This article is transcribed from the original newspaper post in The New York Herald, Friday, July 14, 1865. Other similar articles exist from the New York Dispatch, New-York Tribune, and New York Times of the time. I created this to showcase the original event and text of the newspaper content, some of which is hard to read in it’s original PDF form.
The original article was found on the Library of Congress website that catalogs archives of historic newspapers in America from 1777-1963. The article was from the front page (and continued on page 5) of the July 14, 1865 edition, the day after the fire. The original article is part of New York Herald archives here, and this issue is preserved in PDF format starting on the front page here. The automated text version was unreadable (presumably created via OCR and not very well) so I rewrote it here so anyone can read it on modern devices.
The text is reproduced as best as possible with the same spelling (sometimes incorrect), italics, and punctuation as it was in the original article and in it’s entirety. Spacing was not preserved as this was from a newspaper column so they justify text by adding spaces to ensure consistency in the print version. Some words were unrecognizable but it was cross referenced with the OCR text where possible, however it’s best guess on my part for some sections. I’ve highlighted suspect words in bold that are possibly (or completely) wrong that don’t make sense to this 21st Century human. I have included my own choice of images to break up the exhaustive content as the first page is an enormous splash of 6 columns of tiny text and needed something to relax the eyes of the reader. It seems news papers back then were all about function and not form. I have no idea how people back then would take in so much information like this in one sitting.
The text is full of strange, grammatical exercises that are odd today. It was a hard write, having to look up many words that are no longer in use (e.g. the use of the word “employes” instead of “employs” or “employees”) but are still valid, as well as cross checking names and places for accuracy and completeness. It’s just as hard a read as it was to write and you’ll often find yourself going over sections scratching your head as to its meaning. Headlines embedded into the narrative. Sentences beginning with “and” or “but”, excessive use of commas, run-on sentences, etc. but this was the way they wrote back then so who am I to argue? I have added a section at the end of the post outlining and explaining what I believe to be some of the references or statements that might not be clear in the text, as well as my own thoughts. Consider these follow up notes on the post as there’s so much to unpack here, both regarding accuracy of the content and some of the unusual references the author makes.
This was a different era and the world has drastically changed since then. While this was simply investigative journalism back then to fill the front page of a newspaper it contains a plethora of content that takes you back to a simpler time and fills your mind with images of wild curiosities of a time long forgotten. It’s a fascinating moment in time and the recollection of the people that were there experiencing it is something amazing to read.
Please feel free to leave a comment on any corrections, omissions, or errors you might find.
About half-past twelve o’clock yesterday an alarm of fire was given, which was discovered to have been caused by flames originating in the lower portion of Barnum’s Museum, corner of Park row and Ann street. There was immediately a grand rush for the burning district.
The scene on Broadway, fronting old St. Paul’s, in the early stages of the fire, was an interesting and impressive one, and one which will not soon be forgotten by those who, being caught by the crowd, were compelled–some of them willingly–to witness it. The engines had not yet arrived upon the ground. The firemen, some with coats on, but more trying vainly to find the sleeves of those they would put on–menu coming upon the run, knocking down old women, boys, and even men, like mere chessmen, as they ran. And the crowd thickened with the usual accumulation of interested and disinterested spectators; some coming to see what was to be seen, but a larger number to encumber the sidewalks and thoroughfares with their persons, ostensibly to get of the the way, but really to get in the way of the steam fire apparatus, when it should arrive on the ground. And it was not long before it came. And of course there were some severe accidents to those same individuals, who were so thickly planted as to be unable to move from their places. Yet, strange to say, none were in this way killed outright, that we have heard of. Down Broadway, up Broadway, from Fulton street, from Chatham street and Park row, from Vesey street, from Barclay street, and from innumerable alleys and by-streets, came still more people to add to the already vast and excited assemblage, all to witness one of the most wonderful spectacles ever exhibited to the awe-stricken multitude, even in the centre of nights and shows, pageants and parades, the city of New York.
THE FIRE BREAKS OUT
It was perhaps some fifteen minutes from the time when the first alarm was given before there were visible outward indications of the fierceness which which the conflagration was burning withing the Museum building. These indications were evinced by an individual who went about the second story balustrade of the structure with a club in his hand, breaking the panes of glass in the windows. Smoke poured out in dense volumes, showing that, wherever the first had first taken, it had already reached the second floor. And the smoke was quickly followed by the flames, darting out in sheets and in tongues, licking up the combustible awnings and transparencies and large paintings with which the walls were nearly covered, and communicating thence to the woodwork about the casements and doors. A similar scene was being enacted up the Ann street front of the Museum Up to this time but little had been done toward saving property or putting out flames, those near at hand having spent some fifteen minutes of valuable time in trying to save a case of stuffed animals.
In the front ladders were placed, and men were passing from the balcony into Knox’s, and down the ladder, bearing such curiosities as they could lay hands on. They continued at this work till the flames wrapped about the topmost rounds of the ladder. The police then appeared and cleared the street immediately in front of the burning edifice.
At one o’clock forked tongues of flames were darting through every window, wreathing the painted medallions outside with chaplets of fire, and sweeping away at a single touch the veracious canvass representations of the whales, giantesses and alligators within. At this time the flames shot up into the air to a marvellous height, and to spectators standing in the City Hall Park seemed to extend in an oblique direction as far as Powers’ Hotel, a building on the other side of Ann street. The head reflected by the conflagration was intense. On the steps of the City Hall it could be distinctly felt.
THE ASTOR HOUSE.
Opposite the Museum, on Broadway, St. Paul’s church stood an isolated object. Had that front offered more obstruction, or had it been a solid block of buildings, the danger of the fire spreading on the other side of Broadway would have been imminent, as the wind impelled the flam and cinders at one time strongly in that direction. The Astor House, on the adjoining block, opposed its armor of granite, while its roof swarmed with the little army who constituted the employes of the establishment. This systematic organization kept the roof sand every point of danger well defended, and, although the inmates were all more or less excited, the special police or watchmen kept the doors guarded, and the vast crowd in the street expended their ingenuity in vain in endeavoring to circumvent the special police and effect and entrance for so splendid an opportunity of seeing “Barnum’s” in its last scenic glories.
