Indianapolis, IN National Surgical Institute Fire, Jan 1892
Awful Disaster In An Indianapolis Surgical Institute.
Indianapolis, Ind., Jan. 22 -- The most appaling fire in the history of Indianapolis occurred this morning, the National surgical institute, one of the most famous institutions of its character in the United States, burning to the ground, and at least nine lives being lost.
The fire started at midnight in the office building, and above the office were the wards for babes and mothers, and known as the A, B, C department.
Smoke was discovered a few minutes before midnight issuing from the advertising room of the building which immediately adjoins the operating room back of the office. The origin is claimed to have been from the spontaneous combustion of some chemicals which had been placed in the room, and circulars and papers about the room soon were ablaze and in ten minutes the whole lower floor was enveloped in flames.
The attendant BARTLEY awakened all the patients and in the halls and upper rooms pandemonium reigned. Shriek after shriek for help went up as the inmates realized their terrible situation. In a few moments white and thoroughly frightened faces appeared at each window of the large building and the lips could be seen beseeching succor from those below, yet their voices could not be heard.
Quite a number of the inmates suffered from exposure and some of them may die.
The feet of one boy who was forgotten and lay helpless in bed were so badly burned that the flesh fell from the bones. His head was near a window and this alone saved him from strangulation.
MRS. DR. BUTTON, a lady physician, is missing, and it is thought that she perished in the flames.
At 2:40 a. m. a rumor was current that several dead bodies have been found in the debris.
At 3:45 a. m. the rumor was fully verified, nine charred bodies being found in one place. It is feared that many more have perished but it will be hours before the full report of the catastrophe can be known.
Chillicothe Morning Constitution Ohio 1892-01-22
DETAILS OF THE INDIANAPOLIS SANITARIUM FIRE.
NINETEEN POOR CREATURES DEAD.
Seventeen of the Victims Crippled -- Two of the Dead Women Who Sacrificed Their Lives in Despair -- Many Rare Deeds of Heroism -- The Scenes in the Burned Fire Trap Most Pitiful.
Indianapolis, Ind., Jan. 23 -- At least seventeen helpless, crippled children and two others, inmates of the Indianapolis surgical institute, lost their lives and twenty other persons were injured, some of them badly, during the holacaust which destroyed the hospital building early yesterday morning.
Two hundred and forty-six patients and thirty nurses sleeping in the two four story buildings at the corner of Illinois and Georgia streets, in which the institute is located, were in imminent danger of their lives.
It was almost on the stroke of 12 when janitor GILL gave the alarm of fire, for the surgical institute, which had been looked upon for years as a fire trap. The first alarm was instantly followed by the second and third.
By the time the department arrived helpless cripples were hanging on the fire escapes and in every window, while the cries of those shut in the burning building mingled with the shouts of the firemen and police. Heroic deeds of rescue were performed and for two hours it was thought that all the inmates had been saved.
In the Georgia street annex, third floor, the fire raged furiously all this while, and soon after 9 o'clock, the fire having been then nearly subdued, the police and firemen made their way into the building. In one room a fearful mass of roasted humanity lay entwined. When their bodies were disengaged it was found that there were seven persons.
The names of the killed so far as known are:
KATE L. STRONG, died at 184 Mass avenue, home Salem, Oregon.
MRS. SAMUEL LAZARUS of Chicago, jumped from second story of the rear.
WILLIAM RAMSTACK, Milwaukee.
MISS KATE BURNS, Newport, Minn.
FRANK BURNS, Newport, Minn.
MINNIE ARNOLD, Lancaster, Mo.
IRMA PAYNE, Dexter, Minn.
STELLA SPEES, Macomb, O.
MINNIE McDONALD, Negaunee, O.
GEORGE ELLIS, California, Ky.
MRS. EARB and daughter, Shelby, O.
FANNY BREEDEN, Memphis, Tenn.
MORTIE DECK, died at 305 North Sixth street.
FRED DECKENDORF, Stillwater, Miss.
HANNA BROOK, Taylorsville, Ill.
