New York, NY Vesey Street Wine Cellar Explosion and Fire, Sept 1898


The Result of an Explosion in a Vesey Street Wine Cellar.


Those Killed Were Employed by Max Stiner & Co.---A Girl's Exciting Experience.

Three men lost their lives in a fire which followed an explosion in Max Stiner & Co.'s wine and liquor cellar, at 36 Vesey Street, late yesterday afternoon, and several other persons had narrow escapes from the fast spreading flames. At 5:20 o'clock an explosion, sounding like the report of a cannon, shook the five-story building in which the liquor dealers conduct their business, and almost at the same instant the ground floor was filled with clouds of smoke and flame. In the cellar, where the explosion occurred, were three men and a girl. The girl was the only one of these four who was saved.

The men who failed to escaped were William Witt, foreman of the cellar, who lived at 65 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn; Rudolph Schoendorff of Jersey City, and another, who was said to be Carl Herlowitski. It was also said that his name was Latour, and that he was known about the place as "Paul." His address is not known.

The girl is Lydia H. St. Clair, about nineteen years old, who lives in West Broadway. On the ground floor were several men, among whom were Milton Stiner, the young son of the head of the firm: Joseph F. Fitzgerald, the head bookkeeper, and Charles F. Gorman, a salesman employed there.

At the time of the explosion Mr. Fitzgerald was standing near the head of one of the flights of stairs leading to the cellar. "It was not a moment," he said, in telling of his experience, "before the flames and smoke shot up in every direction. Gorman was standing behind the office railing, only three steps from the street, and I heard him yell at me: "Get out of the building, quick." The smoke was so black around me that I couldn't see him, but he must have made a dive for the front door. At any rate, he got out safely enough.

"But it was too late for me to go that way. The fire was leaping up in front of me already. I couldn't see one way or the other, the smoke was so thick, but there didn't seem to be so much flame in the rear, and I ran in that direction.

Escorted the Girl Out.

"When I got near the rear windows I heard somebody coming up the back stairs from the cellar, and the next minute I found it was the girl who had been working down there. She was nearly frightened to death, and I don't blame her, for she had had a pretty close shave. If she had been a minute later she probably wouldn't have been alive now. We ran to one of the windows, which was open. Between our place and the building in the rear there is an open space about six feet wide. It was a sixteen foot drop from where we stood to the ground, and we couldn't get across to the windows opposite because they were closed in by iron doors. I climbed out on the blinds, and let myself out as best I could to the ground. Then I shinned over a ten-foot board fence, with spikes on top of it, and got into the next building's ground windows.