FIRE ON ELLIS ISLAND.
MANY BUILDINGS BURNED.
ONLY THE POWER-HOUSE SAVED FROM
THE IMMIGRANTS AT THE STATION SAFELY
LANDED IN THIS CITY,
AND NO ONE REPORTED SERIOUSLY HURT--
THE FLAMES STARTED IN THE MAIN BUILDING, WHICH IS SOON A WRECK.
Every building on Ellis Island except the power-house
was totally destroyed by fire early this morning, but all of the 270
immigrants the structures contained, so far as is known at present, were
saved. The immigrants, most of whom had landed here yesterday, were almost
all in the new wing of the main building, only a small number of persons
being in the hospital.
In ten minutes after the alarm was given, they had all
been quietly awakened and marched safely on board the John G. Carlisle,
the newest Ellis Island boat. So far as known no one was seriously injured
in fighting the fire or from any other cause.
Three men were hurled from the top of the cupola, where
the flames were first seen, their heads turned by the draughts of smoke
and heat. They landed on the ground floor and were badly cut about the
head, but these were the most serious casualties reported.
The first intelligence of the fire was received in this
city at 12:38 a. m. the harbor police from their station at Pier A, North
River, saw a flame bursting from the windows of the main building on the
island. Word was at once telephoned to Police Headquarters, and the
fireboat New-Yorker was dispatched to the island.
At the same time the sergeant in command at Pier A
called the reserves out of bed in the station, and with every other man he
could spare, dispatched them in two of the police naphtha launches to the
island. The police-boat Patrol is laid up for repairs, and the slower
launches had therefore to be used. The men were under command of Roundsman
McCormack. Captain Schultze, who was at his home, was also telegraphed
for, and a call was sent out from Pier A for the reserves from the other
precincts in the lower part of the city. Twenty-five men were obtained
from the Old Slip and Church-st. stations and hurried to Pier A to be
ready for any emergency.
A TINY FLAME.
When first seen by he lookout at the police station the
fire was only a flame, about as large as a man's hand, coming out of a
window on the second floor at the east end of the main building. The
flames spread rapidly, however, and at 1:05 a. m.--that is, by the time
the boats were fairly on their way to the island--the eaves of the roof
began to fall, setting fire to the wooden piers and docks on either side.
At 1:12 a. m. the whole building was a mass of flame,
illuminating the entire inner harbor. The tops of the skyscrapers in the
city were outlined in bold relief by the red light, the gilt cornice of
the Manhattan Life Building reflecting the light until that building
itself seemed in flames, too.
SPECTATORS AT THE BATTERY.
The southern end of the city is extremely quiet at this
hour of the morning, but within thirty minutes of the starting of the
fire, several hundred spectators were hurrying toward the Battery. The
owners of rowboats and other small craft were present in considerable
numbers, and they endeavored to make money by letting their boats to
FEAR OF GREAT LOSS OF LIFE.
The fire presented a magnificent spectacle from the
Battery, and rumors of a terrible loss of life flew thick and fast.
Although it was known that it had not been an unusually busy day at the
island, and that the comparatively few immigrants landed were passed
swiftly through the pens, even the police were certain that a serious loss
of life must have resulted.
At first the flames could not be seen to diminish
perceptibly before the tons of water thrown on the fire by the fireboats.
At 2 a. m. the fire was plainly at its height, but after that gradually
the red light over the Bay faded away.
SAFELY LANDED IN THIS CITY.
At 2:10 all apprehension for the safety of the people
on the island was allayed by the arrival at the Battery of the ferryboat
John G. Carlisle, which plies between the Battery and the island, with all
the immigrants and the sick from the hospital on board. One of the women
was suffering from typhoid fever. She was said to be in a serious
condition. With the party were the doctors and nurses.
Before the ferryboat arrived, ambulances had been
summoned from Gouverneur and Hudson Street hospitals, so that the sick
brought to the city could be cared for. The doctor in charge of the party
said that, so far as he knew, no one had been burned or injured. All about
there were ferryboats, tugs and small boats, willing to bring the people
to the city, but some of the people, in their excitement, feared at first
to venture on the water.
Just before the Carlisle arrived, a man who said he was
D. K. Moscopaulas, an official interpreter on the island, rushed onto Pier
A, greatly excited. He had come to report for duty, he said. The crowd
HOW THE FIRE STARTED.
