The Brooklyn Theater Fire of 1876

by:Leimove     2020-05-24
It started out being a gala performance of Two Orphans, at the Brooklyn Theater on Washington Street in Brooklyn, but thanks to inefficient and incompetent theater personnel, it appeared being the third worst fire, occurring in both a theater or public assembly building, inside the history of the us of America. The title roles were played by Maude Harrison and Kate Claxton, who was regarded as the most effective stage actress of her time. Others inside cast included well-known actors Claude Burroughs, J.B. Studley, H.S. Murdoch, and Mrs. Farron. All would play leading roles inside tragedy that followed. The Brooklyn Theater, which seated 1600 people, ended up internal 1871. It was an L shaped brick building featuring its main entrance on Washington Street, along with a secondary entrance on Johnson Street, a lesser thoroughfare, which ran perpendicular to Washington Street, 200 feet to the east. One block for the north was what was then Brooklyn's City Hall, and one block south was Fulton Street, the key thoroughfare to the Manhattan ferries, which brought theater-goers from the mainland of Manhattan on the Brooklyn Theater. The Brooklyn Bridge wasn't built until 1886. The Brooklyn Theater had three floors of seating. The bottom floor was referred to as 'Parquet and parquet circle' seating. It contained 600 seats. The next floor balcony seats were referred to as the 'dress circle' seats, and so they seated 550 patrons. Another floor gallery, which was called the 'family circle' seats, contained 450 seats. The top level family circle seats, at 50 cents a pop, were the most affordable seats in the house, along it's own box office on Washington Street. Additionally, it had one set of 7-foot-wide stairs, built with a zigzag of all over the place angle turns, leading straight from the street outside towards the third floor. The theater was setup as such the people in the family circle seats didn't have usage of the balcony below, in order to the primary floor with the theater. This developed into their undoing. The second floor dress circle seats, costing $ 1, had two flights of stairs to penetrate and exit the theater. One was obviously a 10-foot pair of stairs that generated and through the lobby. One other was obviously a smaller group of emergency stairs that generated Flood's Alley, a tiny strip of dirt behind the theater. The ground floor door to Flood's Alley was usually locked to avoid gatecrashers from entering the theater for the sly. The first floor seating was consists of three selling prices. The most affordable was the parquet seating, disadvantageously upon the side with the stage, and costing 75 cents. The parquet circle seats, that have been in the center of the auditorium cost $1.50. There have been also eight private boxes, four on both sides with the stage, which were one of the most fashionable and expensive seats in the home. Each private box contained six seats. Box seats cost a whopping $10 apiece, a kingly sum inside 1870's. Illumination inside the theater was supplied by gas jets within the lobby and in the vestibule. A few gas jets covered by ornamental globes were set around the orchestra floor. Border lights were set in a row over the proscenium arch, which is the rectangular frame around the stage. These lights had tin on the side facing the crowd, and were included in wire netting. Above the boarder lights was thin pieces of cloth that served as scenery. A few of these items of cloth dangled precariously near the boarder lights. As a precaution, buckets water were usually kept on the medial side with the stage when the dangling scenery ignited. Where there was a fire hose backstage which was connected to a 2 and a half inch water pipe. On December 5, 1876, approximately a lot of everyone was attending with the Brooklyn Theater. About 400 citizens were seated within the upper family circle seats (a perfect figure never was determined). 360 people sat within the dress circle seats, and 250 people sat within the parquet and parquet circle seats. Edward B. Dickinson, who was seated in the center of the parquet seats about five rows from your stage, thought the auditorium floor has not been more than half full. However, Charles Vine, who was sitting in the very best family circle seats, think it is 'one of the largest galleries' he seen in quite a while with the Brooklyn Theater. Everything was fine inside the Brooklyn Theater before short intermission between your forth and fifth acts. During this time period, the curtain was down, hiding activity is, and the orchestra was playing during the intermission. People inside parquet circle heard noises from behind the curtain. But this became not considered unusual. Seconds before curtain