Detroit, MI Fire Destroys Night Club, Sep 1929
16 DIE WHEN FIRE SWEEPS NIGHT CLUB AT DETROIT.
FLAMES OF UNDETERMINED ORIGIN TRAP PATRONS AT HEIGHT OF MERRIMENT AT EXCLUSIVE CLUB.
SEEK SHELTER IN CLOAKROOM.
EYE WITNESSES AND SURVIVORS TELL STORIES OF PANIC WHICH FOLLOWED CRY OF FIRE.
Detroit, Sept. 20 -- (UP) -- A mysterious fire which crackled through the silken hangings of one of Detroit's most exclusive night clubs took at least 16 lives today and injured 55 persons.
The luxurious interior of the Study Club, on Vernon Highway in the center of the downtown district, was hollowed out by the flames as 100 panic-stricken patrons dived for exits, leaping from windows and risking broken bones to escape.
Firemen advanced the throry that the blaze might have started in the basement where rubbish accumulated after the club was redecorated. Police, however, were investigating a report that a bomb explosion caused the fire.
Firemen who smashed their way into the second floor cloakroom found 25 persons, the living piled with the dead.
The exterior of the building was only slightly damaged. All the heat and smoke were concentrated in the interior. Damage was estimated at $35,000. As the flames fumed and sputtered up the silken hangings, dead gases were thrown off. Rescuers found several of the dead had been asphyxiated.
Passersby To Aid.
Passersby volunteered to aid in the rescue work. Among them was JOHN DUVALL DODGE, a member of the automobile manufacturer's family who groped his way through the smoke and was slightly burned.
JACK CARNEY, his companion, also was slightly hurt after carrying injured and dead from the building.
Receiving hospital, where most of the injured were taken, was crowded, and physicians there said at least five might die from burns.
When the first smoke spiralled up the stairway, the patrons of the club dashed for the doors. The 25 trapped in the cloakroom tried to retrieve costly garments before escaping, but were unable to make their way out of the second floor room.
In the main club room, scores stormed the windows. Two men and a woman, who jumped from a window, were taken to the hospital with broken legs. Others followed, most of them escaping serious injury.
Once firemen had beaten down the flames to the main room, they soon had the blaze under control. As victims, many with their clothing burned off, continued to struggle out of the building, a search was started for bodies and possible survivors. On the small dance floor was found the body of a cigarette girl, her arms wrapped around her tray.
All available fire apparatus in the city was sent to the club, and the staff of Receiving hospital immediately began to muster physicians and nurses from other institutions to aid.
MARTIN COHN, owner of the club, was questioned by Inspector HENRY J. GARVIN of the crime and bomb squad. COHN told police he believed the fire had been caused by a bomb because he left the building shortly before the blaze and there was no indication of a fire then.
Approximately 100 persons were dining and dancing in the uptown cabaret when the fire was discovered. The flames spread rapidly throughout the building, trapping 25 in a cloak room on the second floor where they were found overcome.
Several, hemmed in on the third floor by the congestion and panic, leaped to the sidewalk. At least two men and one woman sustained bromen arms and legs by jumping.
In the panic, the slower ones were trampled and crushed and met their doom as they fought to get to the exits.
The club had recently re-opened for the winter season after being refurnished, and one theory of the fire was that it started from rubbish heaps left in the cellar by decorators.
Patrolman EDWARD CANNANE discovered the fire and turned in the alarm.
Another patrolman, JAMES McGUIRE, who also turned in an alarm, described the early stages of the blaze.
"I saw flames coming from the windows," he said. "At first, I thought it was only a small blaze and deshed to the nearest box to sound the alarm. In the next two minutes, however, the place had been converted into a blazing inferno. Women were screaming. Crowds were collecting. Soon they were carrying the dead and dying out."
BEATRICE HEATH, a 23-year-old check room girl, told police she suddenly saw the wax-covered draperies flare into flames. She dived for a rear exit, but already the fire was cutting across the interior of the club, she said.
WILLIAM FELS, 45, a waiter also told police he saw the flames sweeping toward the dining room. He said he dashed to a window, swung himself out to a telephone pole and escaped.
SALLY SWEET, singer, who with her mother, SARAH, was filling an engagement at the club prior to returning to her Chicago home, dashed into a blazing room and rescued MILDRED PICHARD, pretty cloakroom girl.
M. H. BAKER, one of the taxicab drivers who carried several injured persons to hospitals, said a mad panic seized the patrons as they fought to escape.
BAKER said he and several other drivers had gathered in front of the cabaret to await the home-going crowds.
"Suddenly we heard screams and when I looked at the building I saw flames spreading everywhere," he said.
"Men were fighting to get out -- one man, blinded by the smoke, locked the door and dropped the key on the floor. We broke down the door and pulled them out and drove them to the hospital."
On their return to the cabaret, BAKER said they went to the back of the building and by means of a telephone pole, reached a window in the rear.
"One man got an axe, climbed to the window and smashed it," he said. "Man started fighting to escape, but none got out. I then saw a man on top of the roof with his clothes afire. We called to him to climb to the edge of the roof, but he dropped from sight."
Later, when the front door was broken down, BAKER said, the air that rushed through must have helped spread the flames, for they grew brighter from then on.
The flames started in the crowded cabaret so quickly that only a few near the doors had a chance to escape, GEORGE W. BROWN, president of the MROWN and MORRIS Manufacturing Co., said at Receiving Hospital.
"A man and woman entertainer had just finished a clog dance and another couple were doing a Spanish tango near the main entrance," BROWN asserted. "Most of us rushed to the entertainers' room at the other end of the dance floor, but the fire soon worked its way there by burning down the inflammable draperies. More than fifty of us tried to crowed into the small entertainers room, some of the men so intoxicated that they considered it just another part of the night's entertainment. It seems a miracle that more were not killed."
Detroit, Sept. 20 -- (AP) -- The death list in the fire that early today swept through the Study Club, a cabaret in East Vernon Highway, was increased to 17 shortly before noon with the death of an unidentified woman in a receiving hospital.
The latest victim wore a ring bearing the initials "L. J. K."
She was the eighth woman to be added to the death list. One man and one woman remained unidentified at noon today.
Of the 47 seriously hurt in the fire and panic that followed, several were so badly injured they were unable to give their names or even describe their experiences.
Six separate investigations were underway before noon by state and city authorities. Coroner ALBERT L. FRENCH will hold an inquest later to determine whether the loss of life was due to criminal negligence.
Jefferson City Post Tribune Missouri 1929-09-20
Researched and Transcribed by Stu Beitler. Thank you, Stu!