Sunday, December 5, 2010

Fiery day in history

On Dec. 5, 1876, a fire at the Brooklyn Theater in New York killed nearly 300 people and injured hundreds more. Some died from burns and/or smoke inhalation; others were trampled to death in the general panic.

The play The Two Orphans was showing at the theater. All 900 seats were filled. Near the start of the show, a gaslight ignited extra scenery stored behind the stage. The fire quickly spread.

When someone shouted "FIRE!," bedlam ensued, particularly in the balcony and the rear of the theater. A narrow staircase was the only the exit from the balcony (there were no fire escapes) and in the stampede many were crushed while others were trapped.

By the time firefighters arrived it was too late for hundreds of people. The fire raged through the night and destroyed nearly the entire building. When would-be rescuers were able to get in, they found bodies melted together. Up to 100 of the victims were burned beyond recognition.

A mass grave was set up at the Green-Wood Cemetery for the approximately 295 people who died. A 30-foot-high granite memorial (shown above) was later erected in their honor by the city of Brooklyn.