Philadelphia, PA boarding house fire, Jan 1905


Victim of Flames Upset Lamp --- Mother, Children and Boarders Narrowly Escaped

Fire caused by the overturning of an oil lamp, early yesterday morning, resulted in the death of one man, serious injury to another and a menace to the lives of eight other occupants of the house at 5540 Jefferson street. The house and its furniture were ruined before the flames could be subdued, and Mrs. Mary Glisson, who conducted a boarding house at that address, is left destitute with three small children, one of whom is a cripple.

Lewis Roth, the man who was burned to death, was a boarder at the house, as was also John Pearce, a 61-year-old man who is lying in a serious condition at the Presbyterian Hospital. He broke his arm and was badly cut and bruised by jumping from the rear second-story window of the house.

Mrs. Glisson is a widow and supported herself and children by conducting a boarding house at the two-story dwelling on Jefferson street. Her three children, Mabel, aged 12; Emma, aged 8, and Ethel, aged 4, occupied one of the three rooms on the second floor with their mother. John Pearce and Thomas Cannon, two boarders, occupied an adjoining room, while the large front bedroom was used by four boarders, William Dalton, Lewis Roth, Thomas Knaceff and Charles Breslin.

It was about half-past 3 yesterday morning that Roth, according to Mrs. Glisson, left his room and went down stairs and out into the kitchen to make himself a warm drink in order to relieve an attack of cramps.

Wakened by Crash

A few moments later the woman heard a crash. She waited a short time, and hearing no further noise or the sound of Roth returning to his room, she decided to investigate. As she approached the head of the stairs she was met with a sheet of flame. Apparently the entire lower floor of the house was ablaze.

Fortunately for the remainder of the inmates of the house, Mrs. Glisson retained her presence of mind. Running to the doors of the rooms of the boarders she aroused them with the cry of fire. Then she hastened to her own room.

Grabbing Emma, her crippled child, in her harms and calling for Mabel to follow her she dashed down the stairs. She had seen one of the boarders pick up her youngest child, so imagined her to be safe.

Down through the thick smoke and darting tongues of flames she made her way to safety, bringing the two children unharmed with her. It was bitterly cold, and clad only in a few garments she had hastily gathered up, the woman suffered from the cold until taken into the house of Mrs. Ward, who lives on the opposite side of the street.

The boarder who had grabbed little Ethel put her out of the second story window upon the porch roof. She would have probably fallen off had it not been for L. F. Ward, of 5539 Jefferson street, who ran across the street and climbing up the railing of the porch rescued the child and carried her to his home, where her mother had already been sheltered.

Boarder Seriously Hurt

Pearce, unable to get down the stairs, leaped from a rear second-story window and falling upon his side broke his arm and was otherwise injured. He was helped to a place of safety by the firemen, who by this time had arrived at the scene. All of the other boarders succeeded in getting out in safety, although they lost most of their effects. The fire burned with intensity and it was with great difficulty that the firemen were finally able to get it under control.

It was when the fire fighters entered the rear of the house that they stumbled across the body of Roth, which was lying stretched upon the floor at the entrance to the kitchen. The body was burned to a crisp, the features being hardly recognizable. It is supposed that the man accidentally upset the lamp and endeavored to fight the flames, but was overcome with the thick smoke and fell to the floor, where the flames ended his life. His body was taken to the morgue. He was a weaver and came to this city several years ago from New Brunswick, N. J.

The loss caused by the fire will reach about $2500. Mrs. Glisson was sheltered last night by neighbors. All her furniture was ruined and she is now penniless.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia, PA 9 Jan 1905