Messars, Stetson and J. E. Devlin had just returned from down East to take timely charge of their establishment on this occasion.
General Hooker and staff, with numerous other dignitaries now stopping at the Astor House, witnessed the conflagration from the windows.
A SCARE AMONG THE CROWD.
As the flames stealthily crept from window to window of the Museum, and the crowd stood in awed silence waiting further developments, a pregnant suggestion passed from mouth to mouth, “Was there anything explosive in the building?” Mobile, Chattanooga and Gallatin presented themselves to recollection, and tacitly the dense throng began to move backwards. At this instant one of the engines in front of the Astor House suddenly let off steam, and the loud and powerful blast breaking in upon the previous stillness of the crowd, and following upon their whispered speculations, sent a panic through their midst. The retreat become a stampede; those who sought to stand up against the pressure of the crowd were knocked down and trampled under foot, and some were injured. It was but a momentary panic; in a few seconds more the causelessness of the alarm was apparent, and order was restored.
SEEING THE CURIOSITIES.
The majority of the crowd seemed delighted at the chance of seeing the curiosities gratis. One of the employes of the Museum, who passed through the crowd with a bunch of coral in one hand and a stuffed racoon in the other, was loudly cheered. But the excitement rose to its height when the giantess, the fat lady and the white woolly-headed Albino passed down Fulton street, followed by a number of ladies of the corps de ballet, who, poor things, had lost all of their theatrical wardrobe. The pantomime of the Green Monster was to have been performed at the Museum in the afternoon; but the Monster was consumed with the whales, the Happy Family and the snakes. The fat lady, the giantess and the ballet girls found a temporary refuge in a newspaper office, where they rehearsed their losses to a small but select audience, and the Albino was spirited away to a more private location, where she could not be seen without paying for the privilege. About one hundred persons must have been thrown out of employment at the Museum, and many of the pantomimists, dancers and keepers will find it difficult to obtain employment at this dull season for amusements. The crowd did not think of this, however. They were incessant in their cries of “boiled whale,” “fried snakes,” “broiled monkey,” and “roast elephant,” thus displaying a sort of gamin wit and a perfect familiarity with the contents of the Museum. “Throw me out on of the canoes,” or “Pitch me the bow-constructor, I wants it for a tippet,” or “How are you, learned seal!” provoked continual laughter. We suggest, however, that the fire has rather a serious side to it, and that the members of the theatrical profession in this city ought to organize a mammoth benefit at the Academy of Music, the proceeds to be divided among those whom this conflagration has deprived of their engagements for the summer. Let this suggestion be adopted without delay.
HOW THE ANIMALS FARED.
When the fire first broke out and the some commenced to penetrate the galleries there arose the most peculiar Babel of sounds which it was ever allotted to mortal to hear. The Happy Family quite belied their cognomen–the monkeys jabbered, the dogs barked, the cats mewed, parrots screamed, bears growled, kangaroos kangarooed, paroquets screamed “otter, otter,” and the poor otter, not caring for smoke, buried himself in his native element. The birds fluttered against the bars of their cages and sang most doleful melodies. To save those poor animals was one of the first things thought of, and the first who presented himself to our notice was poor “bruin” himself, making the descent of the ladder in a very peculiar manner. He seemed quite savage and not at all inclined for fun. Accustomed to be looked at through iron bars, he seemed at a loss to understand his present situation. Several times, as his feet slipped through the rounds of the ladder, the tightening of the rope by which he was held caused him to pale visibly, and certainly show his canines, or, more properly, bearines. After some considerable time he reached not the top of the ladder, but the foot, and once on terra firma he looked as contented as a bear could look under the circumstances.
Louder grew the jabberings of the monkey tribe, who leaped frantically about, the boa constrictor writhed in agony as the hear became stronger, and a dismal series of wails from the whales, who had not been used to tropical seas, mingled with the rhapsodies of the astrologer, the paintings of the fat woman and the groanings of the giantess. The two latter were half frantic, and the maniac penman made the most artistic flourishes with his quill. Poor Ned, the educated seal, who was wont to astonish spectators with his sagacity, who used to turn the handle of a barrel organ, and do everything but speak, was seized upon by a couple of men, one evidently a Hibernian:–“Bad luck to ye, he’s bitin’ me, Mick;” and so he was. “Fetch me a basket” was the cry, and still Ned wriggled about in the most fishy manner, the crowd making way on every side. At length his rescuers succeeded in bringing Ned to a place of safety, and we may at some future time see him perform as of yore.
With these exceptions, we fear all the extensive and interesting collection of animals fell a prey to the fiery element, with the exception perhaps of a few birds, which may have succeeded in flying away. The crowd outside were most anxious about “dumb crathurs who niver done no one any harm, barrin’ the bite the sale giv me,” as our friend the Hibernian called them, and anxious inquiries were made as to whether the water in the aquaria wouldn’t prevent their finny inhabitants from being burned.
It may be some time before we can have so fine a collection of tropical fish as was in the Museum. The aquaria were made on the most approved plan, and arranged so that the water was kept fresh by the passage of air through them. The collection of birds, too, was most extensive. The animals were numerous and well trained, so that they all lived together without any squabbling–making one think that even by training the millennial characteristic of “the lion lying down with the lamb” not so strange after all. The collection comprised a large variety of the monkey tribe, kangaroo, cat, dog and other species, and afforded much amusement to the children of our city, to whom a visit to Barnum’s was always a great treat. Country cousins, too, who viewed the white cat that had no tail, and therefore could not “a tale unfold,” will have no place where to study the beauties of natural history, and many now will feel sorry for having given the monkey blind nuts, now that he is no more. Many will think of Jocko who used to submit to their persecutions “without a word of anger or reproach.” Poor Jocko! Unfortunate pussy! you are now where even the great showman himself cannot find you. We drop a tear for your memories, and though you sometimes attempted to bite our fingers when approached too near your prison house, still we will faithfully adhere to the injunction, “Nil mortuis nisi bonum.”
When the flames communicated to Knox’s hat store, a person who shall be nameless for his heartlessness in joking upon a very serious subject, shouted at the top of a good pair of lungs:–“Be jabers, now the fire will be felt.” In a moment more than identical jocular individual had his head beaten lustily with a fireman’s trumpet. He evidently felt the blow, and will blow no more on that score.
