New York, NY Ellis Island Fire, Jun 1897


Main Building of the Immigrant Station Destroyed


Blaze Started in the Second Story of the Great Immigration Building–Rescue of Two Hundred Frightened Immigrants–Property of the Poor Home Seekers Destroyed in the Storerooms.

New York City (Special)–The big immigrant landing bureau at Ellis Island was reduced to ashes early Tuesday morning, and two hundred and fifty immigrants barely escaped with their lives. There were forty patients in the wooden hospital building in the rear of the main structure who were carried out in cots just before the hospital took fire. The immigrants and patients were safely landed at the Barge Office pier at 2 o'clock a.m. Not one of them received so much as a burn.

What caused this sudden conflagration is and may remain a mystery. WILLIAM BURKE, chief of the night watch on Ellis Island, declares he does not know the cause of the fire. The fire started in the east end or side of the main structure, which is more than 1000 feet long and two stories in height. The first floor of this building is almost entirely given up to baggage, while the eastern end of the second story is used for offices. The middle and southern portion is used for a landing bureau and detention rooms.

It was in this part of the building that most of the 250 people detained on Ellis Island were sleeping. The fire started in the end of the building toward New York, and was not at first noticed in the detention rooms, which are cut off from that portion by partitions.

When Chief Night Watchman BURKE notice the fire, it was licking around one of the towers. He at once summoned the thirty men employed under him, who quickly unlocked the iron gates leading into the detention room and aroused the sleepers, who were reposing on benches or on wire cots which the bureau provides.

One of the night watchmen was also sent on the jump across the bridge to the woman's dormitory, contained in a two-story building in the rear of the landing depot.

Meantime the men in the main building had been rushed out and down the main double stairway, at the west end, to the boat.

Surgeon J.H. WHITE and Assistant Surgeons WHITE and GIDEON had been aroused by this time, and they at once began to remove the forty patients in the hospital. It was seen at a glance that the big main building was doomed, and it required quick work to carry out the helpless sick before the blistering heat prevented an approach to the hospital building.

Meantime some of the immigrants who had escaped from the main building had become anxious about their baggage, and despite the fact that the vast building was fast being encompassed by the flames rushed back to save it.

In all the known tongues thy insisted that their all was contained in the boxes and bundles which they had brought over. Captain BURKE and his men had to fairly fight them back on the boat. They wept and wrung their hands when they found it was impossible to save their property.