Monday, February 24, 2020

World’s Columbian Exposition Cold Storage Building Fire on July 10, 1893, Chicago.

On the afternoon of Monday, July 10, 1893, four Chicago firemen, eight firemen hired by the Columbian Exposition and three civilians lost their lives in a fiery inferno that was the cold storage building. It was the greatest loss of life in the Chicago Fire Department until the Chicago Stockyards fire of December 22, 1910, which claimed the lives of Chief Fire Marshal James Horan and 21 firefighters.
The Cold Storage Building before the devastating fire of July 10, 1893.
As can best be determined the fire started in the cupola that surrounded and was flush with the top of the smokestack. The fire started small enough but there was a stiff breeze coming out of the northeast and gradually the flames circled around until the pillars of the cupola caught fire. By the time the top pillars were on fire, firemen had already reached the main roof of the building.
The first attempt to get a hose to the first platform was by the use of an extension ladder from the southeast corner of the building but was unsuccessful. Under orders of Acting Chief Murphy, men climbed the seventy feet up the tower from the outside by using cleats nailed to the side of the tower. The men took lengths of rope with them but no ladders. When they finished their ascent to the first platform they lowered their ropes and the process of pulling up hoses to the first platform had begun. While the firemen were valiantly attempting to put out the blaze, a crowd of about 30,000 fair goers was forming around the building. A cheer broke out from the crowd when the first spurts of water burst from the hoses onto the fire above.

It seemed to this awe-struck audience that the brave men of the Chicago Fire Department and Columbian Fire Department had the upper hand but their cheers very suddenly turned to gasps of horror. The whole while that the men were planning their attack on the fire, it seemed, in retrospect, that the fire was already planning its revenge in the form of an almost perfect death trap. In fact, it later became apparent that the firefighters’ fates were sealed before the opening of the fair when the cold storage building’s smokestack was just an ugly piece of bare metal that extended 191 feet in the air. It was said that Daniel Burnham, Chief of Construction, did not like the stark contrast of the bare metal with that beauty of the “White City” and ordered that it be made to blend in with the surrounding buildings. The facade of wood and white painted staff that was erected around the stack did indeed blend well with the surrounding great buildings but it also created a hollow gap between the façade and the pipe that extended below the main roof of the building. What the firefighters and the crowd didn’t see were the burning embers falling through this gap and slowly igniting the material 70 feet below the firefighters.
A small puff of smoke near their feet was the first indication to the brave souls above that something was terribly wrong. The firefighters on the roof could feel increased heat but it wasn’t coming only from above them anymore! As the firefighters on the roof sounded their warning, the crowd uttered a common cry of horror as flames erupted directly below the feet of the firefighters in the tower. It seemed to be only a split second between the initial burst of flame and when flames seemed to be pouring from between every pillar and even from the walls of the tower itself. The flames curled upwards surrounding the firefighters from both above and below them. Some in the crowd screamed, some women fainted and one man went to his knees and lifted his arms upwards towards the sky and appeared to be praying as well as concentrating on looking upward and at the same time trying to avoid watching what was unfolding in front of him. The crowd was so dense at this point that no one could simply walk away and was almost forced to witness what was quickly unfolding.

A silence fell over the crowd when a lone figure jumped from the 70-foot ledge and frantically reached for the hose that extended down to the roof. He managed to only grab it with one hand but managed to hold on. He slid down the hose into what seemed like a hopeless wall of fire that extended all the way down to the roof. He miraculously emerged from the flame with his clothes on fire but still holding the hose. He managed to make it to the roof and to the north side of the building where he was lowered to the ground. He was John Davis of the fire company stationed on the Midway Plaisance. A split second can mean the difference between life and death in any fire but almost a certainty in a fire of this magnitude. Unfortunately, firefighter Davis’s comrades hesitated and the hose that could have been a lifeline for a select few was consumed by the flames and burned in half. Spectators could see the figure of Captain James Fitzpatrick who was assigned to Engine Co. 2 and also Assistant Chief of Battalion 14 of the CFD. He seemed to be issuing an order to the men and one-by-one they started shimmying along the ledge of the tower to the north side which seemed to offer a few more precious seconds from the fire’s reach.

There was cheering as they all made the perilous journey to the north side of the tower. The celebration was short-lived as the flames quickly looked to finish their morbid task. The men huddled closer and closer attempting to avoid the heat of the oncoming flames. What happened next brought tears and cries from even the strongest men in the crowd. There was an eerie calm that seemed to come across the men on the tower and one man threw his arms around the neck of another in what could be a final embrace. That started a chain reaction of farewell words and hugs between the doomed men. A rope was thrown out and fell almost to the roof but even before anyone could grab it was burnt in two. The firefighters on the roof were frantically calling for ladders to be sent up from the ground but none came.

Without warning a figure took the 7 story jump to the roof below but the flame ravaged wooden roof was no match for the weight of the man and he fell through into a fiery inferno. Now it seemed the only choice was to jump or burn and a second person took the fiery plunge and turned over and over until not landing on his feet but his head and was killed instantly. Seeing the fate of the first of their comrades, the rest of the group hesitated briefly but the intensity of the flames spurred them in their decision making.
Fireman W.P. Mahoney saw a comrade of his named Bielenberg pass out due to the heat of the flames. He picked up his friend and jumped for the rope. He managed to grab it and slow both of their descent to the point that they both survived the initial impact on the roof but Mahoney had broken both legs. He still managed to drag his friend to the north side of the building where they were both lowered by ladder to the ground.