C. H. GORMAN, McDonald, Mich.
Twenty persons were injured more than one of whom will undoubtedly die.
When other men were halting Sergeant JOHN LOW took a chemical and made his way through smoke to the third floor. Opening a door he found a woman and a baby.
"For God's sake, save the child if not me!" cried the woman. LOW took the child in his arms and told the woman to follow. When the two reached the second landing the smoke and flames were upon them. The woman, overcome with fright and smoke, jumped and was saved. Sergeant LOW, blinded by smoke, lost his footing and fell down the stairway. He held on to the child and brought it safely to the ground.
SIMON HOYLE, a "sub" at the headquarters, made his way to the fourth floor, where he found two young women helpless on the floor. The flames were all around them and one's feet were badly burned. She was unconscious. In the heat of the fire and the blinding smoke HOYLE got his strap fastened to one woman's teeth. She held on to the strap like one with just enough reason left to know what to do, and was dragged to the street. The other he held by his teen in her night robe. In the heroic act his arms were badly burned. Whether or not the woman died or is now in the hospital could not be ascertained.
Just as the fire department arrived on the scene a woman appeared at a third story window. The flames within made a frightful background and her form stood out in bold relief. She wrung her hands and screamed for help, while the flames rolled up about her. Chief WEBSTER shouted at the top of his voice: "Hold on! hold on! Don't jump; for God's sake don't jump! We'll get you in a moment!" She heeded not and lost her life.
At a window on the upper flor a panic stricken mother was seen struggling to throw open the window. In her arms she clasped her child, a mere infant. The fire followed her just as she threw open the window it was near. She threw out the child and fell back into the flames. Pipeman O'BRIEN caught the child in his arms.
Fireman JOHN LOUCKS of chemical company No. 2 received a child from Fireman ROBINSON and started down a ladder. Half way he fell, breaking his leg which caught in a round of the ladder. He held to the child and it was soon rescued.
Fireman JIM MADDEN of headquarters took a child from its mother and saved it. Before he could get back the woman had leaped to death. A few minutes later he tried to rescue three victims, but before he could reach them fire had enveloped them. He was hanging out of a window when the sash gave way and he dropped. His hand caught on a piece of glass and until he was removed he hung with his full weight by that hand which was fast on the glass.
Fireman MORRIS DONNELLY went to a second story room, where he found a number of female patients. He took one under each arm and ordering a third to cling about his neck he landed them on the floor below out of harm's way.
Fireman HIGGINS stood on the sidewalk, and seeing a woman leap from a window above him, waited for her. She struck him like a ton weight, nearly pulling his arms from the sockets and throwing him to the stone with great force. He struck on his head and received a broken thumb; but had the satisfaction of knowing the he had broken the fall of the woman sufficiently to save her life.
Rooms on the third and fourth floors of the main building and near the alley were the scenes of the greatest fatalities. In one room were two women, both of whom perished. In another there was a man whose lower extremities were paralyzed. Although unable to walk he dragged himself to a window at the rear of the building and threw himself out. He dropped about eight feet to a roof, then to another and finally rolled off to the ground, saving himself from death.
The entire rear half of the inside of the Georgia street building fell in. The debris filled completely the first story and when the firemen began their search for dead bodies they were obliged to commence work on a level with the second floor.
In one room on the third floor victims were found dead, kneeling in prayer. The windows in the room were up, but the occupants had apparently made no effort to escape or appeal for rescue.
In a room on the second floor a man was found in bed dead. The smoke had found its way into the room slowly and he was gradually overcome, expiring without a struggle. Further along the hallway a young man was found sitting beside an open window, his dead body leaning forward.
There seemed to be no good reason for this loss of life, as all those who appeared at the windows were quickly saved. Although the occupants were nearly all more or less seriously crippled many of them became so frantic that they lost all self control and almost invited death by their actions. They would rush to a window, cast their eyes below and realizing that a leap was almost certain death, retreat at once into the room and fact the result desperately.