reduced, stage manager J. W. Thorpe saw a smaller flame from the lower a part of a drop scenery hanging close to the center stage border light. Thorpe later said the flame was about how big is his hand. Thorpe sought out the lake buckets, but also for some reason, they weren't where they were said to be. He seriously considered while using fire hose backstage, but so much scenery was in just how, he decided it turned out quicker to extinguish the fireplace by beating it with long stage poles. Thorpe directed his carpenters, Hamilton Weaver and William Van Sicken, to try to quell the fireplace by banging it with two large stage poles. At around 11:20 pm, the 5th and final act started. Once the curtain came down, Kate Claxton, playing a blind orphan girl, was laying on the stack of straw, looking upward. B. Studley and H. S. Murdoch, had taken their places on stage, in a very box set representing an old boathouse about the bank of the Seine. And Mary Ann Farren and Claude Burroughs were browsing the wings for their cues to initiate the scene. Miss Harrison had not been in this scene, so she stood backstage and watched the production. Murdock had delivered but a few lines, when he heard someone whisper 'Fire' from backstage. Murdock explored toward the proscenium arch anf the husband saw heavy black smoke as well as the flickering of small flames. Murdock could see the fire was spreading quickly upward for the domed ceiling from the theater. Murdock stopped delivering his lines, however the audience hadn't yet noticed the fire and smoke. Murdock heard Claxton whisper, 'Go on. They're going to put it out. Carry on.' Murdock finished his lines, and Farren and Burroughs entered the scene from the wings. Miss Claxton had just delivered her lines to Murdock, saying, 'I forbid you to definitely touch me. I will beg forget about,' when flaming areas of the ceiling fell to the stage, igniting Claxton's costume. Studley hurried over and extinguished the flames on Claxton with his bare hands. The orchestra, for whatever reason, broke out into a cheerful song, but it didn't do anything to quell anyone's fears. By now, the folks in the theater had realized a fireplace was occurring, and screams of terror begun to reverberate contrary to the theater's walls. Farren and Murdock stopped play acting and stood somewhere of the stage, imploring people to depart quietly and quickly. Claxton and Studley did a similar on the other side from the stage. Claxton yelled to the crowd, who had been now on the feet in an extremely agitated state, 'You can all head out if you can only keep quiet. We are between your flames! Keep cool and walk out of quietly.' But the frenzied crowd had a mind of their. People ran out in the aisles and panic ensued. Studley yelled to the crowd: 'If I have the use of mind to stand here between your fire, which can be directly behind me, you need to have the presence of mind to look out quietly!' Claxton later told the police, 'We were now almost surrounded by flames; it turned out madness to obstruct longer. I took Mr. Murdoch from the arm and said 'Come, let's go.' He pulled faraway from me in the dazed type of way and rushed into his dressing room, the location where the fire was even then raging... To leap through the stage in to the orchestra with the hope to get out with the front of your home would basically be to add one more on the frantic, struggling mass of people who were trampling one another to death like wild beasts.' Burning timber began raining to the stage and also the actors were made to run into the wings. Claxton suddenly remembered that there was obviously a small hallway which led from her dressing room, the basement and to the box office. Claxton ran backstage, met Harrison, and both leading ladies fled though this passage within their dressing room towards the box office outside. Conversely, Murdock and Burroughs ran to their dressing rooms to get warmer clothing, to fight the frigid December air away from theater. Neither synthetic got from the theater alive. By this time around a fire alarm was mailed in the First Precinct police station, that has been across the street from the theater. Also, a telegram was delivered to Mayor Schroeder, informing him from the dire situation. Some of the theater's crew ran to the Johnson Street exits, and also the made it safely outside. But soon the hearth spread and cut-off entry to those exits. Every one of the remaining exits were in a choice of the leading in the theater, with the main entrance on Washington Street, or with the emergency doors on Flood's Alley. While the crown was set in panic mode, head usher Thomas Rochford rushed on the rear from the theater and opened the special exit doors on Flood Street. As a result of Rochford's action, the