeble, Park Avenue Hotel, overcome, hysterical; to Bellevue Hospital from home of J. E. GARVIN, 516 Park Avenue, burned about face and hands, not serious.
STEBBINS, WILLIAM, 85 years old, of West Indies, Park Avenue Hotel for five months, hands and face burned.
WOODBURY, LEWIS G., 244 Stanton street, Portland, Oregon, Park Avenue Hotel, burns of hands and face; Bellevue Hospital.
REED. FRANK R., proprietor of the Park Avenue Hotel, burned about the face and hands in carrying his wife to safety from the fourth floor.
REED, MRS. FRANK R., wife of the proprietor, burned about face and hands.
BRIDGEMAN, MR., guest of Park Avenue Hotel, burns.
LYONS, ______, 24 years old, of 145 East Twenty-second street, cut by falling glass while in Thirty-third street.
BARRY, LOUIS, 50 years old, of Portland, Me., shock, was rescued by Policeman TYRALL.
VEACH, MRS. S., guest of the hotel on fourth floor, burned about the face, hands and body.

Seventy-first Regiment Armory, Opposite the Hotel, Destroyed by Flames.
Coincident with the fire that caused such loss of life in the Park Avenue Hotel, another fire razed to the ground the handsome armory of the Seventy-first Regiment on Park avenue, between Thirty-third and Thirty-fourth streets, diagonally across the street from the hotel. There was some talk this morning to the effect that the fire in the hotel was directly due to the fire in the armory and that the former originated in the flames and sparks that filled the air in the neighborhood while the armory was burning. There was a theory that some of these sparks or lighted pieces of wood from the burning armory had lighted on the hotel and started the blaze there.

Hotel Fire Probably Not Due to Armory, but Possibly Incendiary.
It is not likely that such was the case, however. All the indications are that the fire in the hotel was an independent one, and did not originate in the blaze that destroyed the Seventy-first Armory. In fact, Proprietor REID of the Park Avenue Hotel said after the fire was over that he believed it was of incendiary origin. He says the fire started in the cellar near the elevator shaft and shot up through the building, filling it with flames and smoke before the sleeping guests were aware of their danger. This is also the theory of Fire Chief CROKER, who was one of the early arrivals on the scene of the fire.

Lives Were Lost on the Upper Floors.
If is a peculiar fact that most of the people who lost their lives were living in the upper stories of the hotel, a great many of them on the fifth floor, where the greatest damage was done and where the greatest casualties took place.
There were many peculiar features connected with the fire. It is asserted by the people connected with the hotel, by guests who escaped with their lives and by the police and firemen that many of the windows of the hotel were thrown open soon after the fire in the armory across the street by persons anxious to get a view of the spectacle. This was particularly the case in the upper stories of the hotel, yet it was here that most of the people who suffered death in the flames were living. It is regarded as singular that people whose windows were opened evidently by themselves should be caught in the flames.

Flames Swept Through the Hotel at Lightning Speed.
It is explained that in five minutes after the fire started in the hotel the whole elevator shaft and the corridors opening on it were a mass of flames and that little or no opportunity was afforded to the imperiled guests to make their way out.
The first three stories of the hotel were untouched by the fire, but were considerably damaged by water. The upper stories of the hostelry are a wreck.

First Fire Started in the Armory.
The first fire – that in the armory of the Seventy-first Regiment -- started about 1:30 A. M. on the third floor of the building on the Thirty-third street side. This part of the building was occupied by the First Signal Corps. The building was also the headquarters of the Fifth Brigade, the Second Battery and the Seventy-first Regiment Veteran Association. The fire was discovered by a woman, who ran to the headquarters of Battalion Chief ROSS in Thirty-third street near Lexington avenue, and gave the alarm. ROSS hurriedly went to the scene and turned in two other alarms. By the time he got there the whole building was a mass of flames.

Rapid Transit Subway Hampered the Firemen.
To make matters worse the armory is situated right above the excavations for the rapid transit subway and trolley cars pass in front of the Park avenue side of the building. The firemen had the greatest difficulty in making their way through the obstructions in front of the building and meanwhile the armory was burning like a tinder box.

ANDREW PATTERSON, the armorer, lived in the armory with his family, and when the fact became known that there was a fire in the building an Italian engineer, employed on the rapid transit subway, named JOSEPH CACCAVAJO, got out of bed, and, running over to the armory, began to pound on the door with all his might. It was several minutes, however, before he could rouse the armorer and apprise him of his danger. PATTERSON was finally got out of the building with his wife and children safely.

By this time it became evident that with the high wind blowing, the armory was doomed. The entire structure was a mass of flames. Fire Chief CROKER came on the scene and ordered a fourth alarm rung.

Ammunition Stored in the Armory Explodes.
In the headquarters of the Fifth Brigade, on the Thirty-fourth street and Park avenue corner of the armory, there was stored a great quantity of ammunition. It consisted of blank and bullet cartridges. These cartridges began to explode as soon as the fire heated them. Bullets flew and the reports from the cartridges came thick and fast. For a time the firemen were afraid to go too near the building at the corner where the ammunition was stored. Gradually the explosions ceased and the firemen were able to get in to closer fighting range. At this time it was learned that about a thousand pounds of powder was stored, it is said, in the basement of the armory. It was in the sub-cellar, in the southeast corner of the building, near Thirty-third street. At 2:10 o'clock this exploded with a detonation that could be heard for blocks. It shook the entire structure, and then the Thirty-third street wall of the armory fell in.

At this time it was seen that the armory was entirely doomed, and the firemen were directed to turn their attention to the car barns of the Metropolitan Street Railway, directly across the street, south of the armory.

Hotel Did Not Seem to Be in Danger.
At that time it was not thought that the Park Avenue Hotel was seriously menaced, although Proprietor FREDERICK A. READ of the hotel had two score of men on the roof of the structure sweeping off the sparks and burning brands that fell there.

The armory is a complete wreck. Only the four walls of what was once of the finest structures of its kind in the country are left standing as a result of the fire. The interior of the building is a pile of hot, smoking ruins.

Hotel Fire Starts Before Armory Fire Is Over.
The firemen had scarcely got through fighting the fire in the armory when they were compelled to turn their attention to the Park Avenue Hotel, which was seen to be burning. From the windows of the upper floors of the hotel smoke and flames were pouring in dense quantities. Immediately Chief CROKER sent in a fifth alarm.

Many miraculous escapes characterized the fire in the hotel and there were several heroic rescues.

Chief CROKER called Captain KENLON of Engine 72, who was stationed on the Thirty-third street side of the armory, and sent him to the hotel. KENLON took a line of hose and with his men dashed through the main entrance of the hotel, in the center of the block on Park avenue. He found his hose was too short, as most of it was in use in other places. The men of the company dropped their line and were ordered to find a hose inside the hotel which they could couple onto their own and thus do effective work against the rapidly spreading flames.

Firemen Could Find No Hose in the Hotel.
Fire Chief CROKER later said KENLON'S men were unable to find a line of hose on the third, fourth or fifth floors of the house. The search was kept up on the sixth and seventh floors. No better success was had. All this time the fire spread rapidly and the hotel was fast filling with smoke.

The men reported to KENLON their inability to find a line of hose. They were ordered to drop the hose and go to work searching the house to find overcome or burned persons.

continued in part two (below)