A crippled man, with nothing on but a suit of red underwear, threw a rope fire escape from the third story window and crawling carefully over the windowsill clung to a knot near the top. He refused to slide down for the flames were shooting forth from the windows below. He was rescued just in time.
In room 110 of the WEDDELL house lay the little daughter of MRS. LAZARUS of CHicago, who leaped from a window on the third floor. The mother's form was crushed to a pulp, but the child was still alive, living at 7 o'clock this evening. The little girl's legs are both broken, she is internally injured and received severe burns about the head. DR. EARP said it was hardly possible that she could survive.
MISS NETTIE SOUTHWORTH and MISS NORA KNOWLES, the other patients who jumped from the windows, are getting along nicely and will recover with careful attention.
Said WILLIAM KIMBALL, a young man with both legs crippled from the knees down and his head thrown to one side by a distorted shoulder joint: "I was sleeping in my bed on the fourth floor. I don't know how it was, but I awoke with a sense of strangulation. From less than a foot above my face was a dense mass of smoke. I just rolled off my bed. I could not move with my braces on, so I took them off, lying upon my side. It was so hot I thought I was going to die. I called as loud as I could, 'Help! help! here, in 99.' Just then there was a crash of the door and a big colored man fell over me. He picked me up like a baby, dashed through the halls and down the stairways and brought me here. God knows I am thankful. God in heaven knows I am thankful."
Eight-year-old ETHEL PLATT, daughter of JAMES M. PLATT of Pinkneyville, Ill., was found in her bed on the third floor, half strangled with smoke, suffering from spinal trouble. Wrapped in a blanket she was taken up in the arms of a fireman, carried down to the next floor through dense smoke and past roaring flames, to a window and thrown out. With a broken leg she was taken across Illinois street placed on a table and covered with blankets. When raised she cried out: "O, please don't lift me. You'll kill me! O, my leg is broken. I want mamma, O, I want my momma."
MRS. E. D. PURDY was sleeping with her little daughter JESAMINE in a room on what is known as the "A B C" floor and had only time to spring from her bed, throw a quilt over the crippled child and with nothing but her night robes to protect her she ran into the hall, fell to the floor, recovered her feet and then stooping dragged her little girl about seventy-five feet to the top of a stairway. Down this the two fell and were rescued by JOHN GAVIN, a molder, and a traveling man whose name could not be learned.
The surgical institute was a veritable fire trap. The stairways were narrow, the halls dark and the whole structure a labyrinth. Entering the main building from the alley a dark store room filled with barrels, boxes, tables, milk cans and other articles was reached. A door led to an open court, perhaps thirty feet long and fifteen feet wide which served as an air shaft. A winding stairway not much over two feet wide led up to a window of the third floor. This stairway was built of pine boards and boarded up to about the height of a man's head. It would be next to impossible for two persons to pass in it. The room to which this led was a dormitory. It contained about a dozen iron beds, most of which had been occupied. From the open court there was a door leading to the hallways inside the building. This passage was dark and a person was obliged to grope his way to a better lighted spot.
The first floor suffered little from fire, the principal damage having resulted from water. The second floor was thoroughly soaked and the ceilings in many rooms had holes burned through.
Near the Illinois street front of the main building was a stairway that the people were surprised to see. It made a turn midway between two floors, and at that point there was a landing. From that landing to the top step of the lower section was a distance of at least two and one half feet. In speaking to a newspaper man, JAMES MADDEN remarked: "How could they expect cripples to get up or down those stairways!"
In some parts of the building the stairs were so old and worn that extra boards had been nailed on the steps. The halls and stairs in some places were so much of a puzzle that it was hard for a person to tell which was which. At one point four flights of stairs were in a bunch.
Detectives PAGE and KINNEY arrested a man who gave his name as RUSSELL TROY while rummaging through the debris, and in his pockets were money and other articles which it was thought he had stolen from the effects of patients.
There was a total insurance of $51,500 on the surgical institute building, furniture and surgical supplies. The exact loss can not be estimated, but it will aggregate at least $40,000 it is believed.
Chillicothe Morning Constitution Ohio 1892-01-23