New York, NY Park Place Building Explosion and Fire, Aug 1891

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Fire In New York.

NEW YORK, Aug. 22 – [BULLETIN] 12:30 p. m. -- This afternoon an explosion occurred in the five story brick building, No. 68 and 70 Park Place, occupied by JOHN EBENLE. The explosion was immediately followed by fire and the building collapsed in a few minutes. It is feared that a number of persons are burned to death. The fire has spread to the adjoining buildings.
NEW YORK, Aug. 22 – [BULLETIN] 1:15 p. m. -- It is rumored that a number of persons have been burned to death in the Park Place fire, one rumor even places the fatalities as high as fifty.
NEW YORK – 2:30 p. m. -- It now seems possible that one of the worst disasters which ever happened in this city occurred just after noon to-day. From all that can be learned, bully if not more than 50 people have lost their lives.
The accident came so suddenly that not a single person in the two big buildings at 70 and 72 Park Place escaped alive. There was but one eye witness left to tell the beginning of the accident. This man is named A. A. JOHNSON. He is a janitor in the building at 81 Park Place, directly across the street from where the accident occurred.
He said that he was standing on the steps of 81 at noon, when he heard the sound of an explosion. It came from across the street. It was not loud. Almost immediately the front walls of the two buildings collapsed, and the entire building caved in with a deafening crash. It came so suddenly that it was impossible for a living being to escape from the building.
On the ground floor of one of the numbers was a restaurant that was crowded with people; the other floors were occupied by the Southern Publishing company; S. Loutelle & Co., art designers; Ellis & McDonald, book binders. The owner of the restaurant was of the name ROSENFELD. It was said also, that a portion of the building was occupied by a drug firm, in which the explosion occurred.
Of course nothing definite is known as the ruins are burning fiercely and all efforts are being directed toward getting the flames under control, in order that the work of rescue and of recovering the bodies of the dead may be begun. The janitor of 81 said that the accident occurred so quickly that he did not see a person escape and felt certain that everybody in the two buildings was killed.
As near as could be learned the explosion took place in the metal leaf factory of Rosenfeld and Co., on the second floor of 72 Park Place. This is just over a drug store on the ground floor of the building.
That was about 12:35 o'clock. MICHAEL CARROLL, who was employed in the metal leaf factory, had been out to his lunch and and [sic] just reached the door of 72 when he heard a terrific explosion, which dazed him for a moment. He jumped up and ran for his life. As he got away he saw the front walls of Nos. 70, 72 and 74 topple over with a loud crash. As the walls fell, CARROLL saw that there were many pedestrians, who were passing the place, struck and covered under the bricks and stone.
In the metal leaf factory, it is not known how many girls were at work, but there were a large number in the restaurant on the ground floor of No. 70, which was kept by J. PETERSON. There were a crowd of persons at lunch. The number is estimated at the time of the explosion, between twenty-five and thirty-five.
Then there were a number of ten or twelve girls in the wash-room in the basement.
Trippe & Co., druggists, at 70 and 72 Park Place, also had a large number of employees. The three children of FRANK HAGGERTY, the janitor of No. 61, were playing in front of the No. 72 when the explosion occurred. They were killed. Their father stood across the street at the time.
The latest report as to the cause of the explosion was that the New York Steam Heating company furnishes steam to the building. It is supposed that the explosion took place from some defect in the receiving boiler in the basement. Roundsman TAYLOR was on his way to dinner, passing along the Park Place, when he heard the explosion. He ran at once to the scene, and realizing that something must be done, he ran to a hardware store on Vesey street and secured a dozen axes, and distributed them to the firemen who had already arrived at the scene.
The firemen and bystanders soon cut a hole in the side wall of No. 70, out of which seventeen persons crawled, all of whom bore bruises. The testimony of all the people who were in the neighborhood at the time, is that they were first startled by the deep rumbling sound of an explosion, which was almost directly followed by the collapse of the building, the walls of which fell outward with a frightful crash.
Three alarms of fire were followed by the arrival of ambulances from all the hospitals. The reserves were called out from the nearby station houses, but the greatest difficulty was experienced in keeping the crowd of thousands of people back beyond the fire lines, when it became known that there had been a fearful loss of life.
The police estimate that the loss of life is between 60 and 70.

Continued, part 2 below