Chicago, IL Insane Asylum Fire, Dec 1923

Dunning IL State Asylum 2.jpg Dunning IL State Asylum circa 1920.JPG Chicago, IL Dunning State Asylum.jpg


Chicago, Dec. 27 -- Five city, state and federal agencies today launched a joint inquiry into the disastrous fire at the Chicago State hospital for the insane at Dunning, which last night took a toll of at least 17 lives and loosed a score of dangerously insane patients as a menace to the city.
JAMES HINTON, supervisor of Dunning asylum, announced today that he believed at least one more body will be found in the ruins, bringing the total dead to eighteen.
EDWARD HAVEL, 35, identified by police as an escaped patient was taken into custody in a Madison street cafe. He offered no struggle.
Fire hazard in the overcrowded frame structure known as "The Death House" has been recognized as an ever present danger for the last 11 years and the asylum had been saved from destruction by flames largely by luck in eight blazes since 1910.
Judge C. H. JENKINS, state director of public welfare, arrived in Chicago today to take charge of the investigation for the state. He will be asssisted by the state fire marshal's office, the Chicago fire department, County Judge JARECK, and representatives of the U. S. Veterans Bureau, working on behalf of exservice men housed in the tinder structure.
Bodies charred beyond recognition made the work of identification slow and but few had been listed among the known dead early today. They were:
ELIJAH CARRAKER, an attendant.
MRS. CARRAKER, his wife.
LOWELL CARRAKER, 11, their son.
MICHAEL LEDWITH, 43, a patient.
JOHN BENNET, 36, a patient.
Twelve unidentified bodies recovered from ruins were those of patients who were unable to escape when panic broke loose among the six hundred paretics, epileptics and victims of dementia praecox who were in the flimsy building when the flames were discoverd.

Become Violent.
Many of the 600 patients suffering from milder forms of insanity under ordinary conditions became violent in the horror of the night and beoke away from attendants and guards in efforts to make their way back into the burning building or to escape from the asylum grounds. Thirty of the cases classed as "dangerous" were believed to be among the escaped, as dawn broke over the grisly work of sifting the ruins for additional bodies.
CHARLES A. CARPENTER, who broke away as the patients were being marched for shelter to the building where two Christmas trees were waiting for a celebration for patients when disaster intervened, was captured after a fight with police in metropolitan Chicago. CARPENTER fought for half an hour attempting to slash officers with a knife, before he was subdued by Sergeant WILLIAM CASACK and a squad of detectives.
The flames were discovered while most of the patients were still at supper. HERMAN HACKER, an epileptic and normal except when seized with attack, has finished his meal and gone to his room where he knelt at his cot saying his prayers. The crackling of flames aroused him from his reverie and he looked to find smoke curling from a closet where oil and mops were stored. The blaze quickly spread, enveloping the tinder building.

Saves Woman.
He ran shouting down the corridor to the entrance of the dining room and notified MRS. HANNA SAUNDERS, an attendant. The cry of fire unloosed the ragged nerves of the patients in a sudden panic. There had been a false alarm the night before.
MRS. SAUNDERS ran to fire headquarters in the engineering department and the asylum's siren shrieked a warning over the grounds.
As she returned to the building the lights went out, leaving the 600 panicky occupants in darkness. Their screams of terror were followed by a rush to the exits, where they crowded and trampled in their efforts to escape. But 18 attendants were available to lead the patients to safety and march them to the administration building where temporary accommodations were arranged.
Several of the patients were blind. MRS. SAUNDERS, making her best efforts to keep the men calm led several to the door. On return to the hall she was overcome by the dense smoke and fell near the door. One of the insane men dashed back and carried her to safety.
Asylum apparatus was practically helpless against the quick spread of the flames. Chicago's fire department responded to a general alarm but in the mud of the asylum grounds could not reach places of advantage to fight the blaze. Many of the patients held at Dunning were ex-servicemen some of whom had lost their reason in the roar of shell fire in France. Lack of provision for these men had forced assignment of those who came to the attention of Chicago police to Dunning, despite crowded conditions there police officials stated.

The Mansfield News Ohio 1923-12-27