Hunter's Point, Long Island, NY School Fire and Panic, Nov 1888


An accidental fire and stampede of children took place in the First Ward School at Hunter's Point yesterday, but without serious injury to any one. The school building is in Sixth-street, between East and Vernon avenues, and the average attendance of scholars is 850. The primary class rooms are on the first and second floors. Miss Bell and Miss Boyle teach the two divisions of Class F, on the second floor, and a room 35 by 25 feet, allotted to their use, is partitioned off by a flannel curtain hung on a wire stretched from wall to wall.

When the curtain is drawn it is necessary to use gaslight for the rear section. At 1:15 yesterday afternoon Michael Burns, the assistant janitor, 16 years old, in attempting to light the gas broke a match and the ignited end struck and set fire to the curtain. Burns promptly smothered the flame, but not before several of the 45 children in the room lost their heads and bolted for the doorway to the main hall. This caused a general stampede, which the cry of fire by one of the panic-stricken scholars accelerated. On the opposite side of the main hall was the class room of Miss Higge and some of her 50 pupils were frightened into rushing, pell mell, for the street. The teachers made a vain effort to check the mad rush, but the pressure against the double doors leading to the street forced them open and out poured the scared throng. A number of boys and girls fell down at the entrance and would have been hurt by being trampled on but for the prompt conduct of Morris O'Keefe, the janitor. Hewas on the sidewalk at the time, hobbling around on crutches, owing to a sprained ankle. He dropped his crutches in the excitement and quickly picked up the fallen children, at the same time reassuring those scrambling behind. Meanwhile the panic had spread to the third floor, but there Principal Burdick and her assistants mastered the situation by stemming the plunge for the stairway.

The scare was over in 10 minutes, but the report spread through the city that the school was on fire, and parents, firemen, and policemen gathered in a hurry. Six children were found to be slightly cut or bruised. The school was quickly dismissed for the day after the accident, but will be opened as usual to-day.

The New York Times, New York, NY 23 Nov 1888