ESCAPING FROM THE BUILDING.
On the part of the employes, firemen, and those who had been aiding in making confusion worse confounded within the walls of the Museum, began to become a matter to be thought about. In fact many had already thought on the subject and evacuated the premises.
A JEFF. DAVIS AUGURY.
But before looking out for their own bacon, one or two persons thought they had better do something more towards saving what it were useless to pursue. One took the stuffed effigy of Tom Thumb and gave it a toss out the window. Of course the General went to general smash upon the pavement below, to the imminent risk of the crowns of the people standing there as spectators. Another seized the wax figure of General Grant, rushed to the balcony, had almost succeeded in handing him intact to a person below, when a stream of water struck him amidships, and he had to drop Grant to save himself from falling. The General was, undoubtedly, consumed. And still another man, in the excitement consequent upon such an imminent danger to himself, took a third stuffed figure, rushed frantically to the front window, leaped with it to the portico, cried out for some one to help him, and then, lo and behold! he found out that he had saved the effigy of Jeff. Davis. He thought it too late to back out, had not time to consider exactly what was best to do, but was brought to a decision by a shower of hisses and groans from the multitude, who had recognized the arch traitor. The man, determined to save something for Mr. Barnum, persevered in his endeavors, handed Jefferson D. down to a person on the sidewalk, and as he did so the head of the ex-President of the defunct confederacy became detached from its spinal connections and fell upon the ground, to the no small satisfaction of those witnessing the scene. It was subsequently found hanging to a lamp post by St. Paul’s, in Fulton street. Some were superstitious enough to augur from this incident that Jeff. Davis’ neck was in a slightly dangerous predicament even at that moment. The fall of the conspirator’s head produced no end of remark, and more cheers, groans and hisses.
And then the building was cleared of human beings. All saw the necessity for leaving at once, and left.
THE FLAMES SPREAD.
It was a quarter-past one o’clock when the Ann street wall of the Museum fell outwardly, disclosing to full view the fiery furnace raging within. Happily no one was fatally injured by the debris, for the intense heat had driven everyone back yards from the flaming mass. A sort of framework was dimly discerned in the second floor, and was popularly believed to be the cage of the once “Happy Family.”
At a quarter to two the Broadway end of the building came down with a sound like the roar of distant artillery. For some seconds the very sun itself was obscured by the black cloud of smoke and dust that rose from the floating cinders and dust and ashes.
At two o’clock the Ann street gable, rounded and perforated by the flames, still stood out gaunt and grim in the lurid light, looking not unlike a stray fragment of the ruins of the Coliseum at Rome. At twenty minutes past two fresh engines still came up and got into play. Eight broad jets of flame are issuing from the orifices in the side of Knox’s store–the roof gives way and the fire at the front increases in volume and intensity.
THE LAST OF THE MUSEUM.
At half-past two P. M. the last remaining gable of Barnum’s and some of the side brickwork of Knox’s building fell heavily upon the burning ruins–Pelion heaped up Ossa.
A smouldering heap, scarcely more than ten feet high, is all that is now left of the great American Curiosity Shop.
BARNUM AND BARNUM’S MUSEUM.
It is appropriate in this connection to give a few words regarding the man who is so great a loser and the building and its contents. Mr. Barnum began his career as a showman in 1835, by exhibiting Joyce Heth, a colored woman, was the reputed nurse of General Washington. He advertised widely, and people flocked from all quarters to see the old woman. Mr. Barnum made enough out of this speculation to organize a travelling show. In 1841 he bought Scudder’s Museum, paid for it in a year, and, adding to it the content of Peale’s Museum, formed what has since been known as Barnum’s American Museum. Here has has since remained, and has realized from the undertaking two colossal fortunes, one of which he lost in his unlucky clock speculations. Here he has exhibited all the remarkable curiosities which money and enterprise could procure. A model of Niagara Falls, the Fejee Mermaid, the diorama of the removal of the remains of Napoleon I. from St. Helena to Paris, the Happy Family, the What is It, the Lightning Calculator, the hippopotamus, whales, alligators, prize babies, big dogs, prize poultry, Tom Thumb and wife, the Belgian giant, Commodore Nutt, Minnie Warren, Calvin Edson, the living skeleton; Julia Pastrana, the bearded woman; the (so called) Madagascar Albinoes and quite a regiment of giants, dwarfs, fat boys and fat girls have at various times been the attractions of this unique place of amusement. There was also a large collection of minerals, shells and stuffed birds and animals, which were of real value and cannot be easily replaced. A series of portraits of men eminent in the early annals of our history have been destroyed. Though valueless as works of art, they were not without historical value. A number of revolutionary and other relicts are also consumed. Indeed, the accumulations of over twenty years have been utterly destroyed. Of late, however, the establishment has not been adequate to the wants of its patrons, and not equal to the position of a metropolitan museum. The wax figures and other recent additions are no great losses; but the conchological, mineralogical, ichthyological, zoological and ornithological specimens were of genuine merit, though of late visitors had neglected them for the more showy attractions of the “lecture room” and the platform of living curiosities.
Mr. Barnum was absent at the time the fire broke out, in Connecticut. He was telegraphed for at once and left for town in a special train.
FEARS AND RUMORS.
“Was there any one remaining in the building?”
“For God’s sake tell me if they all got out.”
“Two of my children were there.”
“Six men burned in the ruins.”
“Several firemen killed by the falling walls.”
And all this as the resistless flames devoured their way with hideous unrelenting maw. These and kindred exclamations passed about among the crowd, and every moment new horrors were added. It was late in the evening before the apprehensions thus excited of human life sacrificed began to be allayed. Several were badly scorched but none are known to have been killed.
SUPPOSED LOSS OF LIFE.
A returned soldier informs us that during the fire he was forced to jump from one of the third story windows of Barnum’s Museum, and that he was in company with James Burns, of Lancaster, Pa., a member of Company A, Sixty-ninth regiment N. Y. V., who he has every reason to believe perished in the flames.
STILL MORE BUILDINGS.
were destined to fall victims to the insatiate element.
