New York, NY St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic School Fire, Apr 1913

School Destroyed in $100,000 Fire

Church Loses Fine Windows and Families from Two Houses Fly to Street.

Priests Risk Their Lives

Saved Sacred Vessels in Threatened Church of St. Thomas the Apostle – Fireman’s Skull Broken.

Fire destroyed the parochial school of the Catholic Church of St. Thomas the Apostle early yesterday morning. Parts of two large houses adjoining the school in St. Nicholas Avenue were burned, and the fire extended to the basement of the church, in the rear, at 256 to 260 West 118th Street. Nine windows, five of them the work of an eminent German artist, were destroyed by the heat.

The fire necessitated the turning in of three alarms, and there were several narrow escapes. Father John B. ABBOTT and Father Martin D. SCANLON were showered with glass while carrying the chalices and other sacred articles from the church, which was threatened.

Several women tenants in the houses were rendered hysterical and had to be carried out. Fireman Otto BOGEL of Truck 40 was caught in the basement of the burning school when the roof fell and he was showered with debris. He was rescued by other firemen and conveyed to the Harlem Hospital in the buggy of Deputy Chief McCARTNEY. There it was said he had a fracture of the skull.

The entire damage was estimated at about $100,000.

The parochial school was empty when the fire started at 4 o’clock. The second alarm brought Chief KENLON, who sent in a third alarm. When the fire was first discovered the priests in the rectory adjoining the church were called. Father John B. ABBOTT was up, having been detailed to night duty.

As it looked as if the church would be destroyed, Fathers ABBOTT and SCANLON entered and saved the sacred chalices and other articles. As they were making their way out the five windows on the main floor nearest the parochial school were shattered by the heat. The priests were hit by fragments of the falling glass, but were not seriously cut. They managed to make their way out of the church, which was fast filling with smoke. The chapel, located in the basement of the church, caught fire about the time the two priests were leaving with the chalices, and the firemen had to run in additional lines in order to save the structure.

Reserves had been summoned from the West 125th Street and Lenox Avenue Stations, and the policemen went through the two houses owned by the church and called out the tenants. The flames spread to these two houses, burning out the entire front of one and the rear of another.

Mrs. Minerva JOHNSON, 38 years old, one of the tenants, while trying to run from her apartment fell down a flight of stairs while carrying her infant. The child was not hurt, but the mother became hysterical and had to be treated by Dr. CASSASSA of the Harlem Hospital. Then she was cared for by neighbors.

Patrolman CAMBERDELLA of the West 125th Street Station went through the house at 149 and came upon T. L. KEEGAN, a tenant, who was suffering from heart trouble. The policeman took the man in his arms and carried him down from the fourth floor. The family of Justin J. MCGRATH, on the second floor of the same house, was helped out by the police.

The Hotel Cecil, on St. Nicholas Avenue across the way from the school, was not threatened. All dwellers were aroused and crowded to the windows to watch the fire.

The origin of the fire was not learned, but the priest thought that it was caused by defective insulation.
The New York Times, New York, NY 15 Apr 1913