There now remained only two firefighters left on the tower, one was Captain Fitzpatrick. He was trying to convince his comrade to go first but to no avail. The Captain jumped to the only remaining rope which had only about 20 feet left and as he reached the burning end of the rope, he swung himself hard to the north avoiding the hottest of the flames. The last of those remaining attempted to duplicate the Captain’s technique but right at that moment the tower could no longer support its own weight and crashed into the burning inferno taking the last unfortunate soul with it.
Chief Murphy had been on the burning roof for as long as he could trying to do whatever he could but was driven back by the intense heat. He had just reached the ground when Captain Fitzpatrick had fallen and called for Captain Kennedy of Company 5 and Hans Rehfeldt of the Hook and Ladder company and the three-shot up a ladder to the roof where Captain Fitzpatrick was lying. They raised him to his feet and tied a rope line securely under his arms and slowly lowered him to the ground.

By the end of the fire, 15 souls had been lost. The blaze claimed 12 firefighters and 3 civilians.
  1. Captain James Fitzpatrick, Chicago Fire Department
  2. Captain Burton E. Page, Chicago Fire Department
  3. Captain James A. Garvey, Chicago Fire Department
  4. Lt. Charles W. Purvis, Chicago Fire Department
  5. William H. Denning, World's Fair Fire Department
  6. Lt. John H. Freeman, World's Fair Fire Department
  7. John C. McBride, World's Fair Fire Department
  8. Louis J. Frank, World's Fair Fire Department
  9. Paul W. Shroeder, World's Fair Fire Department
  10. John A. Smith, World's Fair Fire Department
  11. John Cahill, World's Fair Fire Department
  12. Phillip J. Breen, World's Fair Fire Department
  13. Ralph Drummond, Superintendent Harter Electric Company
  14. Norman M. Hartman, Electric Lineman
  15. Bernard Murphy, Boilermaker
The strange thing is that when all of the victims of the fire were traced to their respective gravesites, there was one extra body!

At Oakwoods Cemetery in Chicago there is a monument to those lost in the fire and underneath that monument, according to Oakwoods records, are 7 bodies when there should only be 6!
The Oakwoods Cemetery Memorial to those who lost their lives in the Cold Storage Fire.
Just who this unidentified 16th victim is anyone's guess. There was only one small mention of an unidentified victim in a newspaper at the time but no other mention. There were a couple of possibilities but none seemed to pan out. The mystery continues!

By Ray Johnson
Edited by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Ray Johnson is a former criminal investigator in Du Page County, Illinois. He was born in Chicago and has spent his entire life in the Chicagoland area. He is a graduate of The University of Illinois at Chicago and has taught College Classes in Criminal Justice at the College of Du Page in Glen Ellyn as well as lecturing on Chicago folklore and history and teaching adult education classes on historical research techniques.

A Green Hornet streetcar causes an inferno with gasoline tanker truck in Chicago. (1950)

The collision occurred around 6:30pm on May 25, 1950. The accident happened at the intersection of 63rd Place and State Street. The Inferno killed 34 people and injured 50 others in the two vehicles and the surrounding area.
On May 25, 1950, Chicago experienced one of its worst traffic accidents when a streetcar collided with a gas tanker truck. Thirty-four people died. — Chicago Tribune historical photo

A scene from the May 25, 1950, Green Hornet streetcar crash. — Chicago Tribune historical photo
The Green Hornet Streetcar (named for their speed and color), trolley № 7078, was headed south on State Street, carrying 63 passengers. Suddenly the streetcar switched to the eastbound track to avoid a flooded underpass. “Apparently, the motorman of the streetcar was not paying attention, and went through that switch at total velocity, and hit the side of that truck with dire consequences,” said Craig Cleve, author of the book The Green Hornet Streetcar Disaster. 

Whether the streetcar driver or the streetcar itself was at fault is unclear, but the Green Hornet did not slow down. As it approached the turn at approximately 30 mph, the streetcar derailed as it hit a Mack truck hauling 8,000 gallons of gasoline.

The gasoline tanker-truck, carrying thousands of gallons of gasoline, jackknifed after the collision and blocked State Street 200 feet north of 63rd Street. The driver of the truck, Mel Wilson, died in the cab of the truck while the conductor of the streetcar, William C. Lidell, survived.
Two parked cars are hosed by firemen after the blaze at 6251 State Street. By most accounts, the streetcar was going too fast for the wet conditions. — Chicago Tribune historical photo
A battered watch carried by one of the streetcar crash victims showed the time of the disaster. It stopped at 6:33 on May 26, 1950. — Chicago Tribune historical photo
Thirty-three people died immediately on the streetcar and one died later of injuries from the crash. Thirty people managed to survive despite the fact that the windows and doors wouldn't open. Fifty people, some were on the streetcar, and others in the surrounding area were injured. According to the National Safety Council’s report two days after the crash, it was the largest death toll from a motor vehicle collision, surpassing the 29 people killed in a 1940 Texas train-truck collision. Some victims were identified immediately because of personal belongings whereas other victims were identified at the Cook County Morgue by friends and relatives in the days following the crash.
A priest gives last rites to the victims on May 25, 1950, when a Green Hornet streetcar collided with a fuel truck. It was a grim task to identifying bodies as there wasn't much to go on: burned clothes, melted shoes, a ring, bits of toys, remnants of a letter from a young woman planning her wedding. — Dante Mascione, Chicago Tribune