Reporters who reached the island soon after the fire
started learned that William Gaines, a night watchman, was the first to
discover the fire. It is Gaines's duty to visit each part of the building
every twenty minutes. He was making his rounds at 12:20 o'clock and had
just reached the new wing of the building, where the immigrants sleep,
when he was attracted to the northeast end by the reflection of a flame on
the windows. Without raising an outcry, he ran quickly to the cupola, and
was nearly knocked off his feet by big clouds of smoke coming from the
office of Charles Ichlar, the chief clerk, which is on the second floor.
The fire, he thought, was caused by a defective electric-light wire.
Electricity was used in the entire building.
The office was lighted up by tongues of flame. A moment
later, Silas Truman and George Hoolihan of the janitor's office, were by
Gaines's side, fighting the fire.
While they were trying to get the flames under control,
a draught of smoke and hot air lifted them off their feet and knocked them
down the stairs to the ground floor.
All of them were badly shaken up and more or less cut
about the head and face. In spite of the severe fall they had sustained,
however, they quickly arose and quietly aroused everybody in the
buildings, displaying unusual presence of mind.
Had they lost their heads and shouted, a panic would
have followed and many lives would have been lost.
The men's coolness had a wonderful effect.
Everybody saw at once that the buildings were doomed to
fall in a short while, but they marched in an orderly manner out of the
place and onto the John G. Carlisle.
By the time the immigrants were boarding the boat, a
score of streams from the island fire apparatus were playing on the
Dr. Senner said the loss on the buildings would be
about $780,000. Valuable records were lost.
At 2:40 a. m. the only building on the whole island
that would probably be saved was the engine-house to the extreme west, as
the wind was blowing from that point, and the house in question is a
fairly substantial building. It was impossible to save any of the other
buildings, as the fire was entirely beyond control of the fireboats.
Between three and four acres were covered with flames.
As the second of the two fireboats left New York, one
of the watchmen of the island fell into the water. He was attempting to
jump on board after the board had started, and just failed to clear the
distance. Ropes were thrown into the water, and after an exciting five
minutes the man was rescued. He was almost unconscious, and was
immediately taken to the engine-room.
There was a great deal of crowding among the various
craft inside the breakwater of the island, and much delay was caused
thereby to the fireboats and tugs sent to assist.
Dr. Senner, Commissioner of Immigration, with Mrs.
Senner, left his home at No. 248 West One-hundred-and-twenty-third-st., at
1:40 a.m. on his way to Ellis Island. He said he felt no anxiety, as he
was positive that precautions for a fire were so perfect that there could
not possibly be loss of life.
The new immigration depot at Ellis Island was opened on
New Year's Day, 1891. The structure, like many other Government buildings,
though of gigantic proportions, could not be termed an architectural
masterpiece. It was built at a cost of about $500,000, the original
estimate having been about one-half that sum.
An idea of the building's immense size may be gained
from the fact that more than four million feet of lumber were used in its
construction. The huge building covered the greater part of the island,
the area of which was something less than five acres, but this was
increased to about eight by driving spiles about the water-front and
filling in the vacant spaces with earth.
The building was of no particular style of
architecture. It was three stories in height, with a tower at each corner.
The ground and upper floors measured each 404 by 154 feet. The first floor
was devoted to railroad and baggage transfers and private offices. On the
second floor the registrations and examinations were conducted.
Among the general features of the building was a
gallery which extended completely around this floor. From this the
immigrants could be inspected by the public or those interested in them,
without coming into actual contact with them. Detention rooms were also
provided on this floor in abundance. There were rooms for paupers, another
for lunatics, another for those suspected of being contract laborers,
another or women and children, and so on.
The telegraph and money exchange offices, postal
stations, information bureau, railroad and steamship offices were all
arranged so as to give the new-comers the least possible inconvenience.
Sleeping-rooms were provided on the floor above. On the side facing the
harbor were the offices of the immigration officials. The depot was built
by Sheridan & Byrne. Roosevelt, Son & Miller did the pier work and
Now read the story about the fire, the day after.....
Here is an article
that appeared in the "New-York Daily Tribune" on Jun 16, 1897,
the day after the fire:
THE ELLIS ISLAND BLAZE.
WONDER EXPRESSED THAT THERE WAS NO LOSS OF LIFE.