people on the floor floor could exit the theater in under three minutes. So in place, the smallest amount of crowded area of the theater had the fastest escape routes. However, outdoors doors on Flood Alley caused a brisk airflow to get in the theater, which increased the power of the fireplace inside. The people on the second floor had two stairways from where they are able to escape. The principle seven-foot-wide stairway, normally the one by which that they entered the building, resulted in the vestibule close to the Washington Street exit. The other would be a more narrow stairway that triggered Flood's Alley. Most decided to rush for the main stairway, given it was the one we were holding most acquainted with. This caused a logjam of the finest proportions, since as opposed to an orderly exit, individuals begun to work themselves into a frenzy. People started getting tangled together. Some jammed into doorways and others fell forward on the stairs in to the people below them, casing the flow of people out of your building to prevent completely. Sergent John Cain through the First Precinct to your neighbors fought his way into the theater, and also the assistance of janitor Van Sicken, he soon began to untangle the fallen people so your crowd in it could easily get down the stairs to safety. By all accounts, almost all the people in the second floor dress circle seats had the ability to exit the theater alive. However the people jammed in the gallery about the third floor were doomed right away, plus they knew it. People started jumping from your family circle seats into the auditorium below. Some were injured so in the jump, they were not capable to exit the theater. Others lowered themselves from a small third floor window to Flood's Alley below. One man forced himself by having a ventilator shaft, which deposited him onto the roof in the police station next door. But most people in the gallery had no approach to saving themselves. After a few individuals were capable of stumble along the stairway from where that they entered your building towards the safety outside, the supports for your gallery collapsed, thrusting countless people three floors down to the bottom level. Charles Straub have been being placed in the gallery at the stairway. He was sitting regarding his friend Joseph Kremer. Straub said afterwards, 'We could not rundown the stairs; we had been crowded down.' Even though numerous people had tripped and fell in addition to him, Straub was somehow capable of making it on the stairs and out of the theater. He estimated about 25 people from the gallery had caused it to be out before him, and about 12 people after him. The remaining were trapped inside. He never saw uncle Kremer again. Charles Vine ended up using the gallery, but far through the only stairway. He contemplated jumping from one from the windows facing Flood's Alley, but it was a sixty-foot drop anf the husband would definitely perish from that jump. So Vine hurried on the front of the gallery and thought we would jump beyond this concept for the dress circle below. Vine cut himself badly on a chair and was knocked out for just a moment. But Vine quickly retained consciousness, and was able to force his way on the second floor stairs towards the exit door below. Fire Marshall Keady said later that he thought Vine ended up 'the last person to go away the gallery alive.' Fifteen minutes as soon as the fire had started, the complete interior of the theater is at flames. And also at 11:45 p.m., the east wall of the theater fell which has a loud grumbling, burying a lot more than 300 men, as well as children under a great deal of bricks and burning debris. Thomas Nevins, Chef Engineer in the Brooklyn Fire Department, had reached the theater around 11:26 p. m. He saw immediately that there wasn't any approach to saving the theater, understanding that his job was now to confine the fireplace to that particular single structure. In the event the additional fire fighting equipment arrived just before midnight, Nevins used that equipment to maintain adjoining buildings without any sparks and burning debris. By midnight, around 5,000 spectators had assembled within the streets away from theater; some looking for signs of loved ones who had opted towards the theater, but hadn't returned home At one a.m. the Flood's Alley wall collapsed, by 3 a.m. the fire had started to burn itself out. At this point, Chief Nevins considered the fireplace in check. Early newspapers that morning reported the hearth, but declared that simply a number of people ended up killed. At the break of daylight, Chief Nevins led a contingent of fire personnel into the building. Chief Nevins discovered almost the entire theater had collapsed into the cellar. Since the firemen