Kenosha, WI Halliday House hotel fire, Jan 1871


A Hotel in Kenosha, Wis., Destroyed by Fire - Several of the Inmates Burned to Death.

MILWAUKEE, Wis., Jan. 31. - A fire broke out at the Halliday House, Kenosha, Wis., this morning about 5 o'clock, and spread with great rapidity. The guests of the house were roused as rapidly as possible, but the fire spread so fast that it was impossible to visit all the rooms. Mrs. J. B. MERRILL and four children, occupying the front room on the second floor, were cut off from the stairway by the flames, and perished before assistance could reach them. OSMOND CAPRON and S. FULLER were rescued after being so badly burned that their recovery is very doubtful. H. R. CHASE was badly injured by jumping from the third-story window, and several others of the guests received slight wounds and burns. The charred remains of Mrs. MERRILL and her four children were taken from the ruins this afternoon. The cook of the hotel, EDWARD WOLLER, is missing, and it is feared he also has been burned to death. The origin of the fire is unknown.

The New York Times, New York, NY 1 Feb 1871

Destruction of a Wisconsin Hotel by Fire - Seven Persons Burned to Death, and Two Others Fatally Injured - A Mother and er Four Children Among the Victims - Heroic Attempts at Rescue - A Son of Commissioner Capron Fatally Burned.

The telegraph has reported briefly the total destruction by fire, on Tuesday morning last, of the Halliday House, a four-story brick hotel, in Kenosha, Wis., involving the loss of seven lives, and the certainty of the death of two others. The fire is uspposed to have been caused by the explosion of a kerosene lamp in the lamproom, and it was first discovered by two gentlemen, Capt. EVERETT and a Mr. SMITH, who passed the house, returning from a ball. They at once attempted to arouse the inmates of the house, about thirty in number, but the flames spread rapidly, the smoke rushing upstairs, and filling the stair cases and passages with a dense and suffocating atmosphere. The guests rushed out in scanty night attire, and, after many efforts, several of them succeeded in effecting their escape. Two hand-engines were promptly prepared, while efforts were also made to bring two jets from neighboring steam works. The correspondent of the Chicago Tribune says:

Meanwhile the scene in and around the burning building was horrible in the extreme. The night was dark as pitch, a strong wind was blowing from the north, and a heavy fall of mingled sleet and snow added to the misery of those engaged in their attempts to rescue the inmates of the hotel. By the lurid glare of the flames could be seen men and women leaning from the windows and crying in despair for assistance from below. Men below were shouting encouragingly, while others brought ladders from the surrounding barns and hay-lofts, and assisted in rescuing those who had succeeded in descending to the second story, but who could go no further. Among those who were thus saved were four servant girls.

An effort was made to reach the third story of the hotel, but the ladders were all too short. A hundred pairs of hands were ready to splice them together, but the efforts in this direction were unfortunately fruitless of good for a long time. Finally, however, two ladders were firmly lashed together, and two men ran up, but so intense was the heat that they were compelled to desist.


Suddenly the screams of a woman and children were heard above even the din of excited voices below, and one more attempt was made to reach the third story by means of the ladders, but again were the brave men driven back by the heat from within. It now became known that the front room on the third story was occupied by Mrs. MERRILL and her four little children, the eldest of whom was a child of twelve years of age, and the youngest an infant in arms. Nothing could be seen at the window, but the despairing cries told their own terrible tale. Capt. EVERETT was determined to rescue the unfortunate family, even at the risk of his own life, and bravely ran up the stairs until he gained the apartment from which it was stated Mrs. MERRILL was endeavoring to escape. He reached it without injury, though nearly suffocated with the smoke. He searched the room, but could discover no one. He cried out, but at first received no reply. Again he called, and heard a faint and stifled response from some distant portion of the building. Once more the brave man rushed into the suffocating atmosphere of the corridor; but although he heard the cry of anguish from the mother, and the shrieks of terror of the little ones, he could not discover where they were. Feeling himself gradually succumbing to the stifling smoke, he was forced to relinquish the search, and again descended to the ground to meet the eager queries of those below with a terrible negative.


The failure of Capt. EVERETT to find Mrs. MERRILL founded a rumor that she and her little ones had escaped, and were not in a place of safety. Hon. J. W. WEBSTER, Chief of the Fire Department, hearing the rumor, at once went to Mr. SMITH, the proprietor, and asked whether he had seen anything of the missing lady. Mr. SMITH stated that he saw her come down. This was one of the saddest features of the whole catastrophe - a catastrophe in itself. It is probable that Mr. SMITH had mistaken one of the servant girls for Mrs. MERRILL. The Hook and Ladder Company had, by that time, arrived, and the ladder was being placed in position. Hearing, however, the positive statement of Mr. SMITH, the brave firemen forbore to risk their lives for nothing, and the moment when an effort on their part would have saved the lives of a woman and her helpless children passed. Mr. WEBSTER, however, had a misgiving that Mr. SMITH was mistaken, and the more he thought on the subject the more perplexed he became. Suddenly he gave orders to put up the long ladder, and, stepping on it, proceeded a few steps, when a cry from the crowd, hitherto wrought up to a pitch of silent horror, warned him that flames had just broken out in the room of the devoted lady, and that a risk of his life was useless folly, and the last effort, made a few moments too late, was abandoned.