This shell was what remained of the Green Hornet streetcar after searing flames from gasoline spilled from a tanker truck destroyed it and killed its human cargo. — Chicago Tribune historical photo
In addition to the lives lost, nearby buildings and parked cars were consumed by the flames. The fire destroyed seven buildings, between the 6239 and 6247 addresses, leaving 120 people homeless. The total property damage was estimated to be around $150,000 ($1,502,663.90 today). William C. Liddell, the streetcar conductor, disappeared after the crash but was arrested the day after, charged with leaving the scene of the accident.
A general view on May 26, 1950, of the scene north of 63rd and State Streets where a streetcar and gasoline truck collided the day before, killing 34 people. The streetcar was being switched into a "turnaround" because of flooded conditions of an underpass beneath a viaduct from which this picture was taken. The arrows added show details of the accident, as well as the buildings damaged in the explosion. — Chicago Tribune historical photo
A worker demonstrates how the switch for the streetcar is normally manually operated. — Chicago Tribune historical photo
Police officers and the coroner at the county morgue on May 25, 1950. The tragic accident left 34 persons dead. — Chicago Tribune historical photo
In 1955, the Chicago Transit Authority claimed it paid a total of $900,000 ($8,713,400 today) to families of the deceased. The accident was highly investigated, drawing conclusions as to what could prevent another such catastrophe. Among them was the addition of drainage systems for frequently flooded underpasses so operators would not have to detour, two yearly physical examinations of motormen and streetcar doors that could remain open in case of an emergency to allow for evacuation. However, in 1958 the CTA elected to stop using streetcars entirely. They were replaced by bus routes that still run today.
Green Hornet Streetcar Inferno, Oil on Canvas by Eric Edward Esper. (2013)
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

The Haber Corporation Fire in Chicago. (1953)

On April 17, 1953, the day after the fire, exhausted Chicago firefighters were still digging through the smoldering remains of the Haber Corporation factory at 908 W. North Avenue. They were looking for victims of the worst fire in the city since a streetcar and gasoline tanker met at 62nd and State Streets between a streetcar and gasoline tanker in 1950 which killed 32 people.
The Haber Corporation Fire killed 35 people and injured 32. North Avenue, looking east.
Sixty-two employees punched the time clock that morning, but construction was taking place inside the building and estimates put at least 100 people inside the structure when the explosion and subsequent fire began. After that initial explosion on the first floor of the three-story factory, the fire spread so quickly that witnesses said the whole building was in flames within five minutes.
The first alarm was turned in April 16, 1953, at 8:47 AM. The firemen of the 3rd Battalion arrived in less than three minutes. 

The battalion chief, Frank Thielman, described what he saw upon arrival, “A sheet of flame was shooting out each of the 14 second-floor windows. The sight was awful. It was fury. We couldn’t get in to fight the fire. People were running wildly out of the building, saying more were inside. Others were jumping down from the third-floor windows onto the roof of the one-story building adjoining on the east.”

By 9:00 AM, a 5-11 alarm was sounded, bringing 59 pieces of fire equipment to the scene. Ambulances, police squadrons, even police cars, were pressed into service to carry victims to five different hospitals. Electricity was turned off in a 20-square block area surrounding the scene. Ventilating fans were placed on their highest setting in the subway because of the smoke.

A mechanic, Ted Mechnek, had just left his parked car on the way to work at a local business when the initial explosion occurred. “Glass flew all over the street,” he said. In just a second it seemed fire burst out all of the second-floor windows. In another second a woman jumped from a third-floor window to the roof of the one and a half story receiving department. Then a man jumped and turned to catch others as they jumped. Ten or 15 must have jumped that way, but the smoke was so dense it was hard to tell the exact number. A man appeared at a third-story window, his clothing either burned or blown off.”

An inspector on the third-floor assembly line, Florence Haislip, said from her hospital bed at Augustana Hospital, “We heard a tremendous explosion which shook the whole building. I ran with about 60 other women for the fire escape. Some of the women were screaming in panic. I saw I wasn’t going to be able to reach the fire escape, so I climbed thru a window, hung by my hands and dropped.”

Even as the recovery effort was continuing, Coroner Walter E. McCarron appointed a jury of a dozen men that held its first meeting on April 17th. Within a week it became apparent that the loss of 35 lives might have been prevented if regulations had been properly followed and appropriate precautions were taken.

A building of this size, the Assistant City Fire Commissioner, Anthony J. Mullaney, testified, should have had three means of egress. There were only two – an inner stairway that was unusable after the explosion and a fire escape. City Building Commissioner Roy T. Christiansen testified that the Haber company had failed to obtain building permits for part of its remodeling work (some of which required the boarding up of an additional stairway), and that a company executive had admitted that company officials “winked at” employees who smoked illegally in Haber plants.

By April 29th the hearings began to move toward a conclusion. Arvid M. Tienson, the chief supervising engineer of the Illinois Department of Labor’s factory inspection division told the jury that he and an assistant found two pieces of a duct from the building’s ventilation system that had been blown away by the initial explosion. There was no evidence of fire in the two pieces but each had “aluminum dust fine enough to explode.” 

Mr. Tienson said, “There had to be a power failure or blocking of the duct, and something to trigger the explosion.”  Witnesses had testified earlier that a flash fire at one of the first floor buffing machines had occurred.

