Philadelphia, PA Grand Central Theatre Fire, Apr 1892




PHILADELPHIA, April 28.---The destruction of the Grand Central Theatre by fire last night proves to have been far more terrible in its results than was anticipated. Six members of the "Devil's Auction" company lost their lives. Samuel Wallace, a boy of fifteen is missing, nearly threescore people are in the hospital suffering from burns, and the loss to property is $1,000,000. Of the men and boys in the hospital seven are in such a serious condition that their recovery is doubtful. All were members of the audience. Besides those who were seriously enough hurt to remain in the hospitals, fifty others were treated for minor injuries.

The unfortunate members of the company who lost their lives were:

THOMAS LORELLA, dancer and grotesque artist.
FLORA LORELLA, his wife, coryphée.
VINCENTCINA CHITTERN, premier danseuse, one of the Chittern Sisters, Italian dancers.
FANCHON CONYERS, juvenile character, resident of Chicago.
SARAH COLDMAN, coryphée, resident of Chicago.
WILLIAM L. BROOKS, leading man, resident of Philadelphia.

The injured in the hospitals, who are likely to die, are suffering from burns about the face and head and from having inhaled the flames. They are:

HARRY McCLOSKEY, sixteen years old.
JAMES PIGEON, fourteen years old.
AMER HINCHLIFFE, sixteen years old.
RAND PATTERSON, sixteen years old.
ALBERT CRUMBACK, sixteen years old.
THOMAS ATCHISON, thirty-seven years old.
RALPH FRAZER, sixteen years old.

In addition to the serious condition of those named, it is feared that many will lost their eyesight, as their burns are mostly about the face.

At the time the fire broke out there were about seventy people in all behind the curtain. The dressing rooms were beneath the stair in the rear of the theatre. Two stairways, one upon the right, and the other upon the left of the basement, led directly to doors that admitted to alleyways in the rear of the theatre.

All the members of the company were in the dressing rooms when the alarm of fire sounded. All those who sought safety by the left stairway reached the street unhurt. At this time the left side of the stage was still untouched by the fire, but the right was already a mass of flames. The canvas grease and paint of the scenery was like so much oil before the advance of the fire, and great volumes of heavy, stifling smoke were rolling over and underneath the stage.

It is Manager Yale's belief that the unfortunate men and women who lost their lives ran toward the stairway that led up into the fire. Finding their escape cut off, they probably became confused and, blinded and in the passageway beneath the stage.

Thomas Lorella, the gymnast met his death in a heroic attempt to save the life of his wife. When the fire broke out he easily made his escape from the dressing room and reached the street in safety. He supposed that his wife had preceded him and was safe. Not finding her in the street he returned to the alleyway leading into the rear of the theatre. It was filled with smoke and the flames were beginning to break out of the roof of the theatre. Turning to a friend he said: "I'll see if she is safe if it costs me my life."

Without heeding the remonstrance's of those standing about him he plunged into the alley and disappeared from view. He was true to his word about seeking his wife though he met death on the way.

William J. Gilmore, proprietor of the theatre, was much overcome today by the tragedy which has taken place at his house. He has been in receipt of telegrams from theatrical managers all over the country offering him sympathy. The Board of Directors of the Academy of Music this morning tendered Mr. Gilmore the use of the theatre for a benefit for himself and the company. While declining the offer on his own behalf, Mr. Gilmore accepted it gratefully for the company. The theatre will be rebuilt at once.

Director of Public Safety Beitler and Fire Marshal Thompson, after inspecting the burned buildings this morning, decided that until a fragment of the rear wall of the theatre and the rear wall of the Times Building, which are still standing, should be pulled down, it would be unsafe to attempt the work of recovering the bodies. A force of men was put to work this afternoon pulling down the walls and pumping the water out.

The Time's staff was called together at noon to-day in the former quarters of the paper at the southwest corner of Eighth and Chestnut Streets, where it business office has always remained. Proprietor Frank McLaughlin announced to his employes[sic] that the publication of the Times would be continued as usual, and all took up the daily routine of their work. Portions of the building occupied by tenants were cleared for the compositors, editors, and reporters. Two presses were secured for temporary use, and will be immediately placed in the basement of the old building.

The Time's loss is found to be much smaller than was at first anticipated, owing to the construction of the annex building, which was designed to save the valuable presses in the basement in case of fire. Double arches were built above the machinery, and it was found this morning that they had sustained the weight of the hundreds of tons of debris, and the presses and other machinery, valued at $200,000, had escaped with comparatively little damaged. The building, valued at $149, 234, is a total wreck, with mixtures which cost $40,000.

"It will be at once rebuilt," said Mr. McLaughlin to-day, "and, I think, on the same plan."

Mr. Hetherington of De Kosenko & Hetherington, art metal workers, who occupied four floors of the Times annex, places their loss at $100,000, including valuable models and designs. One hundred and fifty men were employed by the firm, which has secured quarters elsewhere and will resume.

Half the traction company's cable line extending south from Market Street is being operated by horse cars, owing to the fact that one of its motors in the Sansom Street power house was buried beneath the falling walls of the Times annex. Workmen succeeded in disencumbering it this morning, and, while the lighter portions of the machinery are bent and twisted most of it is so ponderous as to be but little damaged. It can be put in use as soon as repaired.

The New York Times, New York, NY 29 Apr 1892