Pittsburgh, PA Monongahela House Banquet Hall Fire, Apr 1897


A Club Dinner at Pittsburg Almost Prevented by an Accident---Panic Among the Hotel Guests.

PITTSBURG, Penn., April 29.---The Americus Club banquet was almost prevented to-night by a fire in the dining room of the Monongahela House. Covers had been laid for 324 members and guests. The banquet was given to honor the memory of Gen. Grant, and among the speakers were Senators George L. Wellington of Maryland and William E. Mason of Illinois.

The fire was caused by a flash light in the hands of Photographer W. S. Bell, who had entered the dining room without permission, before the guests were seated, to take a picture. In less than ten seconds after the flash occurred, the whole room was in a blaze, as the drapings hung low. A valuable picture of Gen. Grant, presented to the club by Francis Torrance, was destroyed. It is a companion painting to one owned by the family of the late W. H. Vanderbilt. The first silk flag made containing forty-five stars was also burned, as well as all the table linen, plants, and flowers. The dishes and glass were cracked. The loss is estimated at $2,000.

The excitement among the guests at the hotel was intense. The house was crowded at the time. In less than an hour and a half after the fire was put out, the tables were all reset, and the banquet was only delayed half an hour. Senators Mason and Wellington, together with other guests, had been in the room but a few minutes previously, and the photographer tried to induce them to remain to have their pictures taken, but they were called out to the club reception, which was held in the parlors.

It was while the guests were being introduced to the members that the flash occurred and all was pandemonium in a moment. One of the signs hung in the room after the fire was as follows:

"Gen. Grant never feared fire, neither does the Americus."

The New York Times, New York, NY 30 Apr 1897

History of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania 1889 Read it online

Memoirs of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania : personal and genealogical, with portraits Read it online

History of Allegheny Co., Pennsylvania 1886 Read it online

Allegheny County : a sesqui-centennial review 1938 Read it online

Use this Free trial to search for your ancestors in these Allegheny County books and in Census Records, Historical Newspapers, Birth Death and Marriage Records and in other documents at ancestry.com