New York, NY Greenfield Candy Factory Fire, Dec 1877 - Among the Ruins

Night Scenes At The Ruins.

At 10 o’clock a gang of 40 men were set at work by Fire Commissioner Kinz, at 12 cents an hour, removing the debris in front of the candy store on Barclay Street. After half an hour’s work they turned over a black mass, which closely resembled the pelvis of a human being. The firemen laid the mass carefully on a slab, and Charity Commissioner Brennan, who was on the opposite side of the street, was notified. He examined the mass and found it was cocoa, which had been prepared for candy. An attempt was next made to drag the express wagon of the Delaware Lackawanna and Western Express Company out of the way. The wagon had been crushed by the mass of brick and mortar which had fallen upon the rear part of the wagon, and the other hands pulled on this. The pole gave way finally, and struck one man in the head, fracturing his skull, and, of course, knocking him senseless. The man was unknown, and Commissioner Brennan sent him directly to Bellevue Hospital. The wagon was loaded chiefly with rubber boots, and boots and shoes. These were carefully collected on the sidewalk by the Insurance Patrol, and covered with tarpaulins. The driver of the wagon was George Mette, who escaped with a few slight bruises, and led on of his horses which survived the accident, home. The bright moonlight assisted the men materially in their melancholy work of carting away the ruins of the candy factory. No other light could be obtained. Commissioner Brennan sent several of his staff to various parts of the City in an endeavor to secure a calcium light, but failed to do so. At 1 o’clock the sidewalk and street immediately opposite the candy manufactory had been cleared and the wild rumors which had been circulating of bodies of passing citizens being buried under the ruins, were proved to have been canards. Mr. D.B. Hasbrouck, chief of the Bureau of Elections, who was passing the building at the time of the explosion, was struck by the falling wall upon the scalp, stunning him and causing a painful but not serious wound. He was removed in an ambulance to the Astor House, where he was attended by Dr. Beebe, of the Fifth Avenue Hotel, and his son, Vernon. It was currently reported that some 8 or 10 girls were employed in the basement of the candy factory stirring candy in the copper boilers. If this was so, there was, of course, no possibility of escape for them, and the firemen, and extra laborers directed their attention to that spot.

The New York Times, New York, NY 21 Dec 1877


A Day’s Work Among The Ruins

Identification Of The Bodies Found-The Boilers Asserted To be Intact-A Mysterious Phase Of The Disaster-List Of Missing And Injured Persons-The Losses And Insurances.

The ruins caused by the explosion and subsequent fire in Barclay Street and College=place were smoking all day yesterday and last night, and throughout the day and night two streams of water were continually played on the smoking pile by the firemen. The finding of the first body under the heap of brick, stone, and iron on the sidewalk in front of No. 63 Barclay Street at 3 o’clock yesterday morning was reported in yesterday’s Times. The body was that of a man one of whose legs was crushed by the lintel of the main doorway of the factory, a huge piece of stone. The body was extricated with great difficulty, and it was not until 4 o’clock that it was tenderly carried across the street and deposited on the doorstep of a building opposite. The face was so greatly crushed that the features were undistinguishable, but the body was identified by cards in the pockets, soon after it was extricated, as that of WILLIAM H. BRADLEY, a clerk in a Front street tea house, aged 26 years. Before 5 o’clock another body, that of WILLIAM BENNET, a newsboy was found lying very near the spot in which Bradley’s was discovered. The boy had been crushed by an iron column. His body was identified by his brother-in-law, and was taken to the Morgue. Up to a late hour this morning no other bodies had been discovered. The laborers employed by the Fire Department and the firemen themselves continued to clear away the rubbish, seeking for bodies, until daylight yesterday, when it was discovered that the rear wall of No. 63 Barclay Street and the side wall of the College-place building were in an unsafe condition, and all the available force was used to take them down.

In the afternoon preparations were made to raze the front wall of the College-place building which was also unsafe. Meanwhile, however, the search for corpses had been resumed. Early in the afternoon the two boilers under the sidewalk were partly uncovered. Boiler Inspector Horton and Sergt. Leffers examined such parts of them as were accessible, but could find no signs to show that either of them had exploded. This was an astonishing discovery, and it naturally gave rise to many theories as to the cause of the explosion. Some eyewitnesses of the disaster had maintained from the first that it was not caused by the explosion of a boiler. Mr. Clarence Deming, who witnesses the disaster from an elevation, said to a Times reporter that the beginning of it was the appearance of a column of fire, which shot up 50 feet into the air from the Barclay Street building. He was a quarter of a mile away, and did not hear the noise of the explosion immediately. The firemen then disappeared altogether. After the report of the explosion had reached his ears, followed by the sound of the falling wall, the flames again burst forth and spread rapidly. Mr. Nelson Greenfield said yesterday that there were no chemicals of any sort I the place, and that none were ever used by the firm. There were vast quantities of a preparation of starch used for candy molds in the building, which, some workmen have asserted, possessed explosive qualities. This report is unverified. Mr. Nelson Greenfield suggested as an explanation of the explosion that it might have been caused by gases collected in a brick tunnel which extended from the boiler-room back to the angle where the Barclay Street and College-place buildings joined. Mr. Greenfield said that he was confident that no persons belonging to the establishment were missing, except one engineer and Josephine Sheppard, one of the packers, a woman 22 years old. When asked how he knew that was the score of other persons reported missing and had not lost their lives at the fire, he replied vaguely: “Well, I know.” It appears that Hertzbach, the engineer, did not escape with the loss of an arm, as reported yesterday morning. Mrs. Hertzbach was anxiously seeking for information concerning her husband all day yesterday. She denied that he was an intemperate man. She said, moreover, that he had told her last Monday night that some part of the tubing of one of the boilers was broken, and that he had told Mr. Greenfield of the break. Mr. Greenfield had told him that it could not be repaired until Sunday, as the business of the week was so great that the engines could not be stopped. Two additional missing persons were reported yesterday at the Twenty-seventh Precinct Station house, namely, Josephine Sheppard, alluded to above, and Thomas Grissich, of No. 31 Orchard Street. The number of persons now missing is 19. The losses by the fire are now estimated to amount to more than $150,000. The boilers in the candy manufactory had not been inspected since November, 1876, and since the alterations had been made in them. John Farley, who was reported yesterday among the missing, escaped from the fire unhurt. This man asserted last night that there were three boilers in the boiler-room of No. 63 Barclay Street, the third being a small one, which stood against the rear wall of the place. Isaac Hockenberg, reported missing was saved.

The New York Times, New York, NY 22 Dec 1877