Chicago, IL Lincoln Hotel Fire, Dec 1902

Hotel Ruins




Chicago, Dec. 4. -- Fourteen persons, among the scores crowded into the Lincoln Hotel at 176 Madison street, met death shortly before 6 o'clock this morning in a fire which will pass into local history as one of the most horrible Chicago has ever experienced.
Death came suddenly to a few but with awful slowness to others who were penned in the death trap and suffocated, or burned to death. Some died in their rooms, some chanced all in jumping, and lost, while others were found in the hallways where they had expired with their fingers dug into the cracks of the floor.

All of the bodies were recovered, as the hotel was not destroyed.

The dead:
ED. TONER, Milwaukee, Wis.
B. F. BOSWELL, lived at hotel.
M. M. HARDY, Janesville, Wis.
H. K. WOOD, Leganon, Ind.
SAMUEL L. YOCUM, Davenport, Ia.
J. C. YOCUM, Davenport, Ia.
F. L. EWING, Marietta, O.
A. B. COON, Marengo, Ill.
T. V. SLOCUM, Waeoala, Ill.
WARD LOWE, Minneapolis, Minn.
F. W. CAREY, Bueyrus, O.
Three others, including one who died on the way to the hospital, had not been identified up to noon.

The victims were taken to Ralston's morgue and all day the place was filled with anxious people interested in the dead, or seeking to assure themselves of the safety of friends or relatives.
The building was a fire trap of the worst kind, according to experts. There but two exits, a narrow stairway leading down the four floors of the building and an incompleted fire escape in the rear.

Started By Lighted Cigar.
The fire started in the second floor, presumably from a lighted cigar dropped on the carpet. Guests occupying upper rooms in the front part of the hotel, aroused by the screams of a woman, were able to escape down the stairway, and about thirty people reached safety by means of the fire escape. To add to the horror, however, this gave way while others were attempting to escape and three men were dashed to death on the pavement of the alley below.
For the people in the rear there was now no escape save by jumping. The stairway was in flames and the fire escape gone. Horror stricken faces appeared at the windows and cried frantically for help.
Firemen cried back at them to wait until nets or mattresses could be brought, and those who did in most cases escaped with slight injuries. But some, crazed with fright, jumped to the pavement and were either killed or badly hurt.

Awful Scene Of Death.
With great difficulty the fire, although comparatively a small one, was subdued, but it was some time before rescuers could penetrate the dense bank of smoke which filled the place. It was an awful scene which met their gaze. The dead or unconscious lying stretched on the floors, and in some cases on their beds. Some had attempted to slip on a garment before making for the street, but had been overcome, but most of them were in their night clothes. Every store and other hotels in the vicinity was filled with men and women who had escaped with only their night clothes. An investigation will be made. A fire wall around the freight elevator and other precautionary alterations had been ordered some time ago, but the matter had been neglected.

Death By Suffocation.
Fourteen persons met death in a fire in the Lincoln hotel, 176 Madison street at 6 o'clock this morning. Little damage was done to the hotel, but the smoke was so dense that the persons who met their death were overcome and died before assistance could reach them. Many jumped from the fourth story windows or tried to save them selves by climbing down the fire escape in the front of the building only to lose their grasp on the cold iron bars and fall to the street. The persons sleeping in the rear of the building on the top floors had no chance for their lives. A narrow stairway leading to all floors of the structure was afire and the escape of the lodgers in the rear of the building was cut off. Firemen and policemen were not reticent in speaking of when they witnessed at the catastrophe. The condemned the building as a "fire trap." Ambulances and patrol wagons from all parts of the city were called to the place, and the dead and injured were quickly attended to.

Victims Were Visitors.
All but fourteen of the guests at the hotel were out of town prsons. Most of them came to Chicago to attend the international live stock show. Up to 10 o'clock last night guests were taken in at the hotel and in every room or place in which a cot could be erected it is said they were accommodated. The hotel was filled. At that time a large number of stock men with their families were turned away. Shortly after the fire broke out the firemen rushed up the stairway into the place and began the work of rescue. Men, women and children were carried down ladders, fire escapes and smoke filled halls.