More engines. More water. More smoke. More stifling heat. More cries of frightened women and shrieks of steam whistles. The conflagration seems to go forward–forward; and more houses are swallowed up. More property gone to naught. More hearts wrung. More fortunes turned to dross.
IT IS A FIREY CARNIVAL.
While the fire raged fearfully the scene at the Herald corner was one of considerable excitement. The opposite side of the street was lined to the curbstone with men who stood to gaze at the fiery spectacle–the flames then towering at their highest. On these blazing fragments fairly rained down, some of these “sparks” being large pieces of wood a foot square, and though the crowd stood, it didn’t stand still, as there was a great deal of dodging to do. Wherever the fragments touched combustible material they lighted up new fires, and every awning was ablaze. Up and down the street excited men ran, making violent gesticulations to call every one’s attention to the fact that his awning was on fire, and still more excited men busied themselves with efforts to duck their old duck or tear it down. Around the corner the brass “streamers” worked away, awfully busy, with their short, rapid puffs lost now and then in a shrill, spiteful scream. There was a steady current of men down the street, as if in procession, with spoils. One had an eagle without wings; another, an indescribable monster of the reptile race; several had bright plumaged birds and rare curiosities. There was an unheard of antiquarian taste made manifest, and men bore away the burden of Barnum’s glories with delight. Some had been to Knox’s, and had more hats than they had heads for. And every now and then the movement of this procession was accelerated tremendously by a grand rush down the street of every one in it, as some one shouted that a wall was coming down, or as some little remnant of panic was communicated from Broadway. Then the street was clear for a few minutes, and the crowd would sway back and fill it up once more with the gazing, curious throng.
Hundreds of prophets came into the Herald counting-room to make the assurance that the Herald buildings would certainly go, and to express in advance their regret for such a public calamity. Indeed, there was a very general expression on the part of the people of hope that the Herald would come out of this fiery ordeal as triumphantly as it had come out of so many others. And, thanks to
THE HERALD FIRE APPARATUS,
it did come out safely. While the flames were yet confined to the Museum building the houses at the east end of the block were endangered by the numerous burning cinders which were blown about by the very high wind.
THE ROOFS OF VARIOUS BUILDINGS.
The firemen, working with great and commendable energy on the burning buildings on Broadway, were unable to pay due attention to the roofs of the Belmont Hotel, Ellis’ store, &c., and here the Herald fire apparatus came into good play, and, without all due deference to the Fire Department, saved the threatened buildings mentioned from destruction. Had the several roofs upon which the huge burning cinders were falling in a profusion which looked frightful during a few minutes’ delay in supply of water, caused by the bursting of a section of our hose, became once fired, all after efforts of the fireman would have been unavailing. The Herald apparatus kept the roofs of all building from the rear of the Museum flooded with water, and undoubtedly saved them from the flames.
As soon as it was discovered that the fire was in the vicinity of the Herald office the engineer of the office, Mr. John Clark, was ordered to get steam up. He replied that he always had enough steam on to run the two Whitworth Number Four Double Acting Force Pumps with which the office is supplied, and which only require about thirty pounds of pressure of steam to run them. Mr. Wm. F. Smythe, superintendent of the Herald office, as well as of the Herald Fire Department (which is complete, embracing the entire force of pressmen, compositors, stereotypers, &c.), soon had the members at work, and the hose belonging to the establishment was stretched from the basement to the roof in an incredibly short space of time. The stream was turned on, but the force of the pump was too great for one section of the hose, which burst. Mr. Clark was standing near the pump at the time, and the hose striking him, knocked him a distance of twenty feet or more, throwing him violently to the floor and under the boilers. John Robertson, a young man attached to the establishment of the Continental Bank Note Company, was standing by and was also considerably injured. Although his breath was knocked out of him, he retained his presence of mind and immediately rushed to his employer’s establishment, and in a few moments returned with several sections of hose. As the “Continental” has the good sense to use Whitworth’s pump, their host exactly fitted that in use in the Herald establishment, and served to fill up the deficiency in our length of apparatus, caused by the bursting of the section in the basement.
Our hose was over three hundred and fifty feet in length, extending through seven stories, to the roof of the Herald office. Through this length of four-inch host the admirable, though little, pump of which we are possessed forced a stream which, escaping at the pipe, was thrown nearly one hundred and fifty feet further. We were able with it not only to flood the roof of the Herald office, but, by extending our host to the buildings more immediately threatened, to throw a heavy stream on Knox’s building and the burning Museum. This was a service we had no anticipated being able to extend to our neighbors; by, by the energy of the Herald fireman, and the particularly noticeable daring of Wm. Bennett, ex-foreman of Engine 22, and Wm. G. Cowles, both Herald compositors, who ventured on to the roof nearest the Museum, and who, though the heat was intense enough to drive away less experienced firemen, remained constantly at their post, and fairly rivalled the exertions of the Paid Fire Department, we were enabled to do so. If the old Fire Department ever wishes an occasion, in the spirit of generous rivalry, to “break a lance” or “try a stream” with the new department, we advise them to choose for the exponents of their ability the Herald Fire Company, which Bennett and Cowles at the “butt,” and such as George Clark, James Ennin, George Foos, and the others who are too numerous to mention, “on the brakes.”
The Herald apparatus had five streams of water upon the fire at one time.
The Fire Department worked nobly as soon as it had its apparatus arranged, and but for its exertions and the blessing of Croton water the entire block must have been destroyed, and perhaps others with it; for, in a number of instances, the flames were communicated to the roofs and canvass awnings of buildings a block distant from the one on fire. Though unceasing in their exertions, the firemen seemed to look upon the conflagration solely from the professional point; and one of the most active of the body remarked, looking at Knox’s store, “By Heavens, that alone would have made a pretty fire at night.” Apparently he considered it a waste of good material to use up so many buildings at once.
FROM THE ROOF OF THE HERALD BUILDING.
