Holyoke, MA Terrible Church Fire Calamity, May 1875

Birth, Marriage & Death Records

Drawing of Disaster

THE HOLYOKE DISASTER.

SEVENTY-ONE PERSONS ALREADY DEAD -- A NUMBER OF OTHERS FATALLY BURNED -- PARTICULARS OF THE CALAMITY.

Affecting Scenes At The Dead-House Yesterday.
Further particulars of the dreadful disaster at Holyoke, Thursday evening, only confirm the accuracy of the accounts and estimates furnished by The Republican, yesterday morning. Several of those who were rescued scarcely alive have since been released from agony, swelling the number of those who have thus far died to seventy-one -- sixteen males and fifty-five females -- and out of yesterday's estimate, that the total loss of life would reach at least seventy-five, will be fully realized as a considerable proportion of the score and most terribly burned cannot possibly recover. Besides the twenty-two in this list of "fatally burned" -- all but two of whom are women -- twenty-seven others, nine males and eighteen females, were less seriously burned or wounded, making the total number of victims one hundred and twenty.
Yesterday was largely devoted to the identification of the dead, care for the wounded who still survived, and preparations for the funeral services over the victims, which will occur today.
The Dead.
Seventy-one In All, Sixteen Males and Fifty-five Females.
MARY BOISVERT, 15 years of age; ISAI MORIN, 22; MRS. DOMETILDE BEAUCHEMIN, 45; MARY PERRY, 18; EDMOND ROBERT, 11, son of JOHN BAPTISTE ROBERT; LOUISE GUYOTT, 50; EZILDE, 18, daughter of LOUIS DESJARDIN; DELINA COTE, 22; GASPAR LaCHAPELLE, 16; PHEBE, 15, daughter of JOSEPH DUPONT; MRS. JOSEPH DAIGNEAU, 36; SALINA, 18, daughter of LOUIS LaPLANT; ANGELIQUE GROMENT; ELLEN A., 20, daughter of LOUIS BLAIR; MATHILDE, 15, daughter of MRS. JOSEPH DAIGNEAU; LOUIS DESJARDIN, 55; MRS. FANNIE TETRAULT, about 22; BENJAMIN FORTIER, 22; MRS. HERMIDA POQUIN, 25; ELIZA FORTIER, 12; DELIA, 16, daughter of AUGUSTUS COASH; VICTORIA, 18, daughter of BAPTISTE DERY; CORA, 11, daughter of ABRAM FORD; MRS. ABRAM FORD, 44; MRS. OLIVE A. AMMOR, 55; FABIEN TERRIERE, 18; JULIA GIRARD, 16; SALINA, 15, daughter of LOUIS DOUCETTE; JOSEPH CHATELLE, 20; FABIEN MOREAU, 55; JACOB TEREAU, 55; MARIE CLOTIER; MARCILINE DUFRESNE; MARY PION, 25; IDA, 19, daughter of PROSPER MEUNIER; DIORIE DAIGNEAU, 11; ELIZA, 17, daughter of JEAN BAPTISTE PERRIN; JOSEPHINE VIGER, 40; MARIE, 20, daughter of JOHN LACOSTE; SALINA BODARD; EZILDE LaFRANCE, 20; EDES LARIVIERE; ALPHONSINE, 15, daughter of FABIEN MOREAU; ANTOINE OSGERM, 72; MRS. LOUISE JETER, 31; JOSEPH MESSIER, 45; AMMINIE MENIER, 18 or 20; MR. LANGDEAU, 45, One Daughter 12, and One 16; MRS. MAJOR, 30; MRS. JOSEPH ROGER, 36; Son of JOHN BAPTISTE DAIGNEAU, 10; MISS POYETTE, 20; Her Sister, 16; MISS LOUTEAU, 10; TOBIEN ST. PIERRE, 25; MISS LACOSTE, 14, daughter of JOSEPH LACOSTE, SALPUER, 9, daughter of JOHN ROBERT; MARY, 18, LILLIAN, 22, daughters of LOUIS DESJARDIN; MRS. LOUIS DESJARDIN, about 50; MRS. JOSEPH DUPONT, 44; a Daughter of MRS. GROUX; ADA LAVIGNE, 54; ROSALIE LAGAOE, 54; ISIDORE LACROSSE.
The Probably Fatally Burned.
Two Men and Twenty Women or Girls.
CHRISTINE DIAON, 24; MRS. RAYMOND, 23, daughter of LOUIS BOIVIN, and MRS. PETER GIRARD, 40; daughter of CHARLES BAUDREAU, 16; MARY and ELLEN HICKS, 20 and 25; EVELINE, 12, daughter of LOUIS WOODS; MRS. CHARLES BAUDREAU, 44; MISS LaCHANCE, 18; MARIE, 12, daughter of J. BAPTISTE ROBERT; LOUISA BROWN, 20; two daughters of FRANK DERY, 14 and 19, and son, 16; LIZZIE MERCIER, 16; WILLIAM PRUDON CHAQUETTE, 38; MRS. PAUL JAUDIN; DELIA CLUKEY, 20; SOPHIE HIBBERT, 37; MARY LaFRANCE; SALINA HEBERT, daughter of E. D. HOWARD of Willimansett, 10.
The Others Injured.
A Further List of Twenty-Seven.
The following is a list of all the others who suffered by the disaster. Those known to be severely burned are: MRS. WIDOW PION, 55; SOPHIE DION, 18; MISS DOUCETTE, 16; her brother, 15; ANNIE HIBBERT, 35; LUCY RENNING, 18; PAUL JETER, 30; MRS. THYMOTHEY PYON, 45; MR. FEVEREAU, 22.