In the end, the coroner’s jury declared the horrific event that killed 35 people and sent 32 others to the hospital an accident. The Tribune reported, “The jurors reported unanimous agreement that there was negligence on the part of owners of the property, the Hager corporation, and two companies – Ragnar Benson, Inc. and Wipf Welding company – which were engaged in extensive remodeling of the building at the time of the fire. But the jury was unable to agree as to the degree of negligence in each case.” 

The owners of the building, former 43rd Alderman Titus Haffa and members of his family, were not mentioned in the jury’s findings although Coroner Walter E. McCarron said, “If I were a member of the jury I personally would have held the owners of the property and the companies to the grand jury for criminal negligence. However, this is your verdict and I accept it.”
The Haber Corporation's location today. North Avenue, looking east.
Separately, in testimony before a committee set up by Alderman Cullerton of the 38th ward to investigate the tragedy, Assistant Fire Commissioner Anthony J. Mullaney said, “If existing ordinances had been followed, no one would have died in the fire. The ordinances are adequate to have covered the situation. If they had followed the code in obtaining necessary permits for remodeling, this wouldn’t have happened. There were no direct means out of the building from the upper floors.”

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

The St. Anthony's Hospital Fire in Effingham, Illinois. (1949)

Like much of the United States, Effingham, Illinois, experienced rapid growth in the years after World War II. 
St. Anthony's Hospital as it appeared before the 1949 fire.
St. Anthony’s Hospital in Effingham had been the county’s only hospital since 1873, but in 1949 the region was quickly outgrowing the small facility. Operated by the Sisters of St. Francis, who lived in a convent next door, the hospital was sanitary and well-kept, but completely outdated. Constructed mainly out of wood and brick, the 100-bed hospital contained open corridors and staircases and many of the walls were covered with oilcloth fabrics and combustible soundproof tiles. The city was planning to build a larger, modern hospital in 1951, but tragedy struck on April 4, 1949.
St. Anthony's Hospital on fire on April 4, 1949.
Shortly before midnight, a massive fire broke out at St. Anthony’s Hospital, spreading rapidly through the building. As the hospital had no architectural components that controlled fire, the flames easily burned through the wood and plaster interior. Many of the 116 patients were immediately trapped on the upper floors, including disabled elderly residents, injured patients stuck in casts, splints, and traction devices, and a nursery full of newborn babies. A few brave doctors and nurses helped some escape, returning to the burning building multiple times to rescue patients, but the fire was too strong. Ultimately, 74 people were killed, including patients, nurses, nuns, a priest, and a hospital superintendent who ran into the flames to try to rescue his wife.

As the hospital had no fire alarm system, valuable time was lost before someone was able to set off the town’s fire siren. All but one of the 26-man Effingham Volunteer Fire Department arrived within ten minutes of hearing the siren, but by that time the fire had already burned through the hospital roof. Rescue efforts were further impeded as the small department had only three pumping engines. Until mutual aid departments arrived on scene hours after the blaze started, the firefighters had no ladder truck or other aerial apparatus to use to rescue victims from the otherwise inaccessible upper floors of the hospital. In the end, with the assistance of eleven mutual aid departments from as far away as 66 miles, firefighters were able to keep the fire from spreading elsewhere, but the hospital was virtually destroyed.

Although the cause of the fire remains unknown, investigators had little trouble pinpointing the safety deficiencies at St. Anthony’s Hospital. The combination of the combustible building materials in the open corridors, stairwells, and vertical shafts, along with the lack of fire sprinklers, detectors, and alarms had essentially doomed the hospital as soon as the fire began. In response, Governor Adlai Stevenson ordered the State Fire Marshal to evaluate all of Illinois’ hospitals to pinpoint and correct any fire hazards. Many other hospitals throughout the country also improved their fire safety measures in an effort to avoid similar disasters. In fact, as a direct result of the fire at St. Anthony’s, modern hospitals now incorporate numerous fire safety features to protect patients who cannot be quickly evacuated, including fire barriers, smoke compartments, and stairway enclosures.
Every person who died in the fire that night had a unique personal history. Here are a few of their stories:

Shirley Clements, a 22-year-old registered nurse, wasn’t supposed to be there that night. She and her husband, Hilary Clements, had a 9-month-old daughter, and Shirley was working an extra private-duty shift before a planned break from nursing to be at home with her baby. She assisted patients out of the building, jumping once from the first floor. She then re-entered the building to retrieve more patients, but this time her uniform caught fire and she escaped by jumping again, from an upper-floor window, suffering severe burns and broken bones. Shirley refused immediate treatment, stating that she knew she could not live and requested that others be treated instead. She was transported, accompanied by her husband, to a hospital at Granite City, Illinois, near her hometown of Belleville. Although listed as a survivor in early reports, Shirley succumbed to her injuries on Tuesday, April 5, 1949, the evening after the fire.

Fern Riley, a 22-year-old practical nurse who worked in the second-floor nursery, refused to leave and died with the 11 newborns there. Others were jumping to escape the flames, but she undoubtedly saw no way to get the fragile babies to safety. Her body was later found in the nursery with them. Fern grew up in the nearby town of Holliday, Illinois, one of a family of ten children. Her story was featured in a number of newspaper and magazine articles about the tragedy.