After the fire had burned for more than an hour the mass of flame which was concentrated in the houses between the Museum and the Herald building was terrific. It reached from Fulton to Ann streets in a solid body, and seemed for a long time to refuse submissions to the floods of water so assiduously poured upon it by the firemen from above and below. The spectacle at this time, as seen from the roof of the Herald office, was very grand, although a position on the roof was almost untenable from the intense heat, and showers of burning ambers, which were falling like rain. Our fire staff had their hose at full work here, keeping the roofs thoroughly wet. The sparks from the burning buildings set fire to some awnings on the west side of Fulton street, and for a time created some alarm in that direction, but they were torn down before the first communicated to the signs and window frames. The roofs of the houses for several blocks around, at all sides, were crowded with spectators, watching with anxious interest the fate of the Herald buildings, which were at the time, and for some time previous, in imminent peril.
THE HERALD OFFICE
was in imminent danger until after three o’clock in the afternoon, but happily escaped with but slight damage. At one time the cinders fell so fast down the chimneys that papers in the grates of several of the apartments were fired. But there was little confusion in the establishment. The files were placed in a convenient position for removal should it become necessary, and other preparations quietly entered into which, in the event of catching fire, would insure the safety of the most valuable portion of the library and the manuscripts in the offices. The editors became for the nonce impromptu firemen, the reporters sharpened their pencils and started out upon their usual duties, and the cashier remained at his post and actually contracted for the insertion of some advertisements in the morning’s issue of the newspaper while the fire was the hottest and the excitement about the building the most intense. There was no bravado, but all felt that everything was being done that could be done for saving the building and its contents by the brave firemen and the employes of the establishment, and that gave confidence and firmness to each individual to calmly await the culmination of events.
It would be useless to attempt to give all the sad, serious, laughable and other incidents connected with this conflagation. The following are only a few of the large number related:-
At about half-past one, while the fire in Barnum’s was burning furiously , a horrible shriek was heard to emanate from the ruins; an unearthly sound, which so startled the crowd standing in front of St. Paul’s church, that a general rush was made up and down Broadway and the utmost confusion prevailed. Several people were knocked down and crushed. The impression on the minds of many was that an explosion had taken place, others cried out that it was only the fearful shrieks of the whales which were being consumed in the debris. The most likely cause was the bursting of the apparatus which supplied the aquaria in which the beautiful fish from all quarters of the earth were accustomed to swim, but will swim no more. The panic for the time was complete, and as the crowd gathered again many were the comments upon the loss which the students of natural and unnatural history, especially from the country parts, would sustain by the destruction of the multifarious curiosities. One man with an artistic air remarked that the only things he regretted were the old coins and fine specimens of ancient armor. Another wondered if the monkeys were saved, while the deepest solicitude was expressed by others as to the fate of the fat woman, whose small powers of locomotion it was feared would retard their escape. “The Herald office is in a bad fix,” said an anxious-looking old gentleman; “I hope the fire has not reached it.” “Let it go, and be damned,” said a rough, groggy fellow, evidently a bummer of some engine house; “it goes in for the paid fire department, and the fireman are down on it.” “It is very strange then,” replied another, “that the firemen are working so bravely to save it.” “That’s so,” cried out a number of voices simultaneously. “Oh, we’ll take care of the Herald,” sung out a lusty fireman, who was lugging his hose through the crowd. A cheer greeted this remark, and again the mass of people were scattered by the crash of a falling roof, and policemen flew here and there to clear the space, now rendered dangerous by the constant tumbling of fragments of stone from the front of the Museum, which was rapidly crumbling to pieces.
A LUCKY ESCAPE.
Among the works of art which fortunately escaped destruction in Barnum’s Museum were twenty-four gigantic pictures, illustrating the battles of Washington during the Revolutionary war, painted by Mr. John McNevin, which were to have been exhibited at the Museum as a panorama in a few days, but had not reached their destination, and were lying in a building close by. The studies for these pictures had been carefully examined by the late Washington Irving, and were in fact revised by Mr. McNevin in many of the details at the suggestion of that distinguished author. There were thus preserved by the lucky accident of delay in delivering them.
STATEMENT OF THE AQUARIAN.
Mr. Oscar Kohn, the aquarian of the Museum, makes the following statement containing additional particulars of the conflagration:- I came back from my dinner at about a quarter-past noon, when I observed a rush down the stairs; proceeding at once to the engine room in the basement I saw the fire directly over the boiler, and then went to the ground floor and saw the flames burst from the ladies’ private room; the giantess, Anna Swan, stood at the head of the stairs as if swooning from the effects of the smoke, which then came down in columns; I took her to the Belmont House; coming back I found it impossible to enter the upper stories; Miss Swan lost everything except the clothes she wore; she had in her trunk about one hundred and twenty dollars in gold, some greenback and all her clothing.
THE BROOKLYN DEPARTMENT
turned out in pretty full force to help put out the fire, a number of machines coming across, including steamers Nos. 7, 9, 14 and 17, and Hose Companies Nos. 4, 6, 8, 9, and 14. To the members of these companies, as well as to those of our own department, the thanks of the city should be returned that the loss is not very much larger than it is.
THE TELEGRAPH WIRES
upon Broadway, in front of the Museum, were heated to such a degree as to melt, and their gutta percha covering dropped upon the clothing and in the faces of the people standing beneath.
ST. PAUL’S STEEPLE
was at one time on fire–the wooden portion–and there were well grounded apprehensions entertained that it might also be consumed. But timely exertions and the putting out of wet blankets saved it as well as the Astor House.
THE GREEK SLAVE.
An officer of the Broadway squad succeeded in saving the Greek slave. He carried it into an Ann street store.
REMOVING THE FLAGS.
The removal of the flags from the Museum roof, by John H. Carman, caused great cheering, as the populace expected their destruction. This brave fellow chose to risk his life, to save the dozen “Star Spangled Banners” which “in triumph” were waving above the heat and roar of the flames, and in the midst of dense volumes of smoke, which often obscured them from sight.
THE COMPANIES AND THE STREAMS.
The following is deemed an accurate enumeration of the engine and other companies having water upon the fire yesterday, with their foremen’s names, their streams of water and other particulars connected with the department:–
NEW YORK COMPANIES.
Engine Company No. 8, one stream, through 490 feet of host, G. Patterson, foreman.
Engine Company No. 53, two streams, through 500 feet of hose, T. Duffey, foreman.
Engine Company No. 11, two streams, through 550 feet of hose, C. Johnson, foreman.
