Chicago, IL Fire Destroys Building at World's Fair, July 1893



Some Leaped Down to a Frightful Death and Some Were Burned -- Other Persons Than Firemen Perished -- Searching For the Dead -- Big Relief Fund Started.

Chicago, July 11 -- The fear that has existed for months in the minds of nearly every citizen in Chicago was realized in the frightful holocaust at the World's fair that claimed nearly two score of victims and for a time threatened the destruction of the entire White City.
The disaster was all the more dreadful because of its sudden transformation from an innocent flame into a death dealing catastrophe. Like an animate monster it enticed its victims to the topmost stage of a high pinnacle and then encircling the shole shaft in a sheet of flame held them in a trap until one by one they fell a sacrifice on the fiery altar that raged beneath them while 30,000 people stood helplessly about.
The structure that burned was by comparison one of the smallest buildings of the fair. It was the cold storage warehouse and skating rink and was not the property of the exposition. It was a concession and exhibit of the Hercules Iron Works and Ice and Refrigerating Machine manufacturers.
In addition to the skating rink there were three 120 ton ice machines and 30 or 40 barrels of linseed oil. The oil no doubt greatly hastened the conflagration, and that the fire was not communicated to the other World's fair buildings was due to the favorable winds.
The scene of horror was witnessed by many thousands of people, and strong men wept and women fainted as one life after another was snuffed out within full view of the multitude, but beyond the reach of human aid.
Within 80 minutes the great loss of life occurred. At the first signal the firemen rushed up the huge shaft surrounding the smokestack and when at the summit began preparations to fight the flames, which fad first appeared at this point. Before the hose could be coupled a cry of horror from the crowd below caused the firemen to look down, and the whole shaft below was found to be encircled in flames.
Instantly every man realized his danger, but there were few to find an avenue for escape. One man suddenly grasped a rope or hose, and half sliding, half falling, reached the roof, 90 feet below, in a bruised and burned condition, but still alive.
Fearful and Fatal Leaps.
Suddenly one of the firemen was seen preparing to jump, and every eye was turned upward. He gave a quick, spasmodic leap, and turned over and over half a dozen times before he struck the roof, 90 feet below. To the spectators he seemed a minute falling this distance, and when the body struck the roof with a frightful crash and bounced four feet into the air a groan of horror went up from the crowd. From this time the bodies rained from the tower, but in nearly every instance breath and life had fled when the victim was picked up on the roof below.
After the first wild leap, one man after another jumped in quick succession as the flames closed in below and the heat became more intense. In nearly every instance the victim turned over and over again before he touched the roof, and in nearly every instance the result of the leap for life was the same -- death. For the last man on the cupola was reserved the most dreadful fate of all. After all his companions had leaped to apparent death, and as the last man was hesitating, the whole shaft began to tremble and vibrate. The lone fireman gave a quick, wild leap. He was too late. At the very instant he sprang, the whole structure gave way, and this human being, quivering with life and wildly grasping for support in the frenzy of despair, was seen to drop into the labyrinth of flame and fire and finally disappear entirely in the roaring furnace below.
The World's fair stables just south of the big warehouse were burning, and the fire had spread to the roofs of several hotels across Stony Isle avenue, just outside the grounds. With a good deal of effort the hotels were saved, but the stables were burned to the ground.
In less than two hours from the time the fire started the big cold storage warehouse was leveled to the ground, a smoking ruin. It is doubtful if any of the bodies will be recovered, so furious and terrific was the heat. The building being of wood, and added to this the barrels of oil, made the fire one of the hottest the fire department has ever had to fight.

Digging Out the Dead.
Chicago, July 12 -- The break of day still found the ruins of the cold storage building unexplored, and it is just beginning to be realized that the full extent of the disaster cannot be ascertained until the mountain of rubbish is sifted and carted away. At some points the accumulation of debris is 15 to 20 feet high, and it is impossible to know how many charred bodies may rest beneath until these heaps have been thoroughly examined. The search is necessarily slow and tedious, owing to the vast amount of iron and machinery that encumbers the ruins and the inextricable network of rods and bars formed by the intense heat.
In all, 18 bodies have been removed from the ruins. Besides these, three firemen died at the hospital. The point near the smokestack, where many of the unfortunate men were seen to jump, is covered with a tangled mass of steam pipes and charred timbers, fully 20 feet high. It isnow definitely known that a number of workmen employed in the building ascended the fatal tower with the firemen, and how many of them were lost no one known.
The unknown dead will probably never be known, but efforts are being made today by the aid of powerful machinery to lift the network of freezing pipes, allowing the firemen to delve still deeper for the remains which, it is conceded by all, are certainly wedged below. Probably by night the anxiously awaited truth will have been reached.
Missing Guards Turn Up.
The four Columbian guards who were reported in the list of missing have been heard from. JOHN MALLOY and H. V. BROWN put in an appearance, while G. E. IRVINE and CHARLES FECHTER reported to Captain SMITH. They were ordered Monday to report to a different captain, but in some manner the order miscarried, and as the guards did not report at the company headquarters to which they had been ordered it was of course concluded that the men had gone down to death in the big tinder box.
One thing seems quite evident, however, and that is that the bodies discovered are not the remains of the firemen. The locality in which they were found seems to preclude this possibility. All the firemen who lost their lives were huddled in the dreadful firetrap at the top of the shaft, and as they fell victims, one by one, to the flames their bodies fell somewhere within the circle surrounding the smokestack.
Subscriptions and offers of substantial help came steadily to President HIGINBOTHAM, who sat at his desk in his shirt sleeves saying little about the calamity, but working hard. He acted as trustee of the relief fund.
The total amount of the subscription fund amounts to over $5,000, but it will not stop there by any means. The spirit of aid for the suffering families is abroad, and everybody is anxious to contribute his or her money. The Cliff Dwellers company will give a performance for the benefit of the brave men. A substantial sum will no doubt be realized from a special benefit performance of the military tournament at noon tomorrow in the Stock pavilion.

Ticonderoga Sentinel New York 1893-07-13