Frank Ries, the building engineer who lived next door, was off duty and at home that night, but his wife was working at the hospital. He entered the burning building, where he attempted to extinguish the flames involving a laundry chute that ran from the top floor of the building. His wife, Marie, on duty on the second floor, was able to escape by jumping from a window. Although severely injured in the fall, she was taken to a hospital in another town and survived. Frank, however, did not escape the fire. His body was later found in the basement level with emptied fire extinguishers nearby. Frank was born in 1900 in Recklinghausen, Germany. He was survived by his wife and four children, as well as two brothers living in Illinois and two brothers and a sister in Dusseldorf, Germany.

Sister Eustachia Gatki was found near a window with some of her third-floor patients, none of whom survived. Sister Eustachia was born at Boleslawiec, Silesia, in 1895.

Sister Bertina Hinricher was found on the second floor, huddled with a small group of patients who were unable to escape. She was a native of Holtwick, Germany, born in 1887.

Reverend Fr. Charles Sandon, age 52, was the hospital chaplain. He was born in Decatur, Illinois, and was ordained a priest in 1922. His body was found in his room on the second floor.

Doris Brummer, a 12-year-old girl, was hospitalized with a broken leg and was unable to escape the fire.

Edward Brummer, Jr., newborn son of Mr. and Mrs. Ed Brummer and the nephew of young Doris, died in the nursery.

Harold Gentry was spending the night at the hospital with his infant son, Harold Dennis Gentry. Harold's wife, Ina, had given birth six weeks before to the baby boy, who had been readmitted for treatment. Both father and son died in the fire.

Floyd Mascher, age 35, had been admitted to the hospital for surgery. Her husband, Floyd, was at home with their 2-year-old daughter. (Floyd Mascher and Ina Gentry later met and married. They went on to have a son together and raised him along with Floyd's daughter.)

Evan Kabalzyk, an elderly Russian immigrant, had been blinded years before in a coal mining accident and was said to be able to navigate the building with ease. He resided in the nursing home area on the third floor.

Eileen and Irene Sigrist, week-old twin daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Russell Sigrist, had been born at home and then taken to the hospital for nursing care. The babies were the third set of twins born to their parents. The Sigrists would later donate the first $100 toward the rebuilding fund.

Resulting Fire Safety Awareness
The Effingham fire prompted a review of fire safety and building standards at hospitals nationwide, with emphasis on:
  • Construction of buildings
  • Storage of equipment
  • Evacuation planning
  • Fire alarms, extinguishers, and training.
The official report of the state fire marshal found that the fire had been fed by flammable cellulose ceiling tiles, oilcloth wall coverings, fresh paint, freshly varnished wood floors, and open stairwells. In addition, oxygen and ether tanks exploded in a basement storage area, further feeding the blaze.

Although the initial cause of the fire was never officially determined, smoke was first noted to be emanating from a wooden laundry chute. It was speculated that a smoldering cigarette may have been gathered up with patient bedding and tossed down the chute, where it finally ignited the surrounding material.

Fire codes implemented as a result of the St. Anthony's fire included requirements for smoke and fire barriers as well as fire-resistant enclosed stairways

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

The LaSalle Bank Fire in Chicago. (2004)

On Monday, December 6, 2004, an electrical fire broke out on the 29th floor of the LaSalle Bank Building in Chicago’s Downtown Loop at about 6:30 PM. Burning for more than five hours, the 5-11 and 3 Special Alarm fire reached temperatures in excess of 2,000° and spread to the 30th floor of the building, mainly due to the absence of sprinklers. More than 400 firefighters and one-third of the Chicago Fire Department’s apparatus were on-scene, and nearly 25 suburban communities responded with mutual aid support.
As the largest high-rise fire in Illinois history, the LaSalle Bank fire could have been a repeat of the tragedy at the Cook County Administration Building Fire one year earlier, but instead, the outcome was far more positive. In a stroke of good luck for firefighters, the design of the building contributed to smooth fire fighting operations. Firefighters took advantage of the tiered construction of the building by setting up on the roofs of some of the building’s lower tiers. These roofs, just a few floors below the flames, gave firefighters the perfect perch for spraying water into the windows of the burning 29th floor. The positive ending to the LaSalle Bank Fire was not just due to the fortunate design of the building, however, but was instead a direct result of the dramatic steps taken by the Chicago Fire Department to improve high-rise operations following the Cook County Administration Building Fire.
After arriving on-scene, the Chicago Fire Department began immediate evacuation and rescue operations, as Rapid Ascent Teams conducted floor-by-floor searches of the LaSalle Bank Building. Even though it was after normal operating hours, about 500 workers were still at work in the 45-story building. Remembering the lessons from one year earlier, the commanding officers designated one stairwell for use in evacuation operations, while another was reserved for firefighter use. In addition, rescue personnel was in close contact with 911 operators, who kept building occupants on the line so that rescuers could know the exact locations of trapped victims. Also contributing to smooth evacuations, stairwell doors in the building had been left unlocked and the fire alarm announcements gave clear instructions to the building occupants, who knew how to react because of frequent fire and evacuation drills recently mandated by the city.

The LaSalle Bank Fire proved to be as much of a turning point for high-rise fire and rescue operations. While more than 30 people, mostly firefighters, were sent to hospitals for minor injuries, there were no fatalities. Moreover, the Chicago Fire Department’s new High-Rise Incident Command Order, enacted only two months earlier, proved effective in directing firefighters and commanders during the blaze. Citywide training in high-rise fire fighting and evacuation provided by the Illinois Fire Service Institute also contributed to the successful fire fighting operations.

