Burning of the Brooklyn Theatre Part 2

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_Mr. Murdoch's Career on the Stage._

Mr. Henry S. Murdoch, one of the victims of the terrible calamity, was engaged in the cast of the "Two Orphans" as _Pierre_, the cripple, and was the sole support of a widowed mother and two sisters, who reside in Philadelphia. The latter were expected in Brooklyn next week to visit their brother during the Christmas holidays. Mr. Murdoch was born in Boston, August 5, 1845, and was consequently in the thirty-second year of his age. He received his education in Philadelphia, and made his debut at the Arch Street Theatre, in that city, in the winter of 1864. During the season of 1865 he fulfilled an engagement at the Boston Museum, and from there he went to Cincinnati, where he performed at Pike's Opera-house until its destruction by fire on March 22, 1866. In this case he narrowly escaped with his life, and lost his entire wardrobe in the fire. He next went to San Francisco, where he played with John McCullough at the California Theatre. He remained there two years--1867-8. He then performed short engagements in Washington, Baltimore, St. Louis and Pittsburgh. In 1872-3 he played at the Arch Street Theatre, Philadelphia, under the management of Mrs. John Drew, taking the parts of "fop" and "walking gentleman,"

and upon one or two occasions played leading characters. The season of 1873-4 he spent in Chicago, and acted at Hooley's Theatre, under the management of Mr. Fred Williams, of Boston. He resigned his position before the close of the season to support Miss Clara Morris at the Academy of Music in the same city, then under the management of Mr.

C. R. Gardner, who is now the manager of the Arch Street Theatre, Philadelphia, where Mr. Murdoch made his debut. During his engagement with Miss Morris he made a decided hit as _Armande_, in the play of "Camille." At the conclusion of his engagement in Chicago he returned to Boston, where he remained one season, and