DR. SENNER SAYS IT WILL BE A LESSON TO
HEROIC WORK OF WOMEN NURSES--TAKING CARE OF THE IMMIGRANTS
"Ever since I have been in office the fear of something like this fire
has haunted me, and now that it has come and no lives were lost, I am glad
of it. A row of unsightly, ramshackle tinderboxes has been removed, and
when the Government rebuilds it will be forced to put up decent fireproof
Thus did Dr. Joseph H. Senner,
Commissioner of Immigration, in charge of Ellis Island, speak yesterday of
the fire that devastated the island, leaving it a mass of smoking ruins
inside of two hours and seriously imperiling the lives of the 222 persons
sleeping in the flimsy wooden structures. That no lives were lost, that
not even an injury was sustained by any one in the flames that spread with
such frightful rapidity was the wonder of every one yesterday, and
was the subject for congratulations on the part of Dr. Senner and his
assistants. To these assistants--especially the women nurses in the
hospital, the watchmen and Surgeon White--is entirely due the remarkable
escape of every panic-stricken immigrant. Dr. Senner could not express too
feelingly his appreciation of the cool-headed courage of his aids in the
face of extreme danger.
A DANGEROUS PLACE.
Every person who was seen yesterday by The Tribune reporter in regard
to the fire condemned in the severest terms the condition of the buildings
which the United States Government had allowed to be used to house at
times over night thousands of immigrants. The peril from fire to these
helpless and generally ignorant people was fully appreciated by Dr.
Senner, and he did all in his power to provide against the loss of life
from the fire which he felt would one day occur. The value of his
foresight and precautions as displayed in the efforts of his assistants
was generally commented on yesterday, and offered a strong contrast to the
peculiar inertness of he Government in providing fireproof structures for
Ellis Island yesterday presented a sadly
forlorn picture. Three stone buildings remain standing, the engine-house,
the electric light and steam plant, and Dr. White's house--all else is in
ruins. The buildings destroyed were the main one, which was 750 feet long
and 250 feet wide, and three stories high; the detention pen, which was
recently reconstructed; the restaurant, the laundry, the record building,
the morgue, the storage-house, and the new disinfecting plant, which had
not yet been completed, but upon which $25,000 had already been expended,
and in which machinery costing $15,000 had been placed. The southwest
landing pier, which had been recently reconstructed and covered at a large
expense, was also entirely demolished. Estimates upon the total monetary
loss sustained by the United States Government, the immigration officials
and the immigrants could not yesterday be made with any degree of
accuracy. Dr. Senner puts the rough estimate at somewhere between $500,000
and $1,000,000. It is said that the Government is not responsible for the
loss of the personal effects of the immigrants. The poor creatures were in
such a state of collapse yesterday at the Barge Office, where they were
huddled together, that no definite idea of individual losses could be
obtained. The losses were chiefly of clothing and personal trinkets, which
probably had no great intrinsic value.
There were several safes containing in some
cases large amounts of money in the burned buildings, but it is believed
that their contents will be found intact when they are recovered from the
ruins. F. J. Scully, the money-changer for the immigrants, had a safe in
the main building in which he says was $10,000 in foreign coin and drafts.
It required six hours' work yesterday morning to get this safe out of the
ruins, and its contents were found to be unimpaired. Thomas S. Faulkner,
agent of the immigration clearing house of the Trunk Line Association, had
two safes, one of which was recovered yesterday. It had burst open and
$300 was found to be missing. The other safe, which is still buried under
the ruins, contains several thousands of dollars. Felix Livingstone and
Emile Schwab, the concessionaires on the island, place their loss on
supplies and equipment in the restaurant and culinary department at
$2,000. The safes of Treasurer Lee and of John E. Moore, of the
railroad-steamboat service, were recovered uninjured.
One of the serious losses to the Immigration Bureau was that of many of
the records which contained the history of the immigrants who have landed
here for several years back. The records of the immigrants who were
detained on the island on Monday night can be obtained again by the Board
of Inquiry before they are allowed to depart.
story of the miraculous escape of all the immigrants, aroused at midnight
on Monday to face rapidly spreading flames was only partially told in
yesterday's papers. Many accounts of brave rescues were told yesterday
which prevented the destruction of the Ellis Island plant going down in
history as a second Paris Charity Bazaar horror. Dr. Senner said yesterday
that on Monday night there were on the island 73 debarred immigrants, who
were to be returned to their ports of departure; 60 women and children
detained for examination, 547 patients in the hospital and 32 employees,
making a total of 222 persons; 550 immigrants had landed on Monday from
the steamers Furneszia, Alsatia and Spaarndam, but most of these had been
DISCOVERY OF THE FLAMES.