Engine Company No. 40, one stream, through 450 feet of hose, H. Bonner, foreman.
Engine Company No. 31, two streams, through 450 feet of hose, F. Mahedy, foreman.
Engine Company No. 30, one stream, through 300 feet of hose, C. Loughran, foreman.
Engine Company No. 14, one stream, through 450 feet of hose, J. Massey, foreman.
Engine Company No. 7, two streams, through 1,000 feet of hose, T. Eustis, foreman.
Engine Company No. 13, two streams, through 250 feet of hose, T. Corman, foreman.
Exempt Engine Company, two streams, through 900 feet of hose, John Gorman, foreman.
Engine Company No. 20, one stream, through 250 feet of hose, J. Kanfee, foreman.
Engine Company No. 42, two streams, through 600 feet of hose, Wm. Corgan, foreman.
Engine Company No. 5, one stream, through 600 feet of hose, Thos. McCauley, foreman.
Engine Company No. 38, two streams, through 400 feet of hose, A. H. Mitchell, foreman.
Engine Company No. 21, two streams, through 650 feet of hose, F. Galligan, foreman.
Engine Company No. 16, and Engine Company No. 24. These companies retired from the fire before we ascertain the names of their foremen.
Alert Hose Company No. 41, Mr. Shields, foreman.
Warren Hose Company No. 33, Charles Bacon, foreman.
Niagara Hose Company No. 2, J. Castell, foreman.
Ed. Forrest Hose Company No. 5, M. Miller, foreman.
Lady Washington Hose Company No. 49, H. A. Seeley, foreman.
Phoenix Hose Company No. 22, Geo. Anderson, foreman.
M. T. Brennan Hose Company No. 60, M. J. Keoser, foreman.
Atlantic Hose Company No. 15, J. Toobe, foreman.
Nassau Hose Company No. 56, J. Sullivan, foreman.
Humane Hose Company No. 20, Robert McGinn, foreman.
Hose Company No. 3, R. H. Woodruff, foreman.
Eagle Hose Company No. 1, Louis Hopps, foreman.
Hose Company No. 50, J. Garvey, foreman.
City Hose Company No. 8, T. P. Curtiss, foreman.
H. Howard Hook and Ladder Company No. 11, J. Morrell, foreman.
Mutual Hook and Ladder Company No. 1, —
McClellan Hook and Ladder Company No. 4, M. Loftu, foreman. The wall fell on one of the members belonging to this company, who was taken to the City Hospital.
Lafayette Hook and Ladder Company No. 6, F. W. Melville, foreman.
Baxter Hook and Ladder Company No. 15, L. W. Parkes, foreman.
Engine Company No. 9, one stream, through 750 feet of hose, P. Cornell, foreman.
Engine Company No. 19, one stream, through 600 feet of hose, J. Connor, foreman.
Engine Company No. 5, one stream, through 600 feet of hose, D. McNamara, foreman.
Atlantic Hose Company No. 6, Wm. Gardner, foreman.
Crystal Hose Company No. 4, Thos. Fowler, foreman.
Waterwitch Hose Company No. 8, T. D. Plumb, foreman.
Americus Hose Company No. 7, P. Boyle, foreman.
Frontier Hose Company No. 5, Chas. B. Farley, foreman.
Mechanic Hose Company No. 2, R. Williams, foreman.
Charles Chamberlain, Chief Engineer.
Engine Company No. 1, with host tender, L. Oedenrof, foreman.
Engine Company No. 2, with host tender, John Kennedy, foreman.
Ocean Hose Company No. 1, P. Law, foreman.
Theme company brought with them 2,200 feet of hose.
should be returned to Mr. John Brognan, of No. 143 Fulton street, for the kind proffer of refreshments to the firemen, which were very acceptable under the pressure of arduous labor and the scorching heat to be endured. And the Herald office is especially indebted to Exempt Engine Company, to No. 5 Engine Company, and to Nos. 20 and 56 Hose for their promptitude and herculean exertions in aiding to preserve the establishment from the threatening flames. They will never be forgotten. In fact, the entire department will ever be remembered with feelings of liveliest gratitude for favors rendered in, as well as to neighboring citizens.
WASHINGTON’S BILLIARD TABLE,
which was in a billiard hall in Fulton street–Baseford’s–was completely destroyed, with the other contents of the place. This valuable and interesting relic was the property of the family of the late Recorder Lee of Philadelphia. It was thought highly of, having been played upon by General George Washington.
MR. KNOX’S BUSINESS
will be carried on at 533 Broadway hereafter, he having been compelled “by the the force of circumstances,” and a very hot fire, to remove from his old location, 212 Broadway.
PICKPOCKETS AT THE FIRE.
During the progress of the fire in Broadway yesterday afternoon a fine opportunity was afforded the light fingered operators to ply their profession, and it is needless to say that they improved it. Henry Jackson, George Douglass, James Smith, Godfrey Mish, Henry Mursken, James Clancy and James Leonard were arrested by officers McGloin, McGuire and Dwyer, of the Third precinct, and officer Dowdell, of the Tombs Police Court, charged with picking pockets of men at the fire, stealing from stores, &c. Leonard had secured quite a lead of plunder, and when taken was marching off under the weight of a piece of cloth, several hats, reticule, two valises, two pieces of flannel, &c., &c. All the above named prisoners were detained in the Third precinct station house to await an examination before Justice Hogan in the morning.
Robert and James H. Walsh, brothers, were arrested by officer Kinney, of the Twenty-sixth precinct, charged with relieving John W. Sherman, residing at 196 Fulton avenue, Brooklyn, of a gold watch, as he was looking at the blazing Museum. The watch was recovered, and Captain Brackett detained the prisoners for a hearing.
The Second precinct police arrested John Fox, Henry Suhoff, James McDonald and Andrew S. Gilso, charged with stealing boots from No. 6 Ann street. Frank Fover was conveying away a cask of win, when taken in charge and lodged in the station house. James Cameron, Thomas Newton, Geo. Thompson, James McCord and John Nefosser were arrested, charged with stealing boots which were found in their possession. James Kirby, John Spencer, John Sullivan and James Welsh, known to police as pickpockets, were taken out of harm’s way and sent to the station house.