made their way from the ruins, they made an awful discovery. What appeared to be plain rubbish, was at fact, a mangled mess of charred human bodies. Many of the bodies were intact, and several had missing limbs. All were burned beyond recognition. It absolutely was latter determined that the majority the dead had been using the third floor gallery once the fire started. Removal in the bodies took 72 hours. It absolutely was an extended and tedious project because, considering their charred condition, the groups would break apart instantly when they were moved. Forensic science finding yourself in its infant stages back then, a precise body count was impossible. Initial reports within the newspapers said there have been any where from 275 to 400 fatalities inside the Brooklyn Theatre Fire. A coroner's report later said there were 283 fatalities, but that has been only an educated guess. 103 unidentified bodies, and areas of bodies, were buried inside a common grave at Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn. The death count within the Brooklyn Theater Fire of 1876 was just exceeded from the Iroquois Theatre fire which occurred on December 30, 1903, in Chicago, Illinois, where at least 605 people died as a result of the fire, as well as the Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire in Boston, on November 28, 1942, which killed 492 people. The Brooklyn Theater Fire of 1876 did spur Nyc to institute safeguards that reduced the potential for the same fire ever happening again. Modifications in the building code barred a good paints, woods, and construction material inside the stage area. The code also mandated utilizing a solid brick proscenium wall, 'extending through the cellar to the roof, to lower the risk of a stage fire spreading to the auditorium.' Other changes on the code decreed that 'proscenium arches may be designed with non-flammable fire curtains.' Other openings inside the proscenium wall required self-closing fire-resistant doors. And also heat activated sprinkling systems were necessary for the fly space higher than the stage. Starting noisy . 1900's, 30 minutes ahead of the scheduled performance, each theater was to have a 'Theater Detail Officer' available. Prior to the play started, the Theatre Detail Officer's job would have been to 'test the hearth alarms, inspect fire wall doors and also the fire curtain.' Through the performance the Theatre Detail Officer would 'roam the theater, ensuring aisles, hallways, and fire exits were clear and available to all patrons.' There were contradicting accounts with what happened to Kate Claxton after she escaped through the Brooklyn Theater Fire. One newspaper said she was seen sitting safely inside the First Precinct police station an hour after the fire. Another report asserted three hours following your fire, a fresh York City news reporter found Claxton wandering inside a daze in Manhattan's City Hall. Her hands and face were bloated with burn blisters, and she or he could not remember using ferry from Brooklyn to Manhattan. Scant months later, after Claxton had recovered from her injuries, she traveled to St. Louis to appear in another play. After she found its way to St. Louis, she checked in to the Southern Hotel. In hours, that hotel went up in flames, but Claxton and her brother, whom she was flying with, designed a miraculous escape, seconds prior to hotel collapsed. This effectively ended Kate Claxton's theatrical career. Fearing she was some type of a jinx, other actors refused to show up with her on stage. And theater-goers, fearing another fire, boycotted her performances. Nine years as soon as the Brooklyn Theater Fire, Kate Claxton shared her thoughts using the The big apple Times. She said, 'We thought i was acting for the best in continuing the play even as we did, hoping how the fire will be released successfully, or that this audience would go away gradually or quietly. However the result proved that it hadn't been the proper course... The curtain must have been kept down before flames had been extinguished, or maybe it was found impossible to deal with them, the audience should have been calmly informed that indisposition from some an affiliate the organization, or some unfortunate occurrence behind the scenery compelled a suspension from the performance, plus they should have been requested to disperse as quietly while they could. Raising the curtain created a draft which fanned the flames into fury.' Hindsight is 20/20, but Kate Claxton's later observations were absolutely correct. The Brooklyn Theater Fire of 1876 would have produced minimal damage only when the theater personal we hadn't bumbled, but had acted inside a coherent, methodical and calm manner.
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