Strangely something ties these fires together although separated by 1,000 miles and four months.
December 5th, 1876 a fire in a Brooklyn Theatre claimed the lives of 278 people with 103 left unidentified in the debris. April 11, 1877 a fire at the Southern Hotel in St. Louis claimed the lives of 40 people. Be it bad luck, an omen, or what some would call a curse, the story is intriguing. Strangely something ties these fires together although separated by 1,000 miles and four months.
What could this possible tie be between the two deadly fires, let’s find out.
The Southern Hotel sat at the intersection of 4th and Walnut, downtown St. Louis. To give you an idea of where this would be today, it is across the street from the famed Busch Stadium and is home the Stadium East Parking Garage.
The Southern Hotel was a luxury hotel and claimed to have state of the art equipment for fire protection. The system was a heat sensing alarm that would trigger an annunciator to alert the guest of the fire. The fire was believed to have begun in the basement of the six story hotel about 1am and travelled quickly up through an elevator shaft.
The state of the art fire detection and notification system did not initially go off and many guests were awakened by the screams of other guest.
Some interesting stories of two firefighters emerged from this deadly fire, Phelim O’Toole and Michael Hester. Tying back to a previous article, these two men were both Irish Immigrants. (March 16th, 2015 Brotherhood Above All: http://www.lakenewsonline.com/article/20150313/NEWS/150319387). It is said that the ladders carried by the fire department would not reach the top floor of this building and that they were able to save over twenty people by standing on the top rung of ladders, tying two ladders together, and climbing up sheets dropped to them, then lowering victims down to the ladders below with ropes. One guest who survived this fire did so by wrapping herself in wet towels and rolling down the stairway.
Across the street from the Southern Hotel on Walnut and Elm was the Olympic Theatre. The Theatre was doing a production of “The Two Orphans” earlier that evening. Ironically this was the play that four months earlier was playing at the Brooklyn Theatre when a fire killed some 278 people.
But that is not the end of this story……
If you recall last week we talked about an actor who told patrons at the Brooklyn Theatre that “there was no danger; the flames were part of the play”. This actress was Kate Claxton who was playing the part of Louise that night.
The guest who survived the Southern Hotel fire by wrapping herself in wet towels and rolling down the stairs was none other than, Kate Claxton, who was playing the same role of Louise at the Olympic Theatre.
The tragedy of these two events followed her remainder of her career as she was labeled in the press as the “Fire Witch”.