Columbus, OH Idiot Asylum Fire, Nov 1881

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Columbus, Ohio, Nov. 18. -- About 10 o'clock this morning a telephone announcement was sent to the city that the Idiot Asylum was in flames. The news was sent to the Fire Department, but it was necessary to take an old Sillsby engine and a number of reels for the reason that the institution is outside of any connection with the city water works. By 11 o'clock the entire main building was destroyed, and the Fire Department was devoting its energies to saving the other buildings. The fire started in the basement through some sudden derangement of the steam heating machinery, but the exact cause will probably remain a mystery. The building was the best constructed one --not fire proof -- belonging to the State, but the ventilators and air flues were just so many avenues for the flames. When the fire broke out the children were in the school rooms of the main building. The teachers were given notice by messergers, and marched the pupils down the stairways in good order and conducted them to the hospital building, which is in the rear of the new north wing and not connected with any other building. Here the children were provided with bread and meat and other provisions carried from the kitchen, under the immediate eye of the searchers. The discipline of the latter was perfect.
The building destroyed contained the reception, parlor, school rooms, office of the Trustees and Superintendent, amusement hall, officers and teachers dining room, kitchen, refrigerators, sleeping rooms of the officers and several employes and a number of other rooms for various purposes associated with the administration department. A lady attendant was overcome by the excitement and for a time was entirely bereft of reason, but by care she was soon restored. The 614 pupils and all the employes were safely moved from the building, and the only accident occurred to a fireman, who ssprained his left leg. In the basement where the fire first broke out there were no furnace, stoves, or lights or combustibles of any kind. The steam heating pipes which pass through the basement were thoroughly and safely protected and the wood work could not possibly have ignited from them. The heating apparatus is in another building separate from the main building. DR. DOREN is firmly convinced that the fire was the work of an incendiary. The Doctor said that while he was assisting in getting the children out he observed several strange men about. He requested them to help in the work, and, before his very eyes, they pilfered the rooms, taking all the small articles they could lay their hands on. He was so occupied with the children that he had no time to attend to the thieves, but he says that if he had had a weapon of any kind he would not have hesitated to use it. The books of the institution were in a fire proof safe. About 12 o'clock the flooring in the office in which the safe stood gave way and it fell into the basement. As soon as possible water was turned on it and the books are supposed to be only slightly damaged. Superintendent RUTTER, of the insane asylum, had his employes help, and he has furnished temporaty assistance to about 200 sufferers. The officers, teachers, and employes lost everything except the clothing they were wearing. DR. DOREN states tonight that the loss will amount to $200,000 to $250,000. There was no insurance on the property, as the State does not insure its buildings. An appeal has been made for clothing, shoes, stockings, &c., for the lady teachers and employes.

The New York Times New York 1881-11-19