LaSalle Bank's storied collection of fine-art photographs survived the perilous fire at the bank's Chicago headquarters in 2004. It's one of the oldest and largest photography collections in the corporate environment.

The bank’s collection of 4,500 works includes photos by nature photographer Ansel Adams, Civil War photographer Mathew Brady, and photography pioneer William Henry Fox Talbot. It spans the history of photography, from some of the earliest images ever taken to contemporary works.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Friday, February 21, 2020

The Burlington Office Building Fire, Chicago. (1922)

At approximately 12:50 AM on Wednesday, March 15, 1922, the Chicago Fire Department received an alarm from Box 276, which was located at West Van Buren and South Canal Streets. The fire had been reported by a postal clerk who noticed flames starting to burn through the roof of the building at 517 West Jackson Boulevard.

The fire actually started in the Austin Building on Canal Street and quickly spread to a number of adjacent buildings, including the Canal Street 'L' Station.
The massive fire destroyed the entire city block bordered by Jackson Boulevard, Van Buren, Canal, and Clinton Streets.
Likely based upon this information, the Chicago Fire Department immediately reinforced the initial responding firefighters by dispatching an additional three engine companies, a hook and ladder, two Fire Insurance Patrol units, two Battalion Chiefs, and one First Assistant Fire Marshal to the scene. The First Assistant Fire Marshal noted that by the time that the initial units arrived, the fire had already started spreading to adjacent buildings, suggesting that the fire had burned unnoticed for a considerable amount of time before the fire department responded.
Throughout the early morning of March 15th, the fire continued to spread to adjacent buildings. In all, 13 buildings would be involved in the fire, the tallest of which was the 15-story office building owned by the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad Company. 

Firefighters attempted to get water to the upper floors of the Burlington office building but were hampered by the fact that the department did not have a high-pressure water system that could deliver water to upper floors of taller buildings. Firefighters were greatly assisted by the valiant efforts of elevator operators in the building who risked their lives to move men and equipment to the upper floors during the fire. Around 2:30 AM, the fire was largely under control, but units continued to be called out to the scene until close to 5 o'clock in the morning. 

Chicago Chief Fire Marshal Thomas O’Connor stated in the midst of the fire that it was the worst in Chicago’s history since the Great Fire of 1871. The report of the Chicago Board of Underwriters on the fire noted many factors that contributed to the size of the conflagration, including floors that were oil-soaked and filled with combustible materials, narrow spaces between buildings that allowed the fire to easily spread, and sprinkler systems with too many sprinkler-heads that discharged the inadequate water supply too quickly.
The fire still smolders.
In total, 80% of the Chicago Fire Department responded to the fire, including 51 engine companies, 6 hook and ladder companies, 7 squad companies, 2 fireboats, and many high ranking Chicago Fire Department officers. Additionally, four Chicago Fire Insurance Patrol units took part in the efforts and the sole fatality at the fire was one of these Insurance Patrol firefighters. Firefighter James J. McGovern of Fire Insurance Patrol 1 was struck by a piece of stone masonry that fell from the Burlington Building on his head, fracturing his skull, causing his death shortly thereafter.

The fire destroyed the following buildings:
517-523 W. Jackson Boulevard. A two-story and basement joisted brick building with multiple tenants. This building had exposed unprotected openings on all sides.

525-531 W. Jackson Boulevard. A one and two-story and basement joisted brick building with multiple tenants. Unprotected openings on all sides.

541-553 W. Jackson Boulevard. Fifteen-story, roof house, basement and sub-basement, fire-resistive building, occupied by C. B. & Q. Railroad Co. as offices, with bank tenant on the ground floor. 

309-315 S. Clinton Street. A seven-story and basement joisted brick building. This building, together with 317-319 S. Clinton Street, 306-312 S. Canal Street, and 314-318 S. Canal Street formed the group known as the Austin Building. The occupancy of this group consisted principally of wood and metal workers, printers, electrotypers, and machine shops. The building had a sprinkler system. The sprinkler system was wet except in part of the basement. It was supplied by a 21,300-gallon gravity tank with a 17-foot head, and 3,400 gallons in pressure tank on No. 306-12; 1,590 gallons in pressure tank on the 6th floor of No. 309-15; 2,800 gallons in pressure tank on the roof of No. 317-19; four single steamer connections. The equipment was graded 5/10 of standard. 

317-319 S. Clinton Street. A one-story and basement and seven-story and basement semi-mill building. Exposed on three sides. Communicated to No. 309-315 through unprotected openings in the basement and non-automatic iron doors above. 

306-312 S. Canal Street. An eight-story, basement, and subbasement, semi-mill building. Exposed on all sides.

314-318 S. Canal Street. An eight-story, basement, and subbasement, semi-mill building. This building communicated with 306-312 through common elevator shafts with single non-automatic iron doors, and basement, fifth and eighth through double non-automatic iron doors. 

300-304 S. Canal Street. An eight-story, basement, and subbasement, semi-mill building, sprinklers, with multiple tenants. This was known as the Atlantic Building. It was exposed on north and east, had wired glass windows on the south, and unprotected openings on west above the sixth floor and blank wall below. The sprinkler system was wet, supplied by 20,300 gallons in a gravity tank with a 22-foot head; 3,000 gallons in each of two pressure tanks and two steamer connections. The equipment was graded 9/10 of standard.

