Scranton, PA St. Patrick's Orphanage Fire, Feb 1881
THE ORPHAN ASYLUM FIRE.
Scranton, Penn., Feb. 28. -- The St. Patrick's Orphanage, which was destroyed by fire last night, was a new building, which had lately been erected to accommodate the increasing number of orphans who demanded the protection of the Sisters. The cause of the fire is still a mystery, although it is supposed that it was the result of a defective flue. The building was heated by a fornace in the basement, and the theory is that in some way the fire was communicated from this furnace. It has always been customary for one of the Sisters to pass the night with the children, but for some reason, as yet unexplained, the 39 orphans were left last night to themselves. The dormitories were on the upper floor of the new building, adjoining each other, a partition of lath and plaster separating the boys from the girls. The children were put in their respective dormitories at 8:30 o'clock, and the Sister in charge of them then went down stairs. She had left them only a few minutes when the cry of fire rang through the house. Rushing up to the girls dormitory, she threw open the door, and saw flames playing about the skirting board of the partition between the boys and girls room. She picked up the nearest child in her arms and rushed down stairs with her, followed by, as she thought, all the other little girls. Having placed them safely in the house of the priest, which adjoined the orphanage, she started back to rescue the boys, who were still locked in their dormitory. In going up the stairs she says that she met a man who stopped her, told her that the children were all out of the building, and refused to allow her to pass further, saying that she would only endanger her life by going into the burning portion of the building. Who this man was the Sister does not know, but whoever he was he is directly responsible for the death of the 17 children who perished in the flames.
In the meantime, a public alarm had been given, and people flocked to the orphanage to give such aid as they could. Several proposed to go through the building, but they were stopped by the REV. FATHER ROCHE, who told them that the children were all safe, and that it was needless to expose themselves to save life where no life was endangered. When the firemen reached the building they forced their was to the dormitories, and, finding the door of the boys room locked, broke it open. Then the discovery was made of the 17 corpses. All the boys were found under their cots, where they had crawled in their fright, and all were dead. They were taken to the priest's house where they were laid in a double row on the floor of a room. Their faces were blackened by the smoke, and some of them had been scorched by the flames, but the childish forms were not distorted, and it is probable that all died of suffocation. Among the dead are three girls, and only four boys were saved. How the three girls were among the lost, and how the four boys happened to be saved, is still a mystery.
At 11 o'clock this morning the Coroner impaneled a jury and reviewed the bodies of the 17 dead children. The children were identified by two Sisters of the burned asylum. Many of them were laid on the floor with blackened faces and burned wrists. The jury visited the burned asylum and inspected the dormitories. The boys room was greatly damaged by the flames, large holes being burned in the floor. The girls room was not damaged so much, but the cots were disarranged, showing that the children must have experienced the most intense fright. The jury adjourned until Friday next.
The New York Times New York 1881-03-01