Milwaukee, WI Davidson Theatre Fire, Apr 1894
PIT OF DEATH IN A THEATRE. THE DAVIDSON IN MILWAUKEE, DESTROYED TODAY. NINE FIREMEN LOSE THEIR LIVES. TWENTY CRASH THROUGH THE CEILING TO THE BASEMENT AND THE FALLING ROOF BURIES THEM FROM VIEW -- LIEUTENANT REESE THROWN FROM AN AERIAL LADDER TO THE PAVEMENT AND HIS BRAINS SPATTER THE WALK.
Milwaukee, April 9. -- Nine lives paid tribute to flames in the Davidson Theatre this morning.
The list of dead follows:
ARCHIE CAMPBELL, Captain of the fire tug Foley, taken out dead; fell from the upper part of theatre, lives at 71 Twenty-seventh Street.
Lieutenant ALLIE REESE, of No. 3, fell from ladder in the rear of the theatre; died on the way to hospital, body taken to the morgue.
FREDERICK KROESSCHMUER, Chemical No. 8 taken from the ruins dead, aged about thirty-five years residence 616 Fourth Ave.
AUGUST JANSSEN, Assistant Chief of the fire department, and brother of Chief Janssen of the police department, married, lived at 265 Eighth Street.
THOMAS MORGAN, Hose Company 1; single man, lived at department headquarters.
GEORGE JANSSEN, Truck No. 2, lived at 200 Grove Street.
FRANK McGURK, Acting Captain of Engine Company No. 14, married, lived at 397 Park Street.
JAMES FREEMAN, No. 4, lived at 57 Fifth Street.
Lieutenant JOHN T. FARRELL, of Engine No. 1.
Two or three bodies are still in the ruins.
The following went down with the roof and were rescued:
Lieutenant CURRAN, of Company No. 1, Central Fire Station, probably fatally injured.
FRED MARSH, Company No. 5, foot crushed.
JOHN YEO, Pipeman, No. 4, badly burned and back hurt.
All of the dead were fireman. Soon after the department arrived a ladder run up from the hotel slipped and OLLIE REESE, a fireman, was precipitated to the ground and killed. He was the first to die, but it seemed hardly ten minutes later that seven lives were suffered out in an instant.
Flames were seen to shoot from the roof at the rear end of the theatre building at 4:20, and in an instant almost the entire roof was ablaze. The fire seemed to have enveloped the top of the building.
The alarm of fire was quickly turned in and in a very short time several engines were at the scene, but the seat of the fire could not be easily located. A portion of the building is occupied by the Davidson Hotel, and although the fire at first was not near any of the sleeping apartments, the guests were all aroused. Messengers were sent to awaken everybody and in a few minutes men, women and children came tumbling down the stairs arrayed for the most part in such clothes as they could seize in their hasty flight. There were probably fifty or seventy-five guests in the hotel, among them twelve dwarfs of the Lilliputian company which had been playing at the Davidson and several members of the Nellie McHenry Company, playing at the Bijou. In a very short time every room in the house was empty. The elevators were kept busy in bringing down the guests who saw that there was plenty of time to get out, and waited to dress partially at least and collect some of their valuables. All were assured there was not the slightest danger as the fire was in the roof, over the theatre part of the building and the hotel building is also fireproof. Many soon went back to their rooms to collect their belongings, and the panic, so far as the guests was soon over.
It was almost impossible to get at the fire to fight it successfully. It seemed to have started just below the roof, under the wooden dome that surmounts it. A deluge of water was soon poured in when the fire seemed to be hottest, and at 5 o'clock the water was dropping through into the auditorium and it was feared that much damage would be done to the costly decorations and furnishings of handsome playhouse, one of the finest theatres in the United States.
While two companies of the fire department were trying to reach the roof, there occurred the accident that caused Lieutenant REESE'S death. REESE was climbing an aerial ladder and was up about forty feet. The wheels of the truck had not been properly blocked and the ladder canted. REESE lost his hold, turned head downward and dropped with awful directness to the concrete sidewalk. He struck on his head his brains spattering against the wall. At the same time twenty men were feeling their way through the dense smoke to a narrow passage that led out between the ceiling of the auditorium and the roof. The fire was under control Chief Foley believed, and the only dense smoke that could be seen came from this spot. The men were well out over the ceiling when there was a crackling and a roar and twenty pipemen had gone through. The collapse of the ceiling was followed instantly by the fall of the roof. The burning timbers buried the men from view and flames fanned by the increased draught sprang up in all parts of the house.
Every effort was then turned to rescue. Nothing could be done at first but to subdue the flames and floods of water had to be poured in. Great pools formed under the wreckage and one of the imprisoned firemen, whose voice was first heard, was literally drowned as he lay with a timber across his breast. The wreckage was dragged away as fast as possible and the men who still showed signs of life hurried to the hospital. One died in the ambulance. Others were found to be so badly hurt that their recovery is impossible.
While the firemen were dragging bodies from the basement of the theatre, thus suddenly transformed into a pit of death, flames gained headway in the upper hallways. They burned fiercely, being checked only when they reached the double walls that cut the hotel and theatre off from the remainder of the block. The interior of the theatre and that important part of the hotel which is in the same part of the building were completely gutted. The loss will be not less than $250,000. All the scenery and costumes of the Lilliputian's were on the stage of the theatre and were destroyed. The loss to the company is $20,000.
Daily Gazette Janesville Wisconsin 1894-04-09