These have suffered less serious injuries: MRS. LOUISE CLEENT, 45; JOHN BAPTISTE BENOIT, 23; MISS MALVINA BESETTE, 25; CALIXTE DUFRESNE, 54; MISS GRANDCHAMP, 20; JOHN BAPTISTE ROBERT; ANNIE, 14, his daughter; PETER PELKER; MISS VERSIAN; HENRY RENNYG, 12; LOUISE TERRIERE, 24; MR. FEVEAU, 22; VICTORIA BRISSON, 20; MRS. GROUX, 45; MRS. MARCELINE LAPOINTE, 44; ANNA, 15, her daughter; MRS. ARIEL; LOUISE THERIAULT; FIRMI DION.
The Scenes at the Dead House.
In the night scene of the awful disaster had been shocking and dreadful beyond local parallel, the morning witnessed an almost equally horrible phase of the calamity in the basement of the Park street schoolhouse, which had been converted for the time into a morgue. Here the dreadful, sickening corpses lay wrapped in white cotton cloth, and here, at 8 o'clock, were admitted seeking their dead. The brick floor was littered at the one end with blocks of wood, at the other were piles of coal, and between and on either side of the entrance, were the rows of sheeted bodies -- their beaten, burned and blackened members protruding from the coverings. Here an arm eaten away to the bond, next to the black skull of a woman whose lower body was scarcely disfigured, and across there merely a heap of black, charred bones. The stoutest nerves would revolt at the spectacle, and what wonder that strong men turned away shuddering, sick at the sight. There was every attitude of agony, most commonly the arms being thrown up, as if to guard the face from the destroying fame; again the fingers and arms would be outstretched, indicative of the struggles of that terrible death.
As early as 6 o'clock, yesterday morning, the streets leading to South Hadley were filled with people on their way to the scene of the disaster, and at 8 o'clock the number who thronged about the gateway of the Park street schoolhouse was estimated at several thousand, while the incoming morning trains brought large numbers of sight-seers, completely filling the street for several rods.
Among the crowd were the friends of the victims of the fire, and Mayor PEARSONS, who was early on the ground, ordered the gates of the school grounds opened to the immediate friends of the dead, in order that the bodies might, as far as possible, be identified, only three or four, however, being admitted at once. The poor people came in quietly, with few outward demonstrations of grief -- stunned by the suddenness and magnitude of their bereavement. There were many touching scenes and moving pictures as the work of the identification went on. Some of the victims were burned to a crisp cinder-down to the very bones about their faces, and than a ring, a shawl, some article of apparel, the peculiar formation of a finger, even, would recall them to living and seeking friends. An old man of perhaps 65 years, one of the first admitted to the basement, after a long and unsuccessful searching among the bodies after his lost daughter, went home and soon returned with his feeble old wife; whose anguish as she eagerly lifted the cloth from each charred, revolting body, in search of some clue to the missing loved one, was pitiful in the extreme. She was about to abandon the search, when she espied a garter which she knew to belong to her daughter, and, by this slight clue, the body was identified. Another equally singular coincidence was the identification of a little daughter of JOSEPH BRIGGS of Cabot street by her young sister, who instantly recognized her by the shoes she had on. The head of the poor unfortunate was charred beyond all recognition, and the grief of the surviving sister was one of the most painful features of the morning. Indeed, she could only give vent to her terrible anguish by low, piteous moans. The body of one woman was recognized by a ring which was taken from her hand, upon which the fingers were nearly burned off, while her head and upper portions of her body were burned to the bone. And the body of a man, whose head was nearly burned off, was principally identified by a charred postal card in his pocket. JOSEPH MESSIER'S body was recognized by the clothes, the head being nearly burned from the body.
