New York City, NY Lum's Chinese Restaurant Fire, Feb 1936

PANIC BRINGS DEATH TO 5 IN CAFE.

STAMPEDE OF DANCERS IS BLAMED FOR N. Y. CITY RESTAURANT DEATHS.

New York, Feb. 13 (AP) -- Investigators declared today that panic rather than flames caused the deaths of five persons and injuries to 41 in a fire which swept through Lum's Chinese Restaurant at the height of a party.
Fire Commissioner JOHN J. McELLIGOTT said a preliminary inquiry showed no suspicious circumstances connected with the fire nor any evidence of negligence.
"It is just another case of panic where people invariably will try to get out the same door in which they entered," said Building Commissioner SAMUEL FASSLER.
Most of the patrons, he said, had tried to leave through a 59th Street exit. There was another stairway on Lexington Avenue.
Three men and two women died in the flames, which swept into the second floor restaurant at 735 Lexington Avenue from a ground floor haberdashery last night.
Burning through the floor, the flames quickly swept over the hanging drapes and flimsy decorations of the restaurant.
In a moment 150 persons who had been waltzing merrily there at a party of a Catholic Holy Name Society, were transformed into a terror stricken mob.
The dancers, Fire Marshal THOMAS P. BROPHY said, survivors told him, refused to heed warnings given by first firemen to reach the scene, and rushed screaming toward the only two exit stairs.
Four of the victims died at the scene while they were being given first aid. The fifth died at Bellevue Hospital.
The five who lost their lives, BROPHY'S investigation disclosed, were trapped by the surge of the frightened crowd and were killed by inhaling smoke and flames.
They were:
MARTIN S. STETTNER, 28.
JOHN J. GARDELLA, 22.
HARRY M. CHU, 35, manager of the restaurant.
MISS ARLENE BENJAMIN, 26.
MISS M. F. MURPHY, 35.
All of the victims were residents of New York City.
At the height of the fire several men jumped from the second-story windows when the exits became jammed. Others clambered down a huge electric sign to within 6 feet of the pavements and then dropped.
ANNETTE DOBSON, a check girl in the restaurant, described the confusion:
"The stairway was packed with people and I was shoved and pushed and knocked down. I got scratched and torn by people who were stepping on me and pushing me around to get out of the place."
Icy weather hampered the fire fighters by freezing hose lines.
CHU lost his life when he returned to the fire swept restaurant for the cash box after once gaining safety.

The Syracuse Herald New York 1936-02-13

Search for more information on this disaster and other train wrecks, fires, accidents, etc. in historical newspapers in the Newspaper Archive. You just might find your ancestors in old newspaper articles. Search for your ancestors among the billions of names at ancestry.com Find death records, census images, immigration lists and genealogy other databases for your surnames. Use this Free trial to search for your ancestors. Start Your Family Tree It's FREE and easy. Start with yourself, your parents, grandparents and you're on your way to building your family history! Get Started Now and build your family tree at ancestry.com. It's Free!