New York City, NY Building Collapse, May 1832

DREADFUL CATASTROPHE AND LOSS OF LIVES.

From the N.Y. Advertiser of May 5.
The new and spacious stores of MESSRS. PHELPS & PECK, at the corner of Cliff and Fulton streets, fell into one heap of ruins yesterday afternoon, about six o'clock, and dreadful to relate, ten or fifteen persons were buried in the ruins, among the number are MR. JOSIAH STOKES, head clerk, and MR. THOMAS H. GODDARD, accountant. The names of the others are not known, several customers are said to have been engaged in doing business within at the time the floors fell. Several laborers are among the number. MR. PHELPS had left the store but a few moments before. MR. PECK is absent. A son of MR. PHELPS, and MR. D. STOKES, a younger clerk, were in the store, but sprang into the street and escaped with but slight injury.
The stores were loaded with goods six stories high, and the crash was tremendous. A cloud of dust rose to such a height that it was supposed at a distance to be fire; the bells were rung, and the firemen assembled. The crowd of citizens assembled was immense, and they immediately commenced removing the rubbish -- a Herculean task, but fortunately succeeded in finding four laborers, two of whom were colored, and two white men, who were alive and had no bones broken, although much injured.
At dark the whole neighborhood was illuminated to furnish light, and several hundred persons were employed in removing the rubbish, but up to 10 o'clock they had made so little progress that they had not discovered any of the unfortunate sufferers.
The stores were six stories high, about 90 feet on Fulton, and 60 on Cliff street, and filled in the upper lofts with cotton, and below with iron, tin, &c. They were built last winter, with handsome granite fronts, and MESSRS. PHELPS & PECK were engaged in removing their goods from the old to the new store.
The westerly end of the building is still standing, but the immense pile of materials and goods lying in one heap of ruins, under which are ten of fifteen human beings in all probability crushed to atoms, present a sight heart rending indeed. Two cartmen's horses were standing or passing by the building, both of them were killed. There are several miraculous escapes, but there was so much confusioin and such a variety of stories that it was next to impossible to arrive at the truth.

12 o'clock. The persons engaged have succeeded in clearing away the rubbish, so far as to come within hearing of a laborer, a colored man, who is alive, in great distress -- he says that MR. GODDARD is near him and crushed to death, that another person is also dead near him.

2 o'clock. We have just seen two laborers extricated from the ruins -- one of them was found in a sitting position, near the front, lifeless -- from the appearance of the corpse it was supposed that he had lived some time after the building fell.
The other, a colored man named THOMAS, is alive and likely to recover.
The corpse of another colored man was discovered in the ruin, with the head horribly crushed, but could not be got out.
The search for the other bodies was abandoned at two o'clock and a strong guard of watchmen and police officers set to protect the property exposed.

The Catastrophe. In our Saturday's paper we gave the particulars of the dreadful accident which occurred by the falling of MESSRS. PHELPS & PECK'S stores, at the corner of Cliff and Fulton streets. The loss of lives is even greater than was first feared. The greatest possible exertions have been made since Saturday morning to clear away the rubbish, to extricate the living, if any, and to obtain the bodies of those that have perished. Ten of the latter have been taken out and three of the former. MR. THOS. H. GODDARD, the book-keeper, was found with his head bent over on his breast, he was at the desk at the time, and was probably killed almost instantaneously. MR. GODDARD was one of our most exemplary citizens, poor but industrious. He has left a large and destitute family.
MR. JOSIAH STOKES was found on Saturday; he was a confidential clerk; he was found crushed to death, his hand grasping the pen with which he had been writing. He was a young gentleman of great worth, the son of our excellent fellow citizen, THOMAS STOKES.
MR. ALFRED R. SEYMOUR, another clerk long in the employ of MESSRS. PHELPS & PECK, and a native of Oneida county, was found crushed in a dreadful state.
DAVID FORMAN, a colored man, was taken out dead on Saturday. He was a laborer employoed in one of the lofts.
A colored man was taken out about one o'clock on Saturday, and carried to the house of Alderman HARPER, opposite, and about six next morning was sent to the hospital dreadfully mangled. As near as we could ascertain, he is named THOMAS HAWKES.
BARNEY JACKSON, a cartman, standing in front of the building and buried in the ruins, was taken out and carried into a neighboring house, where his wounds were examined by DR. CARROLL. He had supposed his arm was broken in two places, but it was found on examination the such was not the fact. His head and face were apparently much bruised, but it is believed, that by proper attention he will soon recover. He was carried home to his friends in Delancy street. He must have remained under the ruins more than two hours, and remarked that during this time he considered himself, in effect, a dead man.
The body of MR. WILLIAM BROWER, or BREWER, a merchant from Hamburg, on the North river, was found on Saturday. He went to the office to settle an account. We understand his wife came to the city with him.
JAMES PATTERSON, a white, a man named PETER, with three other colored men, were found dead.
MESSRS. B. STOKES, PITKIN and PHELPS, JR. are the names of the persons who escaped.
In Cliff street, the second door from PHELPS and PECK'S, a gentleman was confined to his sick bed, who had not for some time been able to assist himself in moving, yet, the fright was so great that he jumped from his bed and stood erect on the chamber floor. It was reported that the captain of a Charleston packet was missing, which turns out to be without foundation.
It is mentioned as a remarkable Providence, MR. PHELPS having left his counting room but a short time before the accident; that this is the second instance within a year, that the same merciful interposition has preserved his valuable life. He had been prevented last year from getting on board the steamboat General Jackson at Peekskill, on his return to this city, a few hours before her unfortunate explosion, only by the urgent and unusual solicitations of the captain of a sloop who at length prevailed on him to take a passage on board his vessel.
It is said also to be worthy of remark, that a meeting of a number of our most valuable citizens, which was to have been held at MR. PHELP'S counting room, commencing about and hour previous to the disaster, failed of being held, in consequence of non attendance of several of the gentlemen invited. Had it been held as appointed, it would probably have continued until the fall of the building.
In the great anxiety to get to those who were underneath the ruins, several persons were injured by the falling bales of cotton, and other goods. About nine o'clock, JOHN HUNTER, a watchman, received the force of a large bale on his breast, which deprived him of the ability of speaking for some time. He, however, finally was able to speak, and when we saw him last, a physician was with him, who thought him not dangerously injured.
MR. O'NEILL, of Utica, a customer, was ascending the first flight of stairs at the moment, and as it were by a miracle escaped with only a few slight bruises, having worked his way out of the ruins about fifteen minutes after the walls fell in.
A cordon of officers were placed about the premises, on Saturday, the streets were fenced up, and every exertion made to carry on the work without intermission. Yesterday, Sunday, hands were at work as usual removing the rubbish. It will take several days before it can be ascertained whether any bodies are beneath the ruins. It is however generally believed that no more will be found.
We have never known any event that has happened in our city, that has excited so much general attention. The subject occupies the mind of every one, and thousands have visited the spot to witness the desolation.
So great is the gloom spread through the city that several clergymen remarked upon it from the pulpits yesterday, & some preached their sermons expressly for the occasion.
The cause of the disaster is variously stated. The stores which are about 100 feet on Cliff, and 90 on Fulton streets, six stories high, were put up last winter when the mortar had not an opportunity properly to cement. Whether the accident occurred from a defect in the building, or from overloading, is a matter of doubt, that it was from one or both of these causes is beyond question.

The Sandusky Clarion Ohio 1832-05-23