When William Gaines, one of the three night watchmen on duty,
discovered the beginning of the fire in a small flame in the office of
Charles Ichlar, the chief clerk, which was situated at the northeast end
of the second floor of the main building, at 12:20 o'clock, he hurried
after his companions, and, seeing that it was impossible to put the fire
out, the three men hastened to the quarters of the sleeping immigrants,
and by cool, quick work marched all of them out of the buildings to safety
on the John G. Carlisle, which lay with steam up at her slip. Dr. White
was aroused from sleep in the old mansion house by Frank Gibson, the
apothecary, and he immediately hastened to the hospital to get the
fifty-five patients out. The women nurses there did noble work, carrying
out of the building, which had by that time caught fire, patient after
patient, till they were all placed on the Carlisle. Some of the sick women
became hysterical as they were carried past the raging furnaces of fire.
One of them screamed frantically while she was being taken out, and when
she was released rushed back into the burning building, crying, "My baby,
my baby!" Mother and child were then rescued. A young girl, a paralytic,
was not taken from her bed until the clothing was in flames.
PRAISE FOR THE NURSES.
Dr. Senner, in speaking
yesterday of the rescue work of the nurses, Miss Holz and Miss Pfifer,
"I cannot find words of praise too strong for these young women. They
worked as I never heard of women working before. They undoubtedly saved
many lives. I am very proud of them."
immigrants except those who had been in the hospital were yesterday
quartered in the Barge Office at the Battery. There they were fed and
visited by representatives of various charitable societies, who brought
clothing for the, in some cases, almost destitute creatures. Careful
inquiries were made of each immigrant as to whether he missed any relative
or friend, and in no case was an affirmative reply received. The
immigration officials therefore do not hesitate to state unqualifiedly
that no lives were lost. Still further proof of this [?] welcome statement
will be obtained by comparing the lists of immigrants detained with the
lists of the steamships on which they arrived.
LIKE OLD CASTLE GARDEN.
The Barge Office presented
the appearance of the old Castle Garden when it was used by the
Immigration Bureau, and the Battery around it became once more populated
with inhabitants of all the countries of Europe. The customs officials
were ousted from their quarters on the ground floor of the building, and
the women placed there. The men were placed on the upper floor of the long
shed over the pier. The wants of all were carefully attended to.
Many strange scenes in connection with the distribution of clothing by
the charity organizations were enacted when the men and women came forward
to receive garments. Many of the unfortunate immigrants were only half
clothed, and when they were provided for they looked like dummies in a
misfit clothing store. One Italian who had escaped from the fire in his
under clothing, was provided with the garb of a Catholic priest, loaned by
Father Henry, pastor of the mission of Our Lady of The Rosary. Another man
escaped with a coat and hat, but forgot his trousers. Every one was fully
provided for before the day was over.
from the hospital, with the exception of six who were so sick as to
require constant medical attendance, and who were taken to Bellevue, were
yesterday moved to the pier at East Twenty-sixth-st., where their
condition was examined into by Commissioner Faure and Superintendent
Murphy. Some were taken to Randall's Island, and some to the Municipal
Lodging House, at First-ave. and Twenty-third-st. Three were given into
the custody of Chief Samson, the deporting officer, to be returned to
their port of departure.
Word was received yesterday
at the Custom House, by Acting Collector J. J. Couch, from the Treasury
Department at Washington, that the Barge Office should be given over to
the use of the immigrants until other quarters are provided for them.
Dr. Senner said
yesterday: "For the next few days and perhaps longer, it will be necessary
to examine and discharge immigrants on board ship. I expect soon to have
the annex to the Barge Office fitted up for temporary quarters."
Dr. Senner, when informed of the fire yesterday morning at 1:30
o'clock, immediately dressed and with his wife hastened down to the
Battery from his home in Harlem. He went over to the Island and only
returned at 6:30 o'clock. In regard to the origin of the fire he said:
"I believe the fire was due to electric light wires, and these were
strung in the building where the fire started. Of course, there will be a
board of inquiry instituted by the Government to investigate the cause of
the fire and in losses sustained. I to-day placed Immigration Inspectors
Willis and Cassin in charge of the island, and they have already begun an
investigation for me. Time and time again I have appealed to the
authorities in Washington to put up fireproof buildings on the island and
to provide better facilities for fighting fire. The lesson that we needed
Superintendent Stump of the National
Immigration Bureau reached the city last night, and had a conference with