During the brief period occupied in this search other scenes had occurred horrible enough in themselves to chill the blood of the hundreds of spectators. Mr. OSMOND CAPRON, son of HORACE CAPRON, United States Commissioner of Agriculture, was asleep in his room adjoining that of Mrs. MERRILL, on the third floor of the hotel, when aroused by the flames. From the street could be seen the stairs leading to his apartment in one mass of flames, the current of air drawing them upward and fanning them into an intensity of heat that soon consumed the wooden structure. Those below could see him burst through this atmosphere of fire, clad only in his shirt and drawers, to the second story, and essay to descend by the stairs; but these had been burned away, and only the window was left. For this he made, his burning garments clinging to him, and leaped to the ground into the snow. Half a dozen men sprang to his assistance and raised him. He was quite delirious, raved terribly, and insisted, with the strength of a madman, on walking across the street. But the paroxysm was soon over, his frenzy subsided, and he was carried to the house of HENRY ANDRE, on the opposite side of the street, blood dripping from all parts of his body at every step. The lamp-light revealed a hideous spectacle. His right cheek was burned clear to the bone, and masses of charred flesh fell from it. His collar-bone protruded, charred and ghastly white. Heis a young man, aged about twenty-four years, and was employed as a clerk by his brother, A. B. CAPRON, flour and feed dealer. He is unmarried.

HERBERT B. CHASE, a young man recently married, whose wife is now East, was aroused by the smoke, and endeavored to descend by the staircase. His room was in the fourth story, about sixty feet from the ground. He was nearly suffocated in trying to reach the stairs, and returned to his room. He could be seen from the street passing before the window, from which he suddenly leaped. When picked up, it was found that he sustained a compound fracture of the thigh, beside several internal injuries. Surgical aid was on hand. Dr. WOLCOTT, of Milwaukee, was telegraphed for, and arrived today. He pronounced it the worst fracture he has ever seen, and holds out feeble hopes of his patient's recovery.


SIMEON FULLER, the clerk of the hotel, a man thirty-five years of age, who for the last twenty years has been connected with the establishment, met a tragical end while in the performance of his duty. He was among the first who were alarmed by Capt. EVERETT. He arose, and, hastily clothing himself, started for the second story in order to save the guests of the hotel. Just as he was passing the fateful lamp-room door a terrific explosion was heard, he was thrown upon his face and actually saturated with kerosene, which, iginiting, enveloped him literally in a garment of flame. He still preservedsufficient presence of mind to run to the window and throw himself out, when he was taken to an adjoining livery-stable, and from thence to the residence of Mr. W. F. HALLIDAY. He was burned almost beyond the possiblility of recognition, but clung on to life and consciousness in a manner quite phenomenal. He lived in agony until 2 1/2 o'clock this afternoon, when he died peacefully. FULLER was a faithful servant, and met his end like a hero in the vain attempt to save the lives of others. He was a man of pious character, and enjoyed the confidence not only of his employers, but of every one who knew him. He preserved his full consciousness to the last, and when dying told Mr. HUMPHREY that he was perfectly satisfield with the course he had taken; that in sacrificing his own life for others he had only done his duty. The only thing he regretted was that he had not succeeded in resucing Mrs. MERRILL and her little ones. He was unmarried, but was engaged to a young lady in this town, who is loved and respected.


Col. FRED. LOVELL, of this town, occupying a room adjoining Mrs. MERRILL'S, was not awakened until the flames had gained considerable headway. Opening his door he was nearly suffocated by the smoke, but crawled on his hands and knees down the back entrance and to the roof of a lower part of the building, from which he was taken little the worse for his experience. SAMUEL RANNEY occupied a back room on the third floor. Finding his escape cut off by the flames, he broke the lights of the window in his room, lacerating his hand, and jumped from that height to the ground. A mattress broke the force of his fall, and he was picked up only slightly hurt. He is at his ordinary business today. ZACK WILDER jumped from the top story to the roof below, and thence to the ground, sustaining no apparent hurt. Mr. J. B. RUSH, of the firm of DEWEY & RUSH, arrived in town last night, with his bride. The latter was rescued with a ladder by Mr. S. L. HASTINGS. The happy pair lost all their clothing, except what they had on, which was very little. Mr. MITCHELL, traveling agent for the firm of BARTLETT, BUTMAN & PARKER, of No. 181 Dearborn-street, Chicago, jumped from the third story, and escaped slightly hurt. EDWARD WADE , cook to the establishment, occupied a back room on the top floor. The last seen of him was when he went to bed last night. He is probably beneath the ruins.


The fire was put out by 8 o'clock this morning. The streams of water continued to play on the ruins in order to cool them, prepartory to the sad task of digging out the remains. By 10 o'clock they were sufficiently cooled to commence work. Business was suspended throughout the town, and all who could assisted in the search. After about an hour's work they came upon the last terrible evidence of the tragic end of Mrs. MERRILL and her little ones. Beneath a pile of bricks and beams lay the mother, charred to a cinder, her face so burned as to have lost all semblance of humanity. Clasped tightly to her breast was the little one-year-old girl, also terribly burned. Adjacent were the remains of the three other children, two boys and one girl, forming a group, ghastly yet tender, which drew from the eyes of the strongest men tears which not even their manhood could suppress. Tenderly the little corpses were taken up and placed in coffins, and then the hapless mother was taken up, still clingig to her little one with a grasp that not even an agonizing death could loosen. Mother an child now occupy the same coffin. Mr.MERRILL was at South Bend, Ind. He was immediately telegraphed for, and is expected to-night. The body of WADE has not yet been discovered. It is probable that the remains will be found to-morrow.

The New York Times, New York, NY 4 Feb 1871