New York, NY Greenfield Candy Factory Fire, Dec 1877 - The Investigation

Investigating The Causes.

Beginning Of The Official Inquiry Into The Origin Of The Disaster-Personal Experiences Of Persons Employed In The Factory-The Materials Used-A Great Explosion Followed By A Rush Of Air-No New Theories Advanced.

The work of overhauling the ruins in Barclay Street went on slowly yesterday, owing to the cramped quarters occupied by the workmen and the necessarily small force employed. No traces of the bodies of the missing persons, which are supposed to be in the ruins, were found. A few scraps of burnt clothing were unearthed, but could not be identified. The front wall of the College-place building is still standing, but is in a dangerous condition. Work was begun yesterday at the rear of the College-place building with the intention of overhauling as much of it as can be safely moved in the present condition of the front fall.

Fire Marshal Sheldon yesterday began the official investigation into the cause of the disaster. Five witnesses were examined, Edward Wolfram, of No. 108 Norman Avenue, Greepoint, testified that he was employed as a clerk by Greenfield & Sons; at the time of the explosion witness was at his desk on the first floor of the College-place building; he heard a loud noise, and at the same instant the place was lighted up with a flash of flame; the noise was a sharp, metallic sound, like the clashing of a large number of brass symbals, (sic) and lasted only a moment; it seemed to come from the first floor of the Barclay Street building, and at the same instant witness saw the fire coming in from the Barclay Street building; it set fire to a quantity of motto paper that was piled up in his room near the ceiling; there was no smoke, but a bright flame, that seemed to be propelled rapidly by the air; one of the salesmen [Volgele] broke one of the rear windows, and called out for all to come that way and save themselves; Schumacher (the bookkeeper) and witness started for the rear window nearest them, when Schumacker said they must go back and save the books; they did so, and afterward got out by the College-place entrance; the only work done on the first floor of the College-place building was packing candy; there were about six girls and a boy employed there; there were several firemen and policemen in the College-place building, with fire extinguishers, before he went out; after he got out he went to the corner of College-place and Park-place, where he saw three girls who worked in the first floor of the Barclay Street building; did not know how they got out.

William H. Schmacker, the book-keeper and cashier for Greenfield & Sons, said that he was at his desk, in the rear part of the College-place store, at the time the fire began; he heard a metallic sound, like the falling and clashing of a heavy body of iron, accompanied by the usual jar that is made by the falling of a heavy body; this lasted only a moment, and seemed to be in the Barclay Street building; almost at the same moment the flames shot up from the floor by the steps connecting the two stores; witness started to go out, but returned, put his books in the safe, shut the door, and thought he locked it, then he went out through a rear window of the sample room, and through Woglom’s store.

John Schallmeyer, of No. 152 Clinton Street, Hoboken, testified that he was employed by Greenfield & Sons as a candy maker, and was working in the first loft of the College-place building at the time of the fire; he was about 20 feet from the front window and near the stairs; he heard the roar like the bursting of a bomb, and then a rush of air that seemed to come from below; felt quite a pressure from this air; it was gone in a moment, and then there was a movement of the floor forward and back, and then things began to fall; witness ran down the stairs and went into College-place store, and saw a little fire burning just where the College-place and Barclay Street buildings joined; started to put it out, but was prevented y a number of the girls, who seized him and wanted him to save them; he was knocked down and trampled by the girls, who ran over him and got out; he finally got out, and ran around into Barclay Street; the front of No. 63 was down, the west wall had fallen on the next building and the roof and floors were standing toward No. 65’ witness saw no one come out of the Barclay Street entrance while he stood there; there was not much fire in there then, and witness could see the lamps burning in different parts of the building; witness used no starch or glucose, but used some coloring matter-burnt sugar and cochineal; used no steam, had two hard coal furnaces; there was no drying room on his floor.