Fireman Saves Woman.
In one instance a fireman of engine company No. 2 saved a woman from running to the rear of the building to certain death on the fourth floor only to be forced to drop her from the third floor to the roof of the building at 178 Madison street. The woman held her 7 year old son in her arms. She was MRS. J. SHEPPARD and her son is named FREDERICK. She was then carried from the roof of the building to the Brevart House, where a physician was summoned. It was found that their injuries were slight.

Inadequately Equipped.
The building is constructed of brick with but one stairway leading to the upper floors and a fire escape in the front of the building. E. C. WEBER, the night clerk, was one of the first persons to discover smoke on the second floor. It is believed that the fire began in this section of the building. WEBER refused to make any statement and after he had secured possession of the register, he was taken to the central station where he is being detained.

A Terrible Awakening.
A short time after the fire was discovered consternation reigned on the upper floors. MRS. SHEPPARD'S son was one of the first to be awakened by the presence of smoke. He awakened his mother and both began screaming. Many persons were thus warned of the danger and made their escape. The woman was so panic stricken, however, that she was not among the first to attempt to get out of the hotel and she was making her way into the most dangerous part of the building when a fireman seized her and her son and conducted them to the floor below where he dropped them out of a window.

Some Narrow Escapes.
J. E. HERBERT, of Salineville, Ohio, jumped from the fourth floor where he had been sleeping. He struck on the roof of 178 Madison street near where MRS. SHEPPARD fell. His right leg was broken and he suffered internal injuries. He was taken to the county hospital.
W. J. THOMAS, a mail clerk, of Cedar Rapids, jumped through a window on the fourth floor and in his blind haste narrowly escaped falling to the street. He managed to make his way to the fire escape and climbed to the ground. Previous to THOMAS' escape, twenty-five to thirty persons had climbed down the fire escape to the street. All were in their night clothing.

Cigar Starts Blaze.
From what could be learned from persons who escaped from the building it appears that the fire was accidentally started, probably by dropping a lighted cigar on the carpet in the hallway on the second floor. The smouldering fire filled the building with heavy smoke and several suffocated and died in their beds.
ALLEN OLDERF, of Milwaukee, made a perilous descent from the fourth floor by scaling the wall by means of the iron shutters. OLDERF stated that he had seen at least a dozen persons on the top floor vainly endavoring to make their way from the building by means of the front stairway.

Many Died In Their Beds.
Many of the bodies were found in the beds in positions of slumber. Others were found in the hallways lying face downward in positions that mutely portrayed how they had vainly endeavored to save their lives. Some were half clad and others were nothing but night clothing. It was by means of articles and letters in the pockets of what little clothing some of the dead persons were that many identifications were made.

The Proprietor Talks.
E. A. SMITH, proprietor of the hotel, said:
"I am certainly not to blame for this awful catastrophe. Three weeks ago the agents of this building were notified to place a stairway in the rear of the building, and also to build a fire wall around the freight elevator shaft in the rear. The contractors came and looked the building over, but nothing was done. Last night our seventy rooms were all filled and I should judge that we had about 125 to 150 guests. From what I can learn the fire started in the rear of the building on the second floor. This probably accounts for the escape of guests who occupied front rooms on the upper floors. They had an opportunity to reach the stairway before the flames reached that part of the building, but the occupants of the rear rooms were cut off by the flames. Most of our guests last night were persons who came to Chicago to visit the stock show and knew little of the building."

Scored By Fire Chief.
Chief MUSHAM, of the fire department, said that it was the worst fire he had attended during his career as a fireman and that so dense was the smoke that it was impossible to reach the imprisoned guests. When the firemen finally managed to make their way into the room the sight they saw was appalling. Men and boys lay about the floors of the rooms and hallways where they had fallen in their eagerness to escape. "The building," said the chief, "was one of the owrst fire traps I have ever seen. The floors in places had cracks in them large enough to drop a penny through and the smoke just sifted through and suffocated the inmates of the rooms before they had time to make their way into the hallways."

Racine Journal Wisconsin 1902-12-05