Collinwood, OH Terrible School Fire, Mar 1908
165 CHILDREN PERISH IN FIRE.
PENNED IN BY FLAMES AND JAMMED AGAINST LOCKED DOOR IN COLLINWOOD (OHIO) SCHOOL.
MANY TRAMPLED TO DEATH.
Broke from Fire Line as Flames Swept Up Stairway and a Panic Followed.
INCENDIARISM IS SUSPECTED.
NO WIRES TO IGNITE THE WOODWORK WHERE THE FLAMES STARTED IN THE BASEMENT.
TWO TEACHERS ARE VICTIMS.
Parents Fight with Firemen in Desparate but Vain Effort to Rescue the Little Ones.
Special to The New York Times.
Cleveland, Ohio, March 4 -- In a fire that may have been incendiary between 160 and 170 children lost their lives this morning when Lake View School, in the suburb of Collinwood, burned.
Penned in narrow hallways and jammed up against doors that only opened inward, the pupils were killed by fire and smoke and crushed under the grinding heels of their panic-stricken playmates. All of the victims were between the ages of 6 and 14 years. There were about 310 children in the school.
Two teachers, in vain efforts to save the little ones perished. To-night 165 bodies are in the morgue at Collinwood, of which more than 100 have been identified and 57 are still unidentified. Thirteen children are still unaccounted for, and all the hospitals and houses for two miles around contained children, some mortally and many less seriously injured.
Fire's Origin a Mystery.
What caused the fire is a mystery. There are hints that it was incendiary. There were no wires to cross and ignite the woodwork. There was no rubbish where the flames began, to ignite from spontaneous combustion. All that now seems to be known is that three little girls coming from the basement saw smoke. Before the janitor sounded the fire alarm a mass of flames was sweeping up the stairway from the basement. Before the children from the upper floors could reach the ground egress was cut off and they perished. It was all over almost before the frantic mothers who gathered realized that their children were lost.
With the call for fire engines calls for ambulances were sent in. Every ambulance from the eastern end of Cleveland was pressed into service. Wagons were used to carry off the dead.
Rescuers were present by the hundreds, but they could not save the life of one child, so dense was the jam at the foot of the stairways.
The Lake View School was a three-story structure. Under the stairway in the front of the building was the furnace. Owing to the mild weather there was less fire than usual, and it is certain that the fire did not start there. On the first floor four rooms were in use when the fire started, and the children of this floor escaped with few exceptions. They believed the ringing of the fire gong was the usual fire drill signal and marched out in order. The pupils on the second and third floors became panic-stricken and rushed to death.
Rear Door Was Locked.
The number of pupils was more than normally large, and the smaller children had been placed in the upper part of the building. There was only one fire escape, and that was in the rear of the building. There were two stairways, one leading to a door in front and the other to a door in the rear. Both of these doors opened inward, and it is said that the rear door was locked as well.
When the flames were discovered the teachers, who throughout seem to have acted with courage and self-possession, and to have struggled heroically for the safety of their pupils, marshaled the little ones into columns for the "fire drill," which they had often practiced.
Unfortunately the line of march in this exercise had always led to the front door, and the children had not been trained to seek any other exit. The fire to-day came from directly under this part of the building.
When the children reached the foot of the stairs they found the flames close upon them, and so swift a rush was made for the door that in an instant a tightly packed mass of children was piled up against it. From that second none of those who were upon any portion of the first flight of stairs had a chance for their lives. The children at the foot of the stairs attempted to fight their way back to the floor above, while those who were coming down shoved them marcilessly back into the flames below.
In an instant there was a frightful panic, with 200 of the pupils fighting for their lives. Most of those who were killed died here. The greater part of those who escaped managed to turn back and reach the fire escape and the windows in the rear.
What happened at the foot of that first flight of stairs will never be known, for all of those who were caught in the full fury of the panic were killed. After the flames had died away, however, a huge heap of little bodies, burned by the fire and trampled into things of horror, told the tale.
As soon as the alarm was given MRS. KELLEY ran from her home, which is not far from the schoolhouse, to the burning building. The front portion of the structure was a mass of flames, and, frenzied by the screams of the fighting and dying children which reached her from the death trap at the foot of the first flight of stairs and behind that closed door, MRS. KELLEY ran to the rear, hoping to effect an entrance there and save her children.
She was joined by a man whose name is not known, and the two of them tugged and pulled frantically at the door. They were unable to move it in the slightest, and there was nothing at hand by which they could hope to break it down. In utter despair of saving any of the children, they turned their attention to the windows, and by smashing some of these they managed to save a few of the pupils.
"They could have saved many more," said MR. KELLEY to-night, "if the door had not been locked. Nobody knows how many of the children might have made their way out before my wife reached there if the door had not been locked. If half a dozen men had been there when my wife and her companion arrived at the schoolhouse, perhaps they might have broken down the door, but the two could do nothing, and the flames spread so rapidly that it was all over in a few minutes."
Parents Fight with Firemen.
The suburb of Collingwood contains about 8,000 people, and within a half hour after the outbreak of the fire nearly every one of them was gathered around the blazing ruins of the school house, hundreds of parents fighting frantically with the police and firemen who were busily engaged in saving the lives of the children caught in the burning building and doing their best to extinguish the fire.
The police were utterly unable through lack of numbers to keep away the crowd that pressed upon them, and the situation soon became so serious that a number of the more cool-headed men in the throng took it upon themselves to aid in fighting back the crowd, while others worked to help the firemen and the police.
Among the latter were WALLACE UPTON, who reached the building shortly after the front door had caved in, and disclosed to the horror-stricken crowd the awful scenes that had occurred there. Just in front of UPTON'S eyes was his own ten-year-old daughter, helpless in the crush, badly burned, and trampled upon, but still alive. The fire was close upon her, and if she could not be saved at once she could not be saved at all.
UPTON sprang to help her, and with all his strength sought to tear her from the weight that was pressing her down and from the flames which were creeping close. Although he worked with a desperation of despair, his strength was unequal to the task. He fought until his clothing was partly burned from him and the skin of his face and hands was scorched black. Other men attempted to induce him to move, but he refused until he saw that his girl was dead, and that he could not save her life by sacrificing his own. He then withdrew from the schoolhouse, and, although so seriously injured that he may die, lingered about the place for several hours, refusing to go to a hospital or to seek medical attention.
The New York Times New York 1908-03-05