Mr. Daniel Stewart, of Johnstown, Fulton county, this State, lost a two hundred dollar gold watch and chain while standing in the crowd opposite the Museum. The accused parties will be examined before Justice Hogan at the Tombs.
Yesterday evening, huddled together by the side of Lovejoy’s Hotel, were a number of frightened women, sitting upon hastily packed bundles and trunks, and hugging, with forlorn looks, the fragments of crushed bonnet boxes. These were Barnum’s lady assistants, burned out of hose and home. They are to be pitied.
Losses and Insurances.
There seems to be little doubt that the fire originated in a room used for storage in the vicinity of the boiler, in the cellar, and is supposed at present to have been caused by the heat of the boiler on the first floor, and under the stairs made at the rear part of the Museum for egress. The flames spread up the stairs, and in a few minutes communicated from floor to floor. In half an hour from the first discovery of the fire the entire building was in flames, and shortly afterward the walls fell in. Owing to there being a communication from the Museum to No. 10 Ann street, and from there to 155 Fulton street, the flames took that direction, and in a very short time the flames were bursting forth from the windows of the Fulton street building. The Museum numbered Nos. 218 and 220 Broadway, and extended over Nos. 214 and 216, the theatre occupying the upper floors. The fire extended down Broadway to the corner of Fulton street, totally destroying the buildings and their contents.
The buildings destroyed are as follows:–
Barnum’s Museum, Nos. 218 and 220. Loss on stock estimated at about $300,000; insured for $60,000. The building is owned by the Olmstead estate. Loss $40,000; insured for $30,000.
No. 216–Occupied on first floor by G. W. White, hatter. Loss $10,000. Part of the goods were taken out. Insured for $15,000. The upper part occupied as part of the Museum.
No. 214–First floor occupied by P. L. Rogers’ Sons, clothiers. Stock removed. Loss $15,000; insured for $34,500, as follows:–Bowery, $2,500; Phenix, $2,500; Atlantic, $2,500; New Amsterdam, $2,500; Harmony, $3,000; Lenox, $3,000; Montauk, $1,500; Yonkers, $2,000; Morris, $2,000; Manhattan, $5,000; New England, $3,000; Indemnity, $2,500; Home, of New Haven, $2,500.
Second floor–Billiard room of J. T. Reeves. Loss $10,000. Insured.
Basement–“Captain’s Live and Let Live” restaurant. Loss $5,000; insured.
Wm. Van Name occupied the basement of No. 216 as a restaurant. Loss $8,000; insured.
Building No. 214 is totally destroyed. Loss $15,000; insured. It belonged to the Morris estate.
No 212–First and top floors occupied by Charles Knox; hatter. Loss estimated at $80,000; insured for $30,000.
Second floor–B. H. Horn, optician; also patent agency of Coombs & Brown.
Third floor–J. Briggs, corn doctor, and Mr. Barringer, broker.
The basement was occupied by William Branch as a restaurant.
The whole building was destroyed, together with its contents. Loss on building $15,000; insured for $20,000. It was owned by the Lorillard estate.
No. 155–Gentlemen’s furnishing goods store, owned by Willetts & Skidmore. Loss $3,000; insured.
No. 153–Porter house, owned by Mr. Wortendyke. Loss $1,000.
No. 149–Liquor store, owned by John Duane. Loss $3,000. Upper part by A. Bassford, Jr., as a billiard saloon. Loss $8,000; insured.
Buildings No. 149 and 151 are totally destroyed.
No. 147–First floor, stationary store of Stearns & Beale. Damage by water about $2,000; insured for $12,000 in the Phenix, Croton and Hanover Insurance Companies. Second floor, tailor’s store of Hamilton & Thompson. Damage slight; insured. Third floor, Slater & Riley, printers. Loss $200; insured. Fourth floor, Harvey & Ford, ivory turners. Loss $50; insured for $3,500, in the Tradesmen’s Insurance Company. Fifth floor, Austin & McGill, blank book binders. Loss $3,000; insured for $3,000, in the Mechanics’ Insurance Company.
No. 145–First floor, Savery’s dining saloon. Damage $200; insured for $4,000, in Park Insurance Company. Basement, wine store of F. C. Hansen. Loss $100. Third floor, S. Bradford, printer. Damage $150; insured for $3,000, in the Mechanics’ and Traders’ Insurance Company.
The buildings Nos. 145 and 147 are owned by Josiah Macy. They are damaged to the extent of $500; insured.
ANN STREET, UNDER THE MUSEUM.
J. E. Nolan’s sample room. Insured for $4,000, in the Fulton Insurance Company; total loss.
Boot and shoe store owned by Mr. Irwin. Loss $2,000.
Truss store of J. J. Glover. Loss $1,500.
Truss store of Wm. Marsh. Loss $1,500.
New York Optical Instrument Company. Owned by Charles F. Lemke. Loss about $8,000. Insured for $2,000 in Goodhue Insurance Company.
J. R. Surbrug, cigars. Insured for $4,800 in Manhattan Insurance Company. Loss $1,500.
Mr. Higginson, barber shop, in the basement. Loss $500.
No. 8 Ann street, restaurant kept by Mr. F. V. Groot. Loss $2,500. No insurance.
Nos. 10 and 12–First floor, boot and shoe store of Jones & Kenwood. Loss $5,000. Upper floors, W. N. Clapp, printer. Loss $2,000; W. S. Wilder, paper ruler. Loss $1,000. T. E. Bartow, printer. Loss $1,000. The building is owned by the Chandler estate. It is damaged to the extent of $6,000; insured.
Nos. 14 and 16–Occupied by J. J. Byrne, tailor; C. Bellmann, wood engraver; J. Ross, porter house, and J. J. Jeandeburris, lager beer saloon, all of whom are considerably damaged by water.
No. 18–First floor and part of the upper part, occupied as a book store by Dick & Fitzgerald. Loss about $3,000; insured for $30,000. Top floor, French & Wheat, printers. Loss $1,000; insured. Building damaged $200.
Condition of the Fire Last Night.
