Hartford, CT Park Central Hotel Collapse and Fire, Feb 1889

The shock of the explosion was what first informed the city of the tragedy in its midst. It burst the windows of the Earle House in Allyn-street, and shattered the glass in houses 200 yards away. Dr. O. C. Smith's yard, which adjoined the hotel on High-street, was half filled with the refuse from the ruins. His house, a big brick building of two and a half stories, had two great cracks running up almost to the roof. The High-street side of the Judd & Root building was plastered two stories high with dust and mortar, and not a window of the entire five stories remains whole. The plate-glass windows on the lower floor were blown in with terrific force. The office was wrecked, as was Zimmerman's barber's shop on the corner. Around on the Allyn-street side of the Judd & Root building, windows 50 feet or more from the corner, and some of them away up in the top floors, were smashed.

In addition to all this destruction the roar of the explosion was heard to the outskirts of the city, and even as far as West Simsbury, 12 miles away. Thus the awakening to the catastrophe was a tremendous one. The citizens responded with a will and at once. The identity of the person who first saw the ruins will perhaps never be discovered: but whoever he was, he witnessed a great pile of brick, chunks of mortar, with great squares of lathing in the midst, here and there a heavy beam protruding, which bore upon it bits of bed clothing or of the garments of those who a few seconds before were peacefully slumbering, and a part of the hotel like a portable house on the stage, showing the various floors, and looking as though a giant cleaver had split the edifice from top to bottom.

There was a horribly suggestive silence in the midst of the dust cloud which half obscured the wrecked hotel. Then a cry of unutterable spectators, followed by more and more, until the ruin became vocal with all the shrieks and moans which might have come from the inferno. For such it was. Imprisoned there with no flames yet, but with death by fire imminent, the poor human beings who still retained life prayed to God and begged the helpless onlookers to rescue them before it was too late. It became too late very soon, for here and there flame tongues began to burst from the great mountain of ruin and agony.

The Fire Department was summoned, but by the time the engines lent their puffing to the increasing noise the fire had obtained good hold upon its food, and the fight was necessarily confined to preventing its spread. This was the most herculean task the Hartford firemen have ever had, but they worked like heroes and deluged the ruins, the victims welcoming death from their injuries when not attended with the horrors of incineration. As the smoke was cleared away down High-street by the wind the full extent of the damage could be perceived. Only the northeast corner of the hotel remained standing; the rest in a twinkling had been laid low.

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