1898 Great Eastern fire

The five-story 1889 building had stores and offices on the first two floors and apartments above, occupied by some 150 people.

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The five-story 1889 building had stores and offices on the first two floors and apartments above, occupied by some 150 people. Fire started in the basement late on Jan. 23, 1898 and raced up the light well in the center of the building. Firefighters, with new equipment and ladders added since the great fire of 1889, arrived quickly but found the masses of electric wires prevented them from putting up ladders. Residents scrambled out lower floors windows and bystanders saw people appear at upper windows, screaming for help. Nettie Howland was playing with her Christmas dolls when the fire alarm sounded at 11:30 p.m. As her family headed for the stairs, she heard her father say, “Oh my God, child! I don’t think we’re going to make it!” She passed out just as she saw the figure of a fireman coming towards them. Nettie woke up in a barber chair in a shop where survivors took refuge. The temperature was well below freezing and most escaped only with their nightclothes. Fire Chief A.H. Myers, who lived in the building, charged into the smoke and found his wife passed out on the floor. Throwing a wet towel over their heads, he carried her to safety. Robert Masson, his wife and baby son were trapped on the fifth floor, a story above the fire escapes or the tallest ladders. From a fourth floor fire escape, firefighters Louis Meeks and L.J. McAtee tossed a rope ladder up the Massons. Mr. Masson climbed down with the baby but he was stuck several feet to the side of the landing. Fifty feet off the ground, McAtee leaned out and Masson swung the boy to him. McAtee caught him and pulled him to safety. Masson and his wife climbed to safety and the crowd cheered. Survivors told of hearing the dying screams of their neighbors and loved ones in the inferno. Eight people perished, including three children. The fire probably started with a boiler, though the exact cause is unknown. Businessman Isaac Peyton later rebuilt the charred hulk, added two floors and named it the Peyton Building.


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