At ten o’clock last night the fire was nearly extinguished. The steam, which rose in clouds from the piles of brick and debris, showed that intense heat still ruled them, but except this and a light taper-like flame, which occasionally raised its head here and there, flashed for a little and disappeared, there appeared to be no fire whatever. But at twelve o’clock the flames burst forth from the upper story of one of the Ann street buildings, causing no little excitement in the neighborhood. The firemen were again promptly on the spot, and succeeded in quelling the flames in a few minutes. All further danger was now over, and the remains of the fire presented pretty much the same aspect that all immediate relics of large fires do. Several streams of water were still kept playing upon it as a precautionary measure and to cool off the bricks and debris. The police also kept guard in the vicinity of the fire to protect the unwary from approaching too near the dangerous places. The crowds still lingered in the streets, and the curiosity which kept them in the vicinity could scarcely be kept in control by the police, on many occasions, without discourtesy on the part of the officers.
This was a LONG post not just to read but to write and so I leave this for you, the reader, with my thoughts, observations, and explanations. Just the content along is over 8200 words and 47000 characters, but also having to look up more than a few words and phrases, get the correct spelling or meaning, or find the obscure reference the original article is talking about. Also some parts that were difficult to read due to the original scan I had to cross check similar articles in the New York Dispatch and New York Tribune to get the right names. So many times I would stumble over a word, think it was something else and double check the correct (or incorrect) spelling. People just don’t talk like this any more. Times have changed and rarely do you find a magazine article written as deep as this newspaper one is. Everything that happened that night, blow by blow; hour by hour, is described here along with a complete list of the losses and the results. At times the author gets deep into philosophy and narrative and you think you’re reading a finely curated work of prose instead of a newspaper. There’s so much content packed into this article you can find yourself lost in a single paragraph forever, wondering what it was like back then and what it would have been like to stand on Broadway watching this unfold.
Other publications at the time had similar front pages about the incident like the New York Dispatch and the New York Times. Rightly so since Barnum’s Museum was a huge attraction, the first was total taking down the entire building and surrounding structures, so it makes sense others would cover it. All newspapers follow a similar layout (5 or 6 columns of full and tiny text). Then as I was writing this I realized why (it should have been obvious). Back in 1865 photography was a new medium and somewhat experimental as new methods were just being figured out. There were glass plate negatives and pictures certainly existed going back to the Civil War times but other techniques also existed like Ambrotype, Tintype, and CDV. So there was no “one” method that everyone used and results were varied. Also photographs took time to produce (sometimes days back then) and were expensive. Considering the size of the blaze, it would also be a feat for any photographer to get a good photograph of the fire as it would more than likely be over exposed beyond use in a newspaper. So it makes sense front pages contain little in photography for the time given the complexities and cost of pictures at the time and the fact that papers of the time were mainly focused on content (and advertising). Reading over the content from the other papers like the New York Dispatch it covers many of the items presented here but also offers it’s own spin on things. It’s not a verbatim copy of the Herald so again, some author (primarily men back then) created a tremendous amount of content for the event.
This post originated at watching a brief video here on the BarnumMuseum channel. In that video they show one of the artifacts from their collection, including the front page of the Herald and discuss briefly the contents of the article. I was intrigued to see if I could find the entire text of the article online and after a few minutes of Googling there it was. The Library of Congress has a great archive of thousands of publications and I was able to find the exact one. Luckily their PDF is of high enough resolution to read and zoom in. Given the fact the original is over a century old, the quality isn’t bad and while a few words are cut off or smudged, for the most part it’s readable. The “text” version however is a joke. It seems like it was generated from an OCR scan of the PDF version and is almost unreadable. So I took it upon myself to transcribe the copy and in doing so found such a wealth of knowledge and insight into the past.
These are notes I found as I was transcribing the article the might help clear up some confusion in the text. As this was written over 150 years ago, the English language has changed and we tend not to use the same words or structure they did back then. Also here are some comments on the colorful use of Latin sayings, words, and phrases the author uses to communicate the story. Things here are those that made me look twice and forced me to go find something on the Internet to maybe help explain things better.
- The phrase “Nil mortuis nisi bonum” probably refers to the Latin phrase “mortuis nihil nisi bonum” which (loosely translated) is “do not speak ill of the dead”.
- The “Jeff. Davis” references Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States from 1862-1865.
- According to the Free Dictionary by Farlex the phrase noting Pelion in the Last of the Museum section means adding difficulty to difficulty; fruitless effort. This is a reference to the attempt by the giants in Greek mythology to climb to heaven by piling Mount Ossa upon Mount Pelion.
- The newspaper article gets into the background of Barnum by talking about his exhibition of Joyce Heth, the reputed nurse of George Washington. The article spells her name as “Joyce” but Wikipedia lists it as “Joice”. The printed materials from the time list her name as “Joice” so I’ll consider that official and more than likely the author didn’t know what the correct spelling should have been and went with the more common version.
- I didn’t realize that “&c.” was used for the more popular “etc.” (or just “etc”) referring to Et Cetera meaning “and other similar things”. I’ve always used “etc.” myself but it was interesting the Herald (and I would assume other papers at the time) would use this format.
- I cannot find a specific reference to a “Whitworth’s pump” but Sir Joseph Whitworth was an English inventor (1803-1887) and devised an accepted standard for screw threads. This might be what they’re referring to when they mention being able to use a fire hose from one building in another.
- I did not fully capitalize the word “HERALD” throughout the article as was in the original text, but did capitalize the first letter. I believe since this was the article from the Herald they used that for emphasis on selling the name and making it stand out in text. When you glance at a page, even one as dense as this was, the ALL CAPS word jump at out you. Much like the repeated use of caps is considered “shouting” or “yelling” today.
- I find it interesting how heavily the author really pushes how valiant the Herald staff performed the fire fighting duties and even goes as far to say, essentially, they were better fire fighters than the fire department. I’m sure they were great, but I sense a lot of rivalry there and a lot of self recognition. There area lot of subtle jabs and offhand praises at the fire department.
- Some of the peoples names may be off by spelling. In some cases the Herald text was obfuscated and it was hard to make out the correct name. When cross referencing some of the other newspapers of the time, different spellings were listed (e.g. “byrn” vs. “byrne”) so it’s not totally accurate with some names. I wasn’t able to find other records of these people in business registries or other sources.