Binghamton, NY Factory Fire Kills Fifty Workers, July 1913
50 GIRLS DIE AS FACTORY IS BURNED.
SCORE MORTALLY HURT IN HOSPITALS.
DIG RUINS FOR BODIES.
WHEN ALARM RUNG THOUGHT IT FIRE DRILL; BURNING WALLS COLLAPSE.
VICTIMS HURLED TO DEATH WHILE SPECTATORS ARE HELPLESS -- PITIFUL SCENES AS RELATIVES SEEK LOVED ONES.
Binghamton, N. Y., July 23 -- Thousands came from surrounding towns and villages today and watched the grewsome work of searching for bodies in the ruins of the factory fire, the biggest disaster in a decade in this city.
A few minutes before 3 o'clock yesterday afternoon the clang of the automatic fire alarm gong stopped the busy fingers of 125 young girls at work over the machines of the Binghamton Clothing company. They were not startled or alarmed.
"It's only another one of those old fire drills. I'm not going down into the street dressed as I am and make a show of myself."
The girls, most of them, settled back to work. Two minutes later they were dying miserably in flames and smoke or crushing each other in hopeless attempts to escape down a single stairway and the two narrow fire ladders. In eighteen minutes the four story factory of "approved factory construction" was a mass of ashes and embers -- wall, roof and supports fallen in.
At least fifty of the girls are dead, their bodies consumed or charred in the smoking debris of the factory. At least fifth more are injured, many fatally. Of the 125 girls on the payroll, only seventeen have been accounted for as uninjured. Twenty-two are in the hospitals. Eight are being cared for in private homes. Possibly twenty or twenty-five who survived the dreadful rush of flame and smoke or who fought their way to the streets over the bodies of their work mates, fled away to their homes before firemen or police could learn their identity. So far, though, it is only guesswork to attempt to say how many actually got out of the fire alive and unhurt.
Deaths May Reach Seventy.
President FREEMAN of the Overall Manufacturing company and his bookkeeper insist that there were less than 125 girls in the factory, since some were on vacation. Fire Chief HOAG says, though, that there were 150 girls closely packed on the four floors, so that the estimate of fifty dead is as low as can reasonably be made. When the story is told and the lists are checked up no one will be surprised if the death roll runs to sixty-five or seventy.
Three hospitals -- the City, the Terrace and the Moore-Overton -- are caring for the injured, some of whom are so dreadfully burned that they cannot possibly live. Others whose lives are hoped for are in frightful agony. Around the hospitals great crowds (thousands have come here from nearby cities) are saddened by the moans and pitiful cries of the injured girls. Firemen, police and volunteers are digging in the smoking debris of the factory and are taking out not bodies, but pieces of bodies. Of the girls that escaped death or injury, several are near insanity.
Fire Department Delayed.
The fire department was tardy in responding, not through any fault of its own, but because the nearest company was at work halfway across the city on another alarm. Five minutes were lost there, although it is doubtful if the men and the engines could have done more than stand by. Then, too, the water pressure was low and uncertain where the very strongest power was required.
But the worst of it was that the fire started in the basement, fed on rags and paper and pitchy timber, mushroomed and shot upward through every vent -- elevator shaft, stairway and airshafts -- so that when the girls actually realized that the automatic alarm was signaling real danger and not merely calling for the formal drill that was meant to show the girls how to get out quickly and safely, they were girdled with fire. Rushing flames met them at the stairway. Flames curled from every floor over the rungs of the two fire escapes. A tower of flame leaped from the elevator shaft and billowed over the inflammable stuff by the machines.
Scores died before they could reach stairway or windows. Their dresses caught from the burning waste. They dropped and were ashes before the building fell. A few, less than a dozen, went to the windows and leaped to the streets through waves of flame. They were killed by the fall. Many girls who rushed headlong down the stairway gave up their lives before they had made a dozen steps. It was all so horribly quick, so breathlessly sudden, that strong men could not have survived, much less young women with no quick grip on nerve, with little physical strength to fight and scramble.
Thay that were saved unhurt or with comparatively slight injuries were the ones who had been lucky enough to be employed on the lower floors, the first or the second. At the first alarm they did not delay, because they heard and smelled the blaze. They were stirred from their machines by the screams of MRS. REED B. FREEMAN, the wife of the president of the clothing company. So that they had time and strength to get out before the overwhelming sweep of fire and smoke conquered elevator, stairway and fire escapes.
Top Floor Death Trap.
The greatest loss of life took place on the topmost floor, the fourth, where fifty girls sat knee to knee driving the machines that cut and sewed patterns for men's overalls. For them there wasn't a ghost of a chance. Halted by the complaint of the girl "who didn't want to appear on the street just as she was" (that little vanity cost her life), they were walled by fire when they finally realized that the alarm was in deadly earnest. The loss of life on the third floor was appalling for much the same reason. Few girls escaped from either workroom to tell of what preceded the desperate struggle for air and life.
The caue of the fire has not yet been learned. It originated under a stairway in the basement, found rich food, spurted to the first, or office, floor and then roared aloft. Cause of fire, responsibility for the conditions and all of the necessary explanations, that must be made after such a horror, although, as usual, made too late, will be investigated by Coroner WILSON, District Attorney MEAGHER and the fire commissioner. No arrests have been made yet.
The Binghamton Clothing company, manufacturing almost exclusively overalls for workmen, occupied a large building of four stories which stood in the main part of the city. The factory faced Wall street. The back of the building adjoined the building of the McKALLOR Drug company. The north side overlooked Henry street, directly across which stood the fine new post office, which was also ruined. On the south side thre was a vacant lot. On the far side of Wall street from the factory the CHenango river runs. Half a dozen pain crazed children -- some of the girls were in short dresses, with their hair down their backs in braids -- rushed into the river after fighting a way out of the burning factory.
Middletown Daily Times-Press New York 1913-07-23