Philadelphia, PA Grand Central Theater Fire, Apr 1892


More Than Fifty Persons Are Injured, Many of Them Fatally.

PHILADELPHIA, April 27. – The greatest sensational fire in this city for years broke out to-night on the stage of the Grand Central theater and before it was got under control nearly a million dollars worth of property had been destroyed, including the massive eight-story annex building occupied by the Times.

There was a panic in the theater and nearly fifty persons, most of them occupants of the galleries, were hurt, but none, however, seriously.

The Central theater is located on Walnut street between Eighth and Ninth in the most thickly settled portion of the city, being surrounded by hotels and restaurants, boarding houses, newspaper offices and business houses.

Immediately in the rear of the theater was the Times building which faced on Sunson(sic) street. The theater was usually devoted to variety performances, but this week a spectacular production, “The Devil’s Auction,” was on stage.

Just before 8 o’clock and while the stage hands were lowering from the flies a portion of the setting for the first scene, it became entangled in the border lights.

In an instant the flimsy canvass was a mass of flames. Tongues of fire shot up to the roof and blazing scenery fell to the stage and in a short space of time the greater portion of the theater was a mass of fire.

The production requires a large number of ballet dancers. These stood in the wings and along the stage in scanty attire waiting for the performance to begin. They were thrown into a panic and rushed about scarcely knowing which way to turn to avoid the quickly spreading flames. All were, it is believed, gotten safely out, although there is a report that three ballet girls are missing.

During the panic behind the scenes a scene of even more intense excitement was being enacted before the footlights. Fortunately the house was only partially filled. The audience had just settled down in their seats awaiting the beginning of the performance when they were startled by the flash that came when the scenery caught.

The next minute a bright white flame shot through the curtain and the audience realized they were face to face with that most awful situation – a theater fire. Everybody started for the exits. The weaker ones were borne down and crushed under foot. One individual, maddened and brutalized by excitement, drew a pocket knife and with it cut his way through the mass of people.

Half a dozen or more people were found at the hospital who had been victims of his frenzy. None of their wounds however, were of a more than painful character. This man was the first to reach the sidewalk. Men and boys fell on the stairways leading from the galleries and were bruised and scratched under the heels of those following them.

In all fifty-two persons were cared for at the two hospitals near the theater. Everybody was outside the burning structure within two minutes from the time the fire started.

The wildest excitement prevailed on the streets. Ballet girls in gauze and tights rushed [illegible] headed around almost all of them in a hysterical condition.

The fire spread with marvelous rapidity and by the time the fire apparatus reached the scene of the flames, looming away up above the rear of the theater was the Times annex building, occupied on the seventh floor by the editorial force and on the eighth by the composing and sterotyping [sic] forces. An alarm was promptly given and all the occupants of the building got out in safety.


Read another article about the fire (below)