324 S. Canal Street. The elevated 'L' station, platform and structure.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

The L. Fish Furniture Fire on March 25, 1910, Chicago.

L. Fish Furniture was established in 1858 by David Fish and is one of the oldest Furniture Companies in the United States. Shortly before the Civil War, David Fish opened his first furniture store in Chicago. To honor his wife Lotta, David used her first initial in naming the new company, "L. Fish Furniture." 
L. Fish Furniture was in business during the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and before the light bulb was invented. Fish lost their Chicago stores in the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 and rebuilt them. They survived two World Wars, the Great Depression, and the 1970s Energy Crisis. 

For over 160 years, five generations have carried on Mr. Fish’s tradition of offering the best quality furniture at the lowest price. Mr. Fish’s great, great-grandson operates its 170,000 square foot furniture and mattress store in Indianapolis, Indiana, today.

It's Friday, March 25, 1910, at the L. Fish Furniture store on Nineteenth Street and Wabash Avenue when the company’s auditor asks an office boy to go down to the fourth floor and fill three cigar lighters with benzene. As he was filling the third lighter, the benzene bursts into flame, and he ran out of the building and headed for the alley behind the building, telling no one what happened.
Part of the building was used as a storehouse, and the furniture for sale, which was packed-in on every floor, furnished the fuel for the fire which spread at an alarming rate. About seventy-five people were at work in the building. 

Sigmund Fish was ascending in the elevator and was between the third and fourth floors when the thermostatic apparatus that controlled the doors opening was released by the heat. Fish heard a click. The doors crashed shut. Fish and Geiner, the elevator manwere prisoners. The sliding elevator doors jammed when Fish tried to open them. In the frenzy of his excitement Fish tore one of the doors from its fastenings, burst open the elevator's fire door, and ran through the third floor, shouting an alarm. 

The flames, however, cut off all escape routes on floors four through six. Luckily, the employees on the first three floors were able to make it to safety. 

A "4-11" alarm was turned in, and all the downtown fire companies hurried to the scene. When they reached it, the flames had apparently got to the point that it made it impossible to save the building. Still, several firemen endeavored to enter the building, but were overcome by the smoke and heat and had to be assisted out.

Miss Ethel Lichtenstein was one of the first to reach the stairway. Panicked, she ran away from the stairway towards a window and leaped out, striking the edge of the glass awning at the main entrance, and sustained injuries from which she died at St. Luke's hospital half an hour later.

A number of other girls employed by the company escaped by the stairways but sustained severe injuries. How many were hurt is not known. The fire caused a small panic at the Columbus hotel, a small hostelry adjoining the Fish building, but so far as is known none was injured.

Miss Lichtenstein and the other girl victims were near rescue just before Miss Lichtenstein leaped to her death. The girls were leaning out of the front windows on the sixth floor of the building when the firemen put up a long ladder. Then several firemen started up. When they were halfway, a sudden explosion forced a wall of flames out of the front windows on the fourth floor, blocking their further progress. A few moments later Miss Lichtenstein jumped.

William Peterson and John Schmidt declared the fire had started as the result of a lighted match being dropped into a can of benzene when the boy tried to fill a cigar lighter.

Dr. William Kinsley was badly burned about the face and hands while trying to rescue Miss Lichtenstein and the other girls. He told a thrilling story:

"When I reached the scene," Kinsley said, "the upper floors of the building are a mass of flames. Hanging out of the windows on the sixth floor were five or six girls screaming for help." "For God's sake, save us," they cried. I ran into the building and got as far as the third floor before the fire drove me out.

As I came into the street again, I saw the Lichtenstein girl at the sixth-floor window. She threw up her hands and screamed "LOOK OUT," and the next moment she plunged headlong from the sixth floor. She struck the glass canopy over the front entrance, and her body became lodged in the heavy glass. When we got her to the ground, her face was terribly burned and her body was badly cut and bleeding.

By the time the firemen got their ladders against the front of the building, it was too late and the escape for the people on the sixth floor was cut off.

Shortly before the ruins had collapsed sufficiently enough to allow the firemen to search for bodies. By 12:30 am. all hope that any of the missing persons were still alive had been abandoned. 

First, they came upon the bodies of three girls. All were burned beyond recognition. The fire burned so hot, that the arms and legs of the victims had been entirely burned off. Fifteen minutes later the bodies of two more girls were found and the bodies of two men. 

Eleven bodies have been recovered from the ruins, and one victim, Miss Ethel Lichtenstein, dies after she had plunged to her death in an effort to escape the flames.

Fish, Isaac.
Geiner, Elevator Operator
Kinsley, M.D., William, badly burned about hands and face.
Peterson, William.
Schmidt, John.

Anderson, Ethel, Stenographer.
Bell, Minor, Advertising Agent.
Bruche, Rosa, 17yo, Stenographer.
Burden, Hannah, Foreman.
Green, William, Porter.
Lichtenstein, Ethel,16yo.
McGrath, Veronica.
Mitchell, Herbert M., brother-in-law of Mr. Simon Fish.
Quinn, Gertrude, 20yo, Private Secretary of Mr. Simon Fish.
Sinclair, Bert, Clerk.
Sullivan, Lillian.
Wargo, Mary, Clerk.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, in Wilmette, Illinois.

