Chicago, IL Coliseum Building Fire, Dec 1897

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Chicago, Dec. 24. -- Fire tonight destroyed the Coliseum Building, at Sixty-third Street and Stony Island Avenue, in which the Democratic National Convention was held last year. The fire was one of the quickest ever seen in Chicago. From the time the fire originated by the crossing of two electrical wires, until the Coliseum was a pile of twisted iron and hot bricks, was not over twenty minutes. The building had been rented for an exhibition of a manufacturers' exposition, and was filled from end to end with booths, all of which were destroyed with all their contents.
The Dead:
It is supposed that several lives were lost in the flames. Although no bodies have been recovered, the following persons are missing and undoubtedly have perished:
Two women dancers in the Midway exhibit; seen in the building just before it collapsed.
Two men, seen in the centre of the building by firemen during the fire.
HOWARD GEYSER of Wilmington, Del., and JOSEPH BYRNES of Hoboken, N.J., decorators. GEYSER and BYRNES were decorating one of the booths in the balcony when the fire started. The manager of the exhibit ran to the booth and called to the men that the place was on fire and for them to save themselves. They were apparently in no hurry, and the last seen of them they were still at work.
The injured are:
PETER FOOTS, watchman, burned about the face and hands.
HARRY PARKER, New York City, slightly burned.
G. A., LYONS, New York City, slightly burned.
MRS. G. A. LYONS, severely burned.
M. J. MORLEY, lacerated by explosion of Crookes tubes, and burned about the head.
WILLIAM ROBERTSON, face and hands burned.
M. J. WHEELER, watchman, hands burned.
JAMES MAHER, fireman, burned while cutting a live wire.
ROBERT HARLEY, fireman, severely burned by debris during the collapse of a wall of the building.
MISS HELEN CONGER, shocked by live wire, and severely burned about right arm.
GEORGE DEKREKO, proprietor of the Streets of Cairo exhibit, jumped from a window of the burning building and was severely bruised.
LOUIS WEISS, janitor, burned about the face and hands.
FRANK MURPHY, St. Louis; severely burned.
HARRY HAMILTON, burned about the face.
W. H. WRIGHT, burned about the arms.
EUGENE DUGGAN, burned about the left side.
The fire originated in a booth which was used as an exhibition of X rays, the booth being managed by M. J. MORLEY and WILLIAM ROBERTSON. The two men were examining the Roentgen machine when they were startled by a sizzling noise behind them, and upon turning, saw a part of their exhibit ablaze. Crossed arc light wires which were over the exhibit are thought to hav caused the flames.
The man at first tried to smother the flames, but before they had secured water and cloth the fire had spread throughout the entire booth. MORLEY, realizing that he and his partner would be unable to cope with the flames, made an endeavor to save some of the most valuable of the X-ray paraphernalia. Running to the machine, he grasped two Crookes tubes, and then with ROBERTSON began fighting his way out of the building. Before he reached an exit the tubes which he held in both his hands exploded from the heat, severely lacerating his hands. His hair also caught fire, and he was severely burned about the head. ROBERTSON was burned about the face.
About 300 people were in the building at the time of the fire, and at the first alarm there was a rush for safety. Fortunately, the aisles were wide, and, owing to the comparatively small number of people in the building, there was little difficulty in reaching the doors. Most of those endeavoring to escape ran to a large door on the east side of the building, which is wide enough to admit a team of horses.
A crowd of fully 200 persons gathered before this door, which was found to be locked, and as the fire was roaring through the building with great speed it seemed for a few minutes as though none of these would be able to escape. W. J. WHEELER, a watchman, saw the trouble, and ran to open the door, but the crowd was packed in front of it so closely that he had the greatest difficulty. Once it swung wide, however, the crowd was in the open air in a few seconds. During the jam at this point several persons were badly crushed, but none was seriously injured.
The balance of the people made their way through the other doors, and several who were caught in the balcony were compelled to jump to the ground from the roof. The balcony is lined with windows that swing outward, and the people had no trouble in getting upon the roof, and from there the leap to the ground was not great.
The firemen were at hand before any of the people were out, and before they made any effort to fight the flames they devoted their attention to clearing the hall of the people. By the time they were ready to pour water on the fire it was useless to do anything, as the flames spread with such rapidity that there was no chance whatever of saving the building after it had once got beyond the confines of the booth in which it started.
Within ten minutes after the fire began the roof was ablaze, and in a very short time after the fire appeared on the top of the building one of the large arches that spanned the building gave way with a tremendous report and then another and another, each one going down with a sound like the discharge of a cannon. The building fell very quickly, as after the first arch went down, the weight was too great for the arches next to it, and all collapsed. It took not over twenty minutes to make a complete ruin of the building.
The building was destroyed so quickly that nothing could be done to save the persons who are supposed to have lost their lives.
The Coliseum cost $250,000, and was insured for $120,000, in twenty-six different companies. It is almost impossible to form any idea of the loss to the exhibitors, as there were about 100 booths in the place, filled with all sorts of goods.
While responding to the alarm of fire from the Coliseum, Engine Company No. 19 collided with a passenger train on the Lake Shore Road, smashing the engine badly. Only one of the firemen, ALBERT CHAMBERLAIN, was injured.
The accident occurred at Forty-first Street and College Grove Avenue. The hose cart of the company was ahead of the fire engine and close upon the tracks when the watchman heard a train approaching and closed the gates. The hose cart was too close to the gate, however, and before the driver could stop his horses crashed into it, carrying it down. The driver managed to stop his horses on the track, and the watchman, seeing that unless he opened the gates the hose cart would certainly be run down, opened them, letting the cart out of danger.
The driver of the engine, which was close behind, thinking from the raising of the far-side gates that the way was clear, urged his horses ahead, and dashed squarely into the side of the rapidly moving passenger coach. All the firemen were thrown from their seats.

New York Times New York 1897-12-25