New York, NY Greenfield Candy Factory Fire, Dec 1877 - Theory of Fire

Work At The Ruins Yesterday-Continuation Of The Fire Marshal’s Investigation-A New Theory Concerning Disaster.

The work of searching for bodies in the ruins of Greenfield & Son’s candy factory, in Barclay Street, was continued all day yesterday. At 11:40 one of the workmen uncovered a human hand and the arm, completely calcined. Next a single-barreled pistol and a couple of watch chains were brought to light, and then the remainder of the body. It was burned beyond recognition, and only a portion of the clothing remained. One foot was entirely gone. It was lying on the back and partly on the left side, and from the condition of the ruins which immediately surrounded it, it was decided that the man was on the store floor of the building. The remains were taken out and laid on top of the pile of ashes on Barclay Street, and Mrs. Hertzberger, the wife of the missing engineer, was sent for. She arrived about 2 o’clock and positively identified the body as that of her husband. She recognized it by the portions of the underclothing clinging to the body, which she said she had made for her husband. The body was removed to the dead-house. Subsequently Mrs. Hertzberger went to the temporary office of Messrs. Greenfield & Son, No. 36 Park Place, and they gave her the money to bury her husband with.

Young Sheppard, the brother of Josephine Sheppard, whose body is supposed to be in the ruins, said that it would be found in the rear part of the building, and yesterday cane to the spot with five friends, all provided with shovels and picks, and determined to commence work in that portion of the ruins. The contractor, however, set a force of men at work there, and that satisfied young Sheppard.

Workmen were yesterday put to work removing the loose bricks from the top of the walls of the Grocers’ bank, for the purpose of repairing the building. The contractor for cleaning the streets also had a gang of men at work clearing a passage way through the block on Barclay Street, from College Place to Greenwich Street. Mrs. Josephine Sheppard called on mayor Ely yesterday, and implored him to do something to hasten the recovery of her daughter’s remains. Mayor Ely referred her to Fire Commissioner King, at the same time assuring the woman that he would put men to work himself, if she could indicate to him where the body of her daughter was to be found.

Fire Marshal Sheldon yesterday continued the investigation into the cause of the fire. Four witnesses were examined. Herman Baacke, of No. 98 Lewis Street, testified that he was in the employ of Greenfield & Son as machinist, and had charge of all machinery, steam pipes, and everything of that kind in the building, excepting the boilers and engine; his room was on the upper floor of the College Place building at the rear end; at the time of the accident he had just left his room to go down stairs; he heard a crash as though the chimney or roof had fallen, followed by the noise of falling bricks; he went back into his room and looked out of the window; the roofs of the adjoining buildings toward Greenwich Street were lower than that of No. 63, and were covered with bricks and mortar and rubbish; a large part of the west wall of No. 63 Barclay Street had evidently fallen out upon these buildings; afterward, when witness went around to the Barclay Street front the saw that the west wall had fallen out, down almost to the level of the roof of the three story building adjoining, No. 65; witness called to two men who were working there, and told them that the boiler had burst and they had better get out; they all went down stairs, and witness went back to the third left and called Stedham, who was still at work; he then went into the College Place store, and saw a number of firemen and other persons in there; he went back to where the Braclay Street store joined the College Place store; the Barclay Street store was then on fire, principally at the ceiling; the firemen were trying to put the fire out with extinguishers; he heard one of them say it was no use; he then went up to the first loft to see if there was any one there, and finding no one, returned to Barclay Street; only part of the front wall of No. 63 had fallen; the west wall had fallen out, and the upper part of the front, on the west corner, was gone; the Police then drove everybody back and witness saw no more; witness had been employed there for a year and knew the engineer very well; he never knew him to be under the influence of liquor or to drink anything but beer; considered him a careful man, who understood his business and attended to it; the horizontal furnace flue was about 35 or 40 feet long; the engineer used to clean it every four weeks; there was a door in the flue, near the boiler, and he used to go in there and clean it, and a man named Grissich, now dead, used to help him; Hertberger had no work to do except to attend to the boilers and engines; witness had never heard of there being any difficulty with the flue, and there were no pipes of any kind inside of it; all the steam-feeding pipes and branches were on the west side of the building, and there was only an exhaust pipe on the other side; the steam was blown off through the sewer; witness had seen the furnaces since the accident and found the fires banked and the furnace doors open; one of the men, whose name witness did not recollect, told witness that he was in Hertzberger’s room about five minutes before the accident occurred and that Hertzberger was then banking his fires; steam heat was principally used in the manufactory, but there were several furnaces in the buildings. In his department everything was in good order so far as he knew; the foremen on the floors were always very particular to call his immediate attention to anything in his department that was out of order. The steam pipes in the drying rooms were raised some distance above the floors on an iron frame, and a temporary floor placed over them; the cooking kettles were all open; there was no possibility of an explosion in any part of the steam apparatus of which witness had charge; they had burned kerosene about a year; witness shut off the gas at each meter, disconnected the pipes, and put caps on the outlets of the meters; the meters had not been taken away; there was a fire extinguisher kept on the top of a closet at the junction of the two stores; witness thought the Barclay Street building was an old building; it was quite shaky; when standing on the roof he had felt it shaking under him. Hertzberger usually carried 65 to 70 pounds of steam.

John Garry, who was at work in the College Place basement heard a noise which he could not describe; flames and smoke immediately penetrated from the Barclay Street basement; an upright shaft extending from the first to the fourth floors of the College Place building, at the junction of the two buildings, fell. John Farley heard a slight noise , but thought it was the explosion of a kerosene lamp; then the ceiling fell, and flames darted forth on all sides; he was in the Barclay Street store; he escaped through the show window, and pulled Mr. Nelson Greenfield out after him. Nicholas Wolfe was standing in the Barclay Street store; the noise and fire seemed to come from above.

A new theory in regard to the cause of the disaster is fast gaining credence among those who are investigating it, and has been so much strengthened by the testimony thus far taken by Fire Marshal Sheldon, that that gentleman yesterday expressed himself favorably toward it, as did also Mr. Wiegand, a Philadelphia civil engineer and architect. There was stored in the building adjoining Greenfield’s place 306,770 pounds of wool. No. 65, the building next below Greenfield’s, was one story lower than Greenfield’s. They were all very old buildings, poorly mortared, and according the testimony of two witnesses before the Fire Marshal, very shaky. The walls were 12 inches thick, and the mortises for the joists in the upper wall of No. 63 not more than 6 or 8 inches deep. The theory is that the immense weight of wool stored in No. 61 caused the walls of the building to spread, and that the building tumbled down because it was too weak to sustain the pressure put upon it.

The New York Times, New York, NY 29 Dec 1877