Roasted Alive: Four Persons Perish In A Tenement House Fire 1891



Four human beings were roasted alive early this morning at a fire in the five story brick tenement house corner of Hudson and Dominick streets, New York, while one person was seriously burned. The dead are:

Mrs. Annie Murphy, 32 years of age, married,262 Hudson street.

Katie Dunn, 22, single, dressmaker, Mrs. Murphy's boarder.

Josephine Ryan, 5, of Washington, D.C., niece of Mrs. Murphy.

John Toohey, 11, of 262 Hudson street, son of Mrs. Murphy.

The injured includes Martin Toohey, 9, of 262 Hudson street, second son of Mrs. Murphy, perhaps fatally burned.

At just 2:20 o'clock Officer John McGrath of the Eighth precinct, whose post is on Hudson street, near Dominick, heard a sound of breaking glass which he thought was the work of burglars. The noise came from 262 Hudson street, the lower floor of which is occupied by I. Kartzenstein, furniture and upholstery. Rushing to the spot, Officer McGrath struck his night stick against a pane of glass and instantly the latter was shivered in pieces and volumes of smoke that nearly blinded the officer poured out. This was the first he knew that there was a fire, and rapping for assistance he rushed for box 182 and sent in an alarm.

Meanwhile the horror had begun. The fifty persons who occupied the tenement had heard the crash made by the policeman's club, and white clad forms were seen in every window, while screams filled the morning air. The building was full of smoke, but the only blaze discovered was in the Dominick side of the tenement, which is in reality its main entrance. Fortunately for all concerned, when Policeman McGrath called for assistance Roundsman James Ryan and Detectives Michael J. Cox and Michael Gargen of Prince street station were near at hand. The entrances to the building form an L. The officers rushed to the Dominick side, which is No. 52, and with a mighty effort succeeded in bursting in the big double doors. A blinding sheet of flame and smoke poured out, driving the men pell mell into the street, at once showing that egress by the means first adopted was an impossibility. Then the heroic work was begun in real earnest. But for these men and the rapid, energetic work of the firemen, the loss of life would have been undoubtedly trebled. By this time the people, who had maintained their heads with astounding marvelous success hitherto, began to grow more excited.

"Get the ladder, boys," shouted Detective Cox, as he pointed tot he long iron apparatus that was suspended from the fire escape. In a jiffy the ladder was in place, suspended. Roundsman Ryan stood on the ground and steadied the slender stairs, while Detective Cox and Officer McGrath mounted up to the fire escape on the first floor.

"For God's sake, keep away from the hall doors," shouted Detective Cox at the top of his voice "Come down by the fire escape and you'll all be saved." It was precious advice and all heeded it save the poor unfortunates who were burned to death. And one by one, with rapidity but great safety, the frightened night clothed tenants were helped to freedom and life.

At this time engine company No. 30 of Spring and Varick streets came to the scene. Not two minutes had passed since the alarm was sent in. A great crowd of people had by this time assembled and were watching the life saving work with breathless interest. Through the crowd dashed engine No. 30, and immediately the firemen mounted the ladders. The first piece of heroic work performed by this department was done b y Patrick F. Lucas of engine No. 30. Lucas found on the fifth floor, rear, Matthew Ryan, a box maker, widower, and his three children, Walter, Mary Ellen, Matthew J., on the point of suffocation. He dragged them to the window unassisted, where purer air was found, and then, one by one, they were passed down below, and little Mary Ellen had a narrow escape. She slipped from brave Lucas' arm, but he caught her between his knees, and with one hand on the ladder recovered the precious charge. The child, 4 years of age, was taken safely to the ground, amid the cheers of the people.

Up to this time the real loss had not been known. Everybody had supposed that the flames were confined to the lower part of the house, near where it originated in an unoccupied wood cellar in the front part of the building on the Dominick street side. This discovery was made when hook and ladder truck No. 8 of North Moore street arrived. "Great God, its my house! My wife and my children, where are they?" It was fireman Matthew Murphy of truck No. 8. Nobody made a reply to his wild cry, and without another word he dashed up in the building. It was a death trap anyway. The stairs wind and wind upward and make a clean chimney of extraordinary draft. The flames were blazing up for two stairs, but Murphy paid no heed. On he went to rescue the loved ones if he could. Immediately afterward the firemen poured a deluge of water into the stairway and within five minutes the blaze was under control. Other firemen went to the top floor to assist their comrade. More firemen had responded to a second alarm, which had been sent in by Chief Lally. When the brave boys got to the fifth floor Murphy stood over the form of his wife, blackened almost beyond recognition, lying just outside her room. His two stepsons, Johnny and Martin, were nearby, while a little further away was the blackened form of little Josephine Ryan, the dead woman's niece. She was not dead, but died soon after in the parlors of the Monticello club, a Tammany hall organization, at 40 Dominick street. The janitor and several members were sleeping in the house and threw the doors of their club room open. It was here that the people, clad and half clad, had sought refuge.

The firemen on the top floor found another body, that of Kate Dunn. She was dead at the foot of a short ladder reaching to the roof. Calls had been sent to St. Vincent's hospital for ambulances, but it was an hour before any surgical help arrived. To Kate Dunn, who perished in the fire, the loss of life is ascribed. She occupied a little bedroom off of Mrs. Murphy's apartments. She heeded not the warning of the firemen and police and opened the hall door, admitting the fierce, roaring blaze into the inner apartments. It was the heat that scorched to death Mrs. Murphy and the others, not the direct contact with the flames. The actual damage to the building will probably not exceed $1,500. The police say that the fire was the work of an incendiary.

Website: The History
Article Name: Roasted Alive: Four Persons Perish In A Tenement House Fire 1891
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


Brooklyn Daily Eagle October 5, 1891
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