Father Edward Joseph Vattmann (1840-1919) was a retired U.S. Army Chaplain (Major) who lived at 1733 Lake Avenue in Wilmette. Active in local affairs, he was a familiar and well-loved figure around the village. His close friend, Theodore Roosevelt, was known to pay a visit to him at that house on occasion. During World War I, Father Vattmann came out of retirement to serve at Fort Sheridan in Highwood, Illinois.
When the news came to Wilmette that World War I had ended, Father Vattmann put on his full dress uniform, arranged for a band, and went across the street to St. Joseph School, where he insisted that all the students should be let out of class and assembled in the schoolyard. Each child was given a small American flag to wave in celebration of the Armistice, while the music played. For Ed Schuett, who was a seven-year-old at St. Joseph School, the memory was still fresh over 70 years later. "It was one of the happiest occasions that I can ever remember. It was so exhilarating."
Father Vattmann died the following year. His house still stands on Lake Avenue. A small park in Wilmette is named for him, and a large catholic monument stands guard over Father Vattmann's grave at the Fort Sheridan Cemetery on Sheridan Road in Fort Sheridan, Illinois.
But the most poignant reminder of this local legend can be found in a small grove of trees in Gillson Park across from the Lakeview Center. On November 11, 1921, Wilmette Post № 46 of the American Legion dedicated a planting of thirteen trees to commemorate the Wilmette men who died in World War I. The original trees have all been replaced now, but the grove is still there, and so is the small boulder to which is affixed a bronze marker. Twelve of the names on the marker are those of young men who died in the war. The thirteenth name, included as a tribute of esteem and affection by his fellow citizens, is that of Rev. Edward J. Vattmann.

Edward Joseph Vattmann is buried at the Fort Sheridan Cemetery in Highwood, Illinois.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

What's Cooking Restaurant in Lincoln Village Shopping Center, Chicago, Illinois. (1978-2012)

The restaurant located in Lincoln Village Shopping Center at 6181 North Lincoln Avenue (in building 'D'), Chicago, first opened as Sammy and Lisa’s What’s Cooking; then Zelda’s; the Village Inn; the Village Cart, which closed after a fire in the late 70s and finally What's Cooking opened in 1978 and closed 2012.
Chicago's Mayor Richard M. Daley posing with the staff of What's Cooking in the Lincoln Village Shopping Center after his breakfast meeting. (early 1990s)
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

CTA Streetcar in front of Wrigley Field, 1957.

CTA streetcar № 7222, ("Green Hornet"), in front of Wrigley Field. The Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad (aka "Milwaukee Road"), and the predecessor to the CTA, the Chicago Surface Lines, ran on the tracks adjacent to Wrigley Field. They were nicknamed Green Hornet streetcars because of their speed and the Chicago Surface Lines’ green paint job. 1957 was the last year of this streetcar service. (7-14-1957)

Friday, February 14, 2020

Ellen Martin, Illinois’ First Woman to Vote.

The right of women to vote became law largely because of the courage of such women as Ellen Martin of Lombard, Illinois.
In April of 1891, Martin marched into her local polling place and demanded that she be allowed to vote. Martin had a lot at stake; her job depended on it.

Born and raised in New York, she had graduated from the University of Michigan in 1875 and was admitted to the Illinois bar on January 7, 1876. She and Mary F. Perry had opened a law office on LaSalle Street in Chicago. They commuted there every day from Lombard.

Women lawyers were restricted to filing lawsuits or working in a law office at this time. They could not argue a case in court as they were not officially recognized as a “lawyer” because of their non-status as an “ELECTOR.” In other words, they could not vote.

When Martin arrived at the voting place in the local general store, backed up by 14 of the town's most prominent women, she demanded to be allowed to vote that day. She sported two sets of spectacles, carried a satchel and a giant book of law when she approached the three election judges, Mr. T.H. Vance, Mr. Ed Reber, and Mr. Fred Marquardt.

A lengthy argument ensued and 2 of the 3 judges, Vance and Reber, allowed the votes to stand. Marquardt called the County Judge George W. Brown from Wheaton and notice was given for a contest. One account had a judge so flabbergasted that he fell into a flour barrel.

The consensus was, as a result of this furor, that the women “still held the fort” and the other 14 women were allowed to vote after Martin.

The victory was short-lived in Lombard for soon after, the town council changed the charter to read, once again, that only men were allowed to vote. Ms. Martin’s actions must have stirred something in Illinois however because just three months later the state charter was altered to allow women to vote in local school elections beginning in July of 1891.

Miss Martin raised the point that the Special Charter of the Incorporated Town, did NOT include the word “male” but in Section 4, it's stated that “All citizens above the age of 21 years shall be entitled to vote at any corporation election.”

Ellen Martin was an advocate for women’s rights but for a personal reason as well. By not being a voter, Ms. Martin was prevented from the full practice of her legal profession. It is unknown whether or not her vote allowed her to advance in her own career.

The women of Illinois won limited voting rights on July 1, 1913, through the legendary work of Grace Wilbur Trout, Jane Addams, Frances Willard, and countless others. Women had the right to vote only for Presidential electors and most local offices, but not for Governor, State representatives, or Members of Congress.

In Chicago, icon Ida B. Wells-Barnett founded the Alpha Suffrage Club in 1913 to educate Negro women about the right to vote. Their power at the polls helped elect Chicago's first Negro alderman, Oscar DePriest, in 1914. 

Ellen Martin returned to her native state of New York and died in 1916, just 4 years before the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution gave women the right to vote Nationally. 

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.