William L. Burnett, of no. 150 Clinton Street, Hoboken, was foreman of the top floor of the Barclay Street building and was on that floor when the fire broke out; Albert Kommery, a boy, 13 years old, was there also; Martin Conner, a man in his employ, was coming down stairs; he was injured, and the boy is supposed to have been killed; witness was standing in the middle of the building at work, and the boy was on the east side, opposite; witness felt a rush of air, apparently from the from, and at the same instant the roof fell in, and the floor seemed to drop, carrying him with it; he was fast in the ruins for some time; finally he saw a light, and working his way toward it, found himself at the west side of the building; the wall was all gone, and he stepped out upon the roof of No. 65 Barclay Street; must have fallen quite a distance, as the roof was at least 15 feet below the level of his floor; the boy, Kommery, called several times that he was caught by a barrel of sugar, but witness could not get to him; neither could he see him; the engineer visited his room that morning; had always found the engineer careful, and could not say they he ever saw him under the influence of liquor.

Nelson Greenfield, of N. 341 West Twenty-Second Street, testified that he was the junior partner of the firm of E. Greenfield & Sons, and attended to the factory; the street floor of the Barclay Street building was used as a store; the first loft was used for the manufacture of gum-drops; had there three or four copper kettles for boiling, which were heated by steam; had a large cooling tank, where the hot sugar was put from the kettles and cooled by water; there was also a room for crystallizing gum-drops and a drying room upon that floor; there was no heat used there except steam; the second loft was used for the same purpose and was the same as the first loft, except that the drying-room was in the north-east corner; the third loft was the cream room; there was one large and three or four small copper boilers there, and a stove, which was used once or twice a month for making cordials; there was a drying room, a starch room, and a crystallizing room on the first floor; the fourth floor was the Japanese floor, where coconut strips were made; in the basement was the engine and boiler; all the packing boxes were kept there as was also a quantity of raw material, such as sugar, vermacilla, and gum; there was a drying room in the rear, where they dried almonds and other pan works; there was in the stock about 10 or 20 pounds of chlorate of potash; it was in the third story of the College-place building, in charge of the foreman, Mr. Stedham; they were not making any chlorate goods, and had not been for several weeks; the raw material on the store floor of the Barclay Street building was gum, grape-sugar, glucose and licorice, powdered and pearl starch, 15 or 20 pound of oils in various kinds, and extracts in bottles; on the second loft the same kind of raw materials, in the same quantities; could not tell the actual quantities of each; on the third loft was sugar, orange water, oils in bottles, glucose and grape-sugar; o the fourth loft was glucose, coconut, cocoanut shells in bags, sugars of various kinds, starch, and a tank of glycerin, formerly used in the manufacture of gum work; alum, cream tartar, cochineal, and carmine and vegetable colors are also used in the manufacture of confectionery the essential oils were in charge of the elder Mr. Greenfield, and were kept mainly in the vault of the College-place building in the original packages; some were kept in the office; the oils were given to the foremen in half-pounds or pounds as they required them; the building s were lighted with kerosene oil the oil was bought by the barrel and kept in the vault of the College-place building; the lamps were in charge of one man-Michael Wolfe-who trimmed filled, and lighted them all; there was a coal furnace in the third loft of the Barclay Street building, and five furnaces in the basement, and two in the first loft of the College-place building; witness thought there were stoves in the drying room in the second, third, and fourth lofts of the College-place building; witness was not aware that anything explosive was used in the manufacture of the goods; when the accident occurred he was in the Barclay Street store about 30 feet from the rear, in conversation with two of the foremen; his father was behind him, and several of the employees were there at work; he did not know how many; some customers were also there; witness heard no explosion, but the ceiling seemed to be coming down, and he saw the flame licking through the ceiling, and things began to fall from the shelves; one of the foremen and witness ran to the door together; the foreman got out through the show window and pulled witness after him; witness looked at the buildings and saw that the west wall was down as far as the roof of No. 65 the roof and two upper floors of No. 63 were hanging down on that side, and witness saw Burnett trying to make his way out of the ruins toward the roof of No. 65; a portion of the front wall on the west side of Greenfield’s building had fallen, but the rest of the front was standing; witness then went and found his father and took care of him; his father escaped through the College-place building, and was seriously burned.

The investigation will be continued at 10 o’clock this morning.

The New York Times, New York, NY 28 Dec 1877