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

The rescuing parties have been relieved to-night, and new men are pushing the excavations as fast as practicable. Electric lights have been erected to facilitate the work. The day and night have been mild, the frost net even stiffening the mud in the streets. Had the weather been cold it would hardly have been possible to rescue a single person from the ruins. Mr. Ketchum, the proprietor of the hotel, says there were about 35 guests in the house when he left the office last night. There are no means of ascertaining how many arrived from the midnight trains, as the hotel register has not yet been recovered.

Builders here declare that the structure was built upon the principle of a card house---that is one supporting pillar rested upon the lower one, and so on to the roof, which covered the fifth story. Thus, according to this wonderfully simple plan of construction, if one pillar was knocked out of place they all went the way of the leader. The addition, known as the annex, which did not fall with the main building, is a much more recent structure, but is said to be not extraordinarily safe at that. It was badly shaken by the downfall and the explosion, but it fortunately stood firm.

Concerning the careless habit of leaving the hotel boilers to take care of themselves during the night, evidence of some importance was given to THE TIMES'S correspondent by Jack Turpie, a colored waiter, who slept in a room adjoining the boiler room on the east. His arm is broken, his shoulder crushed, a hole is cut in his head, and he is otherwise hurt, but he knows what the situation was. It may be interesting to add here that Turpie, who is a large and powerful man, heard no explosion, knew nothing of any accident, and only became aware of what had probably happened when he found himself out of doors, amid the ruins, and unable to get up. This man says that Saturday and Sunday nights the practice of the engineer was to bank the fire under the boiler at 12 o'clock and then go, leaving the boiler in charge of some assistant. The idea was to give the dynamo a rest at those particular times and use gas instead of electricity, and also to let the steam heat in the parlors, bedrooms, &c., die down to a low point. The assistant usually went to sleep after the fire had been banked, but the hotel authorities had reproved him for this and told him that he must keep awake or be awake earlier. He replied that there was no danger, that the boiler was full of water and the fires banked.

This seems to agree with the theory that the explosion was caused by gas and that the hotel had been gutted before the final smash came. There is a strong probability in this connection that the citizens of Hartford will within a week hold an indignation meeting concerning the insecurity of the Park Central Hotel, and the consequent death of so many of its prominent citizens. This will probably have the effect of compelling such a change in the municipal ordinances as will constitute some one the responsible head when such a horror as that which has fallen upon the city comes again.

The only disaster approaching this one in this city was that about the year 1854, when the boiler of the car shops on Potter-street exploded, killing 26 persons. That occurred in the afternoon. The explosion was a mystery from the beginning. The engineer was competent, and it was hard to believe that he neglected his duties. He died at his post, but the public finally settled down to the idea that the cause was lack of water in the boiler. This disaster founded the Hartford Hospital, which is doing the best of work in the present catastrophe.

The New York Times, New York, NY 19 Feb 1889