Mayor PEARSONS was present and actively overseeing these preliminaries to the final disposition of the killed; while Deputy Sheriff HAM and the police force were everywhere assisting in the classification of the bodies. It was very pleasant, too, the way those rough fellows adapted themselves to the occasion, having, beneath the assumed brusqueness of their official duties, the tenderest care for the anguished throng. The air of the basement was heavy with the odor of the fore, and crying and wailing often filled the room. Though many stout men gave way to tears, there were instances of marvelous self control on the part of women, who stifled their own grief, for the time, and strove to repress the audible expressions of sorrow on the part of the other women. It was very noticeable that the weaker man or woman came in leaning upon the stronger and very ofter it was the physically able that found support in the person of a son or daughter.
Father DUFRESNE was calm and efficient, caring closely for his stricken flock. When a number of the victims had been identified, Sheriff HAM requested the priest to tell the friends of the known dead to withdraw, that others might seek theirs, too. And they obeyed the old man quickly, uncomplainingly. No words were exchanged, no arguments were needed, the simple word and motion of Father DUFRESNE sent them tearfully away.
The last one to be recognized of those in the Park street school house was MRS. LOUISE JETER, wife of PAUL JETER. She was terribly burned about the head and left arm. Her body was charred the most terribly of all there, and none could recognize her until her husband arrived and identified her by means of a broken ring. The poor fellow's grief was most affecting. This last body was identified at half past 9, only little over a dozen hours from the time the church was burned -- a remarkably short space of time, considering the fearrful disfiguration of the corpses.
After the bodies had been identified, Mayor PEARSONS ordered the police at the gate to damit the general crowd, which had rapidly augmented, and, during the next two hours, several thousand people gratified a morbid curiosity by gazing upon the terrible results of the disaster spread upon the floor of the basement. Some were not satisfied with a passing view, but insisted upon drawing aside the covering from over the mutilated forms, seeming in fact to be almost fascinated by the sight, and the police were sometimes obliged to force people from the apartment. The visitors to the channel house included all sizes, ages, and conditions, prominent among them being the laborer with his entire family, not excepting the babe at his breast.
Soon after the visitors to the morgue had dispersed, the bodies were given in charge of the city undertakers, who at once set about preparing them for burial. The coffins, which were of pine, neatly but not extravagantly finished, were furnished at the city's expense, at a cost of about $10, and as they were carted through the streets, piled tier upon tier in the rough express-wagons, one was forcibly reminded of the similar scenes on the Florence road for several days after the Mill river disaster of a year ago. The coffins were padded with cotton batting, and lined with cotton sheeting, in which the bodies were also enshrouded. In some cases, however, the friends of the dead would bring in some article to render a little softer the resting place of the charred remains of their unfortunate loved ones. One poor old father, for instance, after identifying the body of his oldest daughter, went home aned soon returned with sheets and a pillow, and tremulously asked that her remains might be laid upon them. The coffins, as fast as occupied, were closed, the lid fastened, and the name of the person tacked upon the outside. After the remains had all been encoffined, the friends were allowed to take them to their homes, and most of them were removed from the school building during the day. It was not uncommon to see a coffin containing a dead body and surrounded by lighted candles, and a poor sufferer, writhing in pain, but in many instances, perfectly conscious, occupying adjoining rooms.

The Springfield Republican Massachusetts 1875-05-29
Transcriber's Note: Additional pages on this article were unavailable.