New Orleans, LA St. Charles Hotel Fire, Apr 1894



Guests Escape Unharmed-One of the Employes[sic] Killed and Three Missing-- Death of John Riley Witnessed by a Number of Persons Powerless to Aid Him-Loss On Hotel and Adjoining Buildings Half a Million Dollars.

NEW ORLEANS, La., April 29.---The imposing front of the St. Charles Hotel, on St. Charles Street, with its spacious portico, surmounted by a dome of majestic dimensions, and classic architecture, in the centre of the block, are all that is left standing of probaly[sic] the most famous hotel in the United States. All the rest has gone up in the smoke of last night's fire.

It is known that one of the employes[sic] of the hotel was killed. Three employes[sic] are missing.

Starting in the kitchen, which fronts on a small court in the very heart of the square, not ten minutes after the employes[sic] had left them, the flames made their way along the woodwork with amazing rapidity, and it soon became manifest that the efforts of the firemen would prove futile.

The hundred or more guests had about all retired, and, though many had been awakened by the lusty shouts of "Fire!" Night Clerk Mason sent messengers to all the occupied rooms, and it was impossible that any of the guests should fail to escape, as the flames did not reach the main portion of the structure for fully half and hour after the fire was discovered. In fact, not person whose name is on the hotel register is missing.

Panic, however, seized upon the guests, and they rushed about frantically, most of them in their night clothes---men, women, and children---and, although there was ample opportunity to get down the broad stairways, it required considerable effort from the cooler heads to prevent the most impetuous from throwing themselves from the second, third, and fourth-story windows. One man, whose name is not known, dropped from a third-story window on Common Street, to the shed. Strange to say, he was not injured, and got up and walked off.

A. P. Longleis, father-in-law of Col. Rivers, the proprietor of the hotel, was asleep in the third story, just over the kitchen. When he walked into the hall he found it full of smoke, but he held his hands over his face and rushed through it. He began at once to search for Mrs. Rivers and the ladies of the house, who were rooming on the same floor, and, with the assistance of Major G. L. Hall, who had rooms on the floor, he got all of them in safety to the street.

John Riley, employed as a baker in the hotel, lost his life. His death was witnessed by many spectators. He occupied a room on the fourth story of the real portion of the building. A number of persons had stepped into the open courtyard, in the rear of the rotunda barroom, and were watching the progress of the fire that was fast eating away the upper stories and the banisters of the small gallery that connected the rooms.

A great flame suddenly burst from one of the rooms, and then a scream was heard, and, in the entrance to the room next to the one from which the flames had burst, a man was seen standing, with fire on both sides of him.

The man made a rush for the head of the spiral stairway. As he passed, another flame flashed from the door. Fortunately the full force of it did not strike the man, and he made his way in safety to the spiral stairway. A cheer of satisfaction escaped the witnesses, but as the man stepped upon the spiral stairway he stumbled and fell. Rolling several times over as he came tumbling toward the third story, he finally rolled partly off the stairway, and remained holding to the broken banisters.

He attempted to regain his lost foothold, but it seemed that he was blinded by the heat, and was unable to pull himself up. As he hung there several of the men watching the sad scene rushed out to St. Charles Street in search of a ladder.

While they were gone the poor unfortunate man fell so that he was holding only with his hands to the banisters, suspended fully fifty feet in the air. At last, after making several efforts to throw himself upon the stairway his strength gave way, and, releasing his hold, he fell with a crash upon the stone pavement beneath. His body barely moved after it hit the pavement.

Bridget Mulligan, a chambermaid, Mrs. Ross, a domestic, and John Finlay, an assistant barkeeper, are missing.

Patrolman Fitzgerald rescued fourteen women, who were employes[sic] in the building, and who had there only avenue of escape cut off by the flames. These women slept in the hotel, and were not, it seems, awakened in time to get down by the stairway.

Chief O'Conner took two women off the Gravier Street side, and the members of Hook and Ladder Company No.1 succeeded in saving a number of laundry women. While the fire was attacking the building 167 Gravier Street, adjoining the hotel, Charles Levins, residing at 66 Fourth Street, and manager of the New Orleans Electric Motor Company, and John Whitman, residing at 55 Chippewa Street, had a narrow escape from being killed. The men had been cautioned about going into the building, but they, nevertheless, ventured in. Levins was desirous of saving some of his effects, and Whitman agreed to accompany him.

They had been in the building a few moments when a report resembling that of an explosion was heard, and instantly the roof caved in and fell with a crash. The men were leaving the building at the time, and both were covered with wreckage, but assistance quickly reached them, and conducted them to safety. The men were badly shocked, but were not seriously injured.

Among the guests who got out during the first rush were Judge A. H. McCormick of the United States Court of Appeals, State Senator Martin of Kentucky, R. M. Shearer of Cincinnati, and H. C. Miner of Louisiana.

The Western Union office is situated on the corner of Gravier and St. Charles Streets, and the employes[sic] stuck to their positions until ordered out by the firemen. The heat had become intense, and there was imminent danger of the west wall of the hotel topping over at any moment. All the instruments were taken to a place of safety, and at 2 o'clock the wall fell with a terrible crash, prostrating all the wires on the street.

The Postal Telegraph Company's office is on St. Charles Street, opposite the hotel, but its wires run along the same side of the street as the hotel until at a point directly opposite its office. All these wires were soon rendered useless by the heat and by being crossed by electric wires.

Under the St. Charles on the Gravier Street side were Alexander Levi's tailor's shop, the St. Charles Turf Exchange, the Texas Pacific, the New Orleans Electric Company's office and storeroom, Fassy & Ellis, John S. Moore, and C. E. Berger. The buildings were destroyed completely for fifty or seventy-five feet back of the hotel.

The electric company's building was destroyed, the rear of the Union National Bank building was burned, and the office building facing Carondelet Street was gutted. The last named, a five-story brick building, numbered 156-158, and 160 Common Street, was occupied on the ground floors by Charles Hamilton as a saloon. The upper floors were used as offices by Joseph O. Taylor, E. J. Wenck, and Jefferson Wenck, notaries, and others.

The Texas and Pacific general offices, on the corner of Gravier and St. Charles Streets, and the Louisville and Nashville offices, on Common Street corner, were completely destroyed, with their contents.

Col. R. E. Rivers, the lessee and manager of the hotel, had left for St. Louis yesterday morning.

The New York Times, New York, NY 30 Apr 1894