Long Island, NY Edgemere Holmehurst Inn Fire, Sept 1909


Some of Those in Holmehurst Inn, at Edgemere, L. I., Jump from Windows.


Hotel Destroyed and a Firebug Is Suspected---Several Persons Rescued---Heavy Losses in Jewelry.

Fire, believed to have been of incendiary origin, destroyed the new four-story Holmehurst Inn, a Summer hotel on Seaview Avenue, Edgemere, L. I., at 2 o'clock yesterday morning, driving out upon the cold seashore fifty-five dazed guests, nearly all of them clad in night attire, bathing suits, blankets, or less. The hotel was utterly destroyed in less than fifty minutes, and with it practically all the clothing and jewelry of the guests. The latter were taken care of by neighboring cottagers and many returned to the city in borrowed clothing yesterday.

All the guests were rescued in good time, though several were forced to leap from first-floor windows and some were partly first-floor windows and some were partly overcome by smoke. The hotel, which was valued at $100,000 and insured for $75,000, was built only last Winter, after an earlier fire of undiscovered origin, which destroyed it on Aug. 23, 1908. There had been one other fire on the premises three years ago, when a large barn on the property was destroyed.

The fire yesterday was discovered in the dead of night by William Van Buren, a son of Mrs. Maude Van Buren Holme, the owner of the hotel, who likewise discovered one of the earlier fires. He had for several weeks been acting as night watchman and was making his rounds of the hotel at 1:30 o'clock when, he says, he discovered a small fire smoldering in a garbage barrel on the north side of the hotel. He extinguished this with little difficulty and continued his round of the hotel. Fifteen minutes later he found the bathhouses along the southern end of the building a mass of flames, and immediately turned in the automatic alarm to awaken the guests of the house. Then, leaving the headwaiter, Lester Chisholm, and William Wiley, the cook, to fight the blaze in the bathhouses as best they could he telephoned to Fire Chief William E. Lawrence at Far Rockaway.

While the engine company from Far Rockaway was hurrying to the fire, Van Buren and his mother, the latter clad only in bathrobe and slippers, went through the entire house, knocking on every door until the guests were awakened. These, finding the entire house full of smoke and the whole ground floor seemingly ablaze, were thrown into a panic and rushed helter-skelter through the halls, clad only in night attire or in hastily snatched-up blankets. Van Buren, assisted by C. S. Moore, Alvin Keech, and other men rooming on the first floor, presently led the frightened women and children to the main hall and safely down the stairway to the street just as the fire, which had already reached above the second floor on the south side of the building, was being wafted by a strong sea breeze through the ground floor. Then Van Buren returned to the top floor to assist his mother to the street after she had aroused the last sleeper on the fourth floor. Both reached the street in safety, though all but overcome by smoke.

George Doty, one of the guests on the third floor, wakened by the hubbub in the halls and the choking smoke, slipped into a bathing suit and rushed to the fire escape at his window without perceiving, in the darkness and confusion, that the window was closed. He threw himself bodily through the pane and reached the fire escape, but was badly cut about the head and shoulders. Notwithstanding his injuries, he returned to the blazing building with Edward Sybell, one of the guests at Mrs. Holme's cottage, just across the way, to rescue Mrs. H. Mayo of the Knickerbocker apartments, Fifth avenue and Twenty-eighth Street, who had been ill all Summer in her room on the second floor. The two men carried Mrs. Mayo on a chair safely to the street. Mr. Doty was later attended by Dr. Slocum of Far Rockaway. His injuries were not serious.

Just as the engine company arrived from Far Rockaway, less than fifteen minutes after the alarm had been sent in, four of the rescuers, Van Buren, Alvin Keech, C. S. Moore, and Breckinridge Steele, manager of the near-by taxicab station, leaped from the first floor windows, fifteen feet above the ground, with the building now all ablaze over them. The last of the thrilling escapes fell to the lot of L. A. O'Leary of 616 West 116th Street, Manhattan, who, after seeing his wife safely to the street from their room on the third floor, had returned to play the hotel hose upon the flames within. He was almost cut off by the fast-spreading by one of the fire escapes, dropping about fifteen feet.

Fire Chief Lawrence saw, as soon as he reached the scene, that the building was doomed, but turned in a second alarm to prevent the fire from spreading to the many new cottages near by. This alarm presently brought to the fire three more engine companies from Rockaway Park, Seaside, and Arverne. Wakened by the red glare that lit up the entire sea front, hundreds of Summer residents from Arverne, Hammels, Far Rockaway, and other beaches flocked to the fire. While the rescued guests, after a hasty roll call, were shivering on the sand around the blazing hotel or being cared for by the neighboring cottagers, who hurried to the fire with blankets and clothing and warm coffee, the firemen devoted their efforts toward saving Mrs. Holme's cottage across the street. The front of this was already blistered, and in some places ablaze, but it was soon put out of danger. Less than fifty minutes after the fire had been discovered the roof and walls of the hotel fell with a crash, leaving nothing but the blackened brick chimney standing.

Some Guests Heavy Losers.

It was then that the shivering and oddly dressed guests began to count up their losses. Few of them had saved more than the scant clothing they wore. L. A. O'Leary and wife, who had spent the Summer of 1908 at the hotel also, bewailed the loss of about $4,000 worth of clothing and jewels, part of which, however, was covered by insurance. Other heavy losers were Mr. and Mrs. Beverly Ward of 145 East Thirty-ninth Street, Manhattan; Mr. and Mrs. Victor Meert, Mr. and Mrs. George Lewy of Smith, Gray & Co., Robert Appleton, and Eugene Hill of Rogers, Peet & Co., who lost, among other valuables, a stamp collection valued at $1,300. Yesterday afternoon many of the guests were still searching among the ruins for lost jewelry or money.

The police and firemen were unable yesterday to account for the origin of the fire in the bathhouses along the south of the hotel, that portion of the building being, as a rule, deserted and locked after 5 o'clock each evening. The theory that the fire was of incendiary origin was sug-the fire was of incendiary origin was suggested to Assistant Fire Marshal Ferris of Brooklyn and detectives investigating the case when young Van Buren stated that he had had trouble with the colored help at the hotel all Summer, and that two negro waiters, discharged by him several months ago, had threatened to "get even" later. Another waiter, he said, had been discharged on the day before the fire. The detectives were unable, however, to find definite evidence against any one yesterday. The earlier fires upon the property were also of undiscovered origin. Mrs. Holme, owner of the Holmehurst Inn, who has kept a hotel at Edgemere for more that ten years, could not say yesterday whether or not the hotel would be rebuilt.

The New York Times, New York, NY 14 Sept 1909