The Brooklyn Theater Fire of 1876

It began as a gala performance of Two Orphans at the Brooklyn Theater on Washington Street in Brooklyn, but thanks to ineffective and incompetent theater staff, it turned into the third heaviest fire ever to occur in either a theater building or a public assembly. , in the history of the United States of America.

The title roles were played by Maud Harrison and Kate Claxton, who was thought to be one of the best stage actresses of her time. Others in the cast included famous actors Claude Burrows, J.B. Studley, H.S. Murdoch and Mrs. Farron. All would play leading roles in the ensuing tragedy.

The Brooklyn Theater, which houses 1,600 people, was built in 1871. This is a brick, D-shaped building with a main entrance on Washington Street and a secondary entrance on Johnson Street, a smaller thoroughfare that runs perpendicular to Washington Street, 200 feet to the east. One block north was then the City Hall of Brooklyn, and one block south was Fulton Street, the main thoroughfare of Manhattan ferries that brought theaters from mainland Manhattan to the theater in Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Bridge was only built in 1886.

There were three seating areas in the Brooklyn Theater. The ground floor was called "Parquet and Parquet Circle". It contained 600 seats. Balcony seats on the second floor were called "circle dress" seats and accommodated 550 rounds. The third-floor gallery, called "family circle" seats, had 450 seats.

Top-tier family-friendly venues, with 50 cents a pop, were the least expensive venues in the house and had their own Washington Street box office. In addition, there was a set of 7-foot ladders designed with zigzags from right and left corner bends leading straight from the street out to the third floor. The theater is designed so that people in the family circle do not have access to the balcony below or to the main floor of the theater. This turned out to be their cancellation.

The second floor floor seats, costing a dollar, had two pillars to enter and exit the theater. One was a 10-foot staircase leading to and from the lobby. The other was a smaller set of emergency stairs leading to Flood Alley, a tiny strip of dirt behind the theater. The ground floor door to Flood Avenue was usually locked to prevent the cunning from entering the theater artfully.

The ground floor location consisted of three price ranges. At least expensive was the parquet room, which was unevenly located on the side of the stage, costing 75 cents. The seats of the parquet circles, which were in the middle of the audience, cost $ 1.50. There were also eight private boxes, four on each side of the stage, which were the most modern and expensive seats in the house. Each private box contained six seats. Boxing seats cost a whopping $ 10 apiece, a royal sum in the 1870s.

The lighting in the theater was provided by gas jets in the lobby and in the lobby. Several gas jets, covered with decorative globes, were placed on the floor of the orchestra. Border lights were placed in line along the aperture arch, which is the rectangular frame around the stage. These lights had tin on the side, facing the audience, and were covered with wire mesh. Above the lights were thin pieces of cloth that served as decoration. Some of these pieces of cloth hung precariously near the curb lights.

As a precautionary measure, buckets of water are usually kept off the stage in the event that the hanging nature ignites. And behind the scenes was a fiery hose that was connected to a two and a half inch water main.

On December 5, 1876, about a thousand people attended the Brooklyn Theater. About 400 people were seated in the seats of the upper family circle (exact figure never determined). 360 people sat on the seats in the circle with dresses, and 250 people sat on the parquet and parquet seats.

Edward B. Dickinson, who was sitting in the middle of the hardwood seats about five rows from the stage, thought the floor of the audience was no more than half. However, Charles Vine, who sat in the best places in the family circle, thought it was "one of the largest galleries" he had seen in the Brooklyn theater for quite some time.

Everything was fine at the Brooklyn Theater until the brief break between act four and act five. During this time the curtain was pulled down, hiding the stage and the orchestra playing during the intermission. People on the parquet floor heard loud noises behind the curtain. But this was not unusual.

Seconds before the curtain goes down, stage director J. W. Thorpe saw a small flame coming from the bottom of a drop landscape hanging near the central light at the border of the stage. Thorpe later said the flame was the size of his hand. Thorpe looked for buckets of water, but for some reason they were not where they were supposed to be. He thought of using the backdrop of the fire hose, but so much nature was on the way, he decided it was faster to extinguish the fire by beating him with long stage posts. Thorpe directed his carpenters, Hamilton Weaver and William Van Siken, to try to extinguish the fire by striking him with two large stage steps.

Around 11:20 pm, the fifth and final act began. When the curtain descended, Kate Claxton, playing a blind orphan girl, was lying on a pile of straw and looking up. B. Studley and H. S. Murdock had taken their places on the stage, in a box representing an old ship on the shore of the Seine. And Mary Ann Fahren and Claude Burroughs were waiting with wings for their intention to enter the stage. Miss Harrison was not on that stage, so she stood behind the scenes watching the production.

Murdoch had only made a few lines when he heard someone whisper Fire from behind the scenes. Murdoch looked up at the window arch and saw heavy black smoke and small flames flicker. Murdoch could see that the fire was spreading rapidly up to the dome ceiling of the theater. Murdoch stopped delivering his lines, but the audience had not yet noticed the fire and the smoke.

Murdoch heard Cloxton whisper, "Keep going. They'll turn it off. Keep going."

Murdoch finished his lines and Fahren and Burroughs entered the stage from the wings. Miss Claxton had just delivered her lines to Murdoch, saying, "I forbid you to touch me. I will beg no more, "when blazing parts of the ceiling fell on stage, igniting Cloxton's suit. Coldy hurried over and put out the flames of Claxton with his bare hands.

The orchestra exploded into a cheerful song for some reason, but did nothing to quell one's fears.

At this time, people in the theater realized that a fire was occurring and screams of terror began to spread on the walls of the theater. Farron and Murdoch stopped playing and stood on one side of the stage, urging people to leave quietly and quickly. Clackston and Studley did the same on the other side of the stage.

Clackston shouted at the crowd, now on their feet in an extremely excited state, "You can all go out if you can be silent. We are between you and the flames! Keep cool and come out safely."

But the maddened crowd had their own mind. People ran out of the tracks and panic ensued.

Coldy shouted to the crowd, "If I have the mind presence to stand here between you and the fire that is right behind me, you have to have the mind presence to come out quietly!"

Cloxton later told police: "We were almost surrounded by flames; it was crazy to be late longer. I took Mr. Murdoch's hand and said, "Come on, let's go." He pulled away from me in a dazed way and rushed into his dressing room, where the fire even then raged … To jump from the stage in the orchestra in the hope of coming out in front of the house would be just to add another to the frantic, struggling are masses of human beings that tread on each other to death like wild beasts. "

The hot wood began to hit the stage and the actors were forced to run out on the wings. Claxton suddenly remembered that there was a small corridor leading from her dressing room, basement and to the cash register. Clackston ran out of hindsight, meeting Harrison, and the two leading ladies escaped, though that passage in their dressing room toward the cashier was outside. Murdoch and Burroughs, on the other hand, ran back to their locker rooms to get warmer clothes to repel the cool December air in front of the theater. No man made it out of the theater alive.

At that time, a fire alarm was sent from the First Police Station, which was adjacent to the theater. A telegram was also sent to Mayor Schröder, informing him of the dire situation.

Some of the theater crew ran to the exits of Johnson Street and made it safely outside. But soon the fire spread and the access to these exits was cut off. All other exits were either in front of the theater, at the main entrance on Washington Street, or through the emergency doors of Flood Avenue.

As the crown was set in panic mode, Chief Thomas Rochford rushed to the back of the theater and opened the special exit doors on Flood Street. Due to the action of Rochford, the ground floor people were able to leave the theater in less than three minutes. So, in fact, the least crowded part of the theater had the fastest escape routes.

The open doors of Alley Stream caused rapid airflow to enter the theater, which increased the intensity of the fire inside.

The people on the second floor had two staircases to escape from. The seven-foot-wide main staircase that led them into the building led to a lobby near the Washington Street exit. The other was a narrower staircase that led to Flood's Alley. Most decided to rush to the main staircase because this was the most famous one. This provoked the largest lodge, because instead of a neat exit, people began to work alone in madness. People started to get tangled up with each other. Some were knocking on doors and others were falling down the stairs to the people below them, forcing the flow of people from the building to stop completely.

Sergeant John Kane of the neighboring First District fought the theater and, with the help of concierge Van Schieken, began to untangle the fallen people so that the crowd behind them could descend the stairs to safety. By all means, almost all the people on the second floor dress seats were able to get out of the theater alive. But the people sitting in the gallery on the third floor were doomed from the start, and they knew it.

People began to jump from the places of the family circle to the hall below. Some were hit so badly by the jump that they failed to exit the theater. Other people descended from a small window on the third floor to Flood Alley below. A man forced himself through a ventilation shaft, which deposited him on the roof of a nearby police station.

But most people in the gallery had no way of saving themselves. After several people were able to stumble down the stairs from which they had entered the building to ensure safety outside, the gallery posts collapsed and pushed hundreds of people down three floors.

Charles Straub was sitting in the gallery near the stairs. He was sitting with his friend Joseph Kremer. Afterwards Straub said: "We could hardly run down the stairs;

Although hundreds of people stumbled and fell over him, Straub somehow managed to make it down the stairs and out of the theater. According to him, about 25 people in the gallery understood him before him and about 12 people after him. The rest were trapped inside. He never saw his friend Kremer again.

Charles Vine was sitting in the gallery, but far from the only staircase. He was thinking of jumping out of one of the windows overlooking the Flood Alley, but it was a drop of sixty feet, and he would surely be killed by that jump. So Vine hurried to the front of the gallery and decided to jump from there to the circle of dresses below. The vine crashed badly into a chair and was killed for a moment. But Vine quickly regained consciousness and was able to move down the second-floor stairs to the exit door below. Fire Marshal Keedy later said that Vine was "the last person to leave the gallery alive."

Fifteen minutes after the fire started, the entire interior of the theater was on fire. And at 11:45, the east wall of the theater fell with a great murmur, burying over 300 men, women and children under tons of bricks and burning debris.

Thomas Nevins, chef engineer at the Brooklyn Fire Department, arrived at the theater at about 11:26 p.m. m. He immediately saw that there was no way to save the theater and that his job now was to limit the fire to this single structure. When additional fire extinguishing equipment arrived shortly before midnight, Nevins used this equipment to keep adjacent buildings free of sparks and burning debris.

By midnight, about 5,000 spectators had gathered on the streets in front of the theater; some are looking for signs of loved ones who went to the theater but did not return home. At one in the afternoon the wall of the Flood Alley collapsed and by 3am the fire started to burn. At that moment, Chief Nevins considered the fire under control. Early newspapers reported the fire that morning but said only a handful of people had died.

In the daylight break, Chief Nevins brought a contingent of firefighters into the building. Chef Nevins found that almost the entire theater had collapsed in the basement. As the firefighters made their way through the ruins, they made a terrible discovery. What appeared to be ordinary garbage was, in fact, a hazy mess of charred human bodies. Some of the bodies were intact and some lacked limbs. All were burned beyond recognition. The latter determined that almost all the dead were sitting in the gallery on the third floor when the fire started.

It took three days for the bodies to be removed. It was a long and tedious project because, given their charred state, the bodies would disintegrate as soon as they were moved.

Forensics, which was in its infancy at the time, cannot be precise. Initial newspaper reports say there were 275 to 400 casualties at the Brooklyn Fire Theater. The coroner's report later said there were 283 deaths, but that is only an educated guess. 103 unidentified bodies and body parts were buried in a common grave at Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

The death toll in the Brooklyn Theater fire of 1876 was exceeded only by the Iroquois Theater fire that occurred on December 30, 1903 in Chicago, Illinois, where at least 605 people died and the night-time fire Cocoanut Grove Club in Boston, November 28, 1942, killing 492 people.

The 1876 Brooklyn Fire Theater prompted New York to introduce precautionary measures that reduce the likelihood of such a recurrence. Changes to the building code prohibited the presence of paints, forests and building materials in the stage area. The code also required the use of a dense brick foam wall "extending from the basement to the roof to minimize the risk of a scene fire in the audience."

Other changes to the code stipulated that "the arches of the prosenium should be fitted with non-combustible fire curtains." Other openings in the foam wall require self-closing fire doors. Thermal activated spray systems were required for the flying space above the stage.

Beginning in the early 1900s, half an hour before the scheduled performance, each theater had to have a Theater Officer on duty. Before the play began, the task of the Theater Detail was "to test the fire alarm, to check the doors of the firewall and the fire curtain." During the performance, a theater detail employee "wanders around the theater making sure that the aisles, corridors and fire exits are clear and accessible to all patrons."

There have been conflicting stories about what happened to Kate Claxton after she escaped from a fire at the Brooklyn Theater. A newspaper said he was seen sitting quietly in the First Precinct for one hour after the fire. Another report said that three hours after the fire, a reporter from the New York city found Cloxton wandering around in a dizzy city hall in Manhattan. Her hands and face were swollen with bursting bubbles, and she couldn't remember taking the ferry from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

Less than a month later, after Cloxton recovered from her injuries, she traveled to St. Louis to appear in another play. As soon as she arrived in St. Louis, she settled into the Southern Hotel. Within hours, this hotel burst into flames, but Claxton and her traveling brother made a wonderful escape, seconds before the hotel collapsed.

This effectively ended Kate Clackston's theatrical career. Fearing that she was some kind of denim, other actors refused to appear with her on stage. And the theaters, fearing another fire, boycotted her performances.

Nine years after the Brooklyn theater fire, Kate Claxton shared her thoughts with the New York Times. Тя каза: „Мислехме, че действаме най-добре в продължаването на пиесата, както го направихме, с надеждата огънят да бъде изгасен без затруднение или публиката да напусне постепенно или тихо. Но резултатът доказа, че е не е правилният курс … Завесата трябваше да бъде спусната, докато пламъците не са изгаснали или ако е било невъзможно да се справи с тях, публиката е трябвало спокойно да бъде информирана за това неразположение от страна на някой член на компания или някакво злощастно събитие зад пейзажа наложи спиране на изпълнението и те трябваше да бъдат помолени да се разпръснат възможно най-тихо. Повдигането на завесата създава чернова, която разпалва пламъците в ярост. "

Задницата е 20/20, но по-късните наблюдения на Кейт Клакстън бяха абсолютно правилни. Огънят от театъра в Бруклин от 1876 г. можеше да нанесе минимални щети, ако само личността на театъра не беше блъснала, а беше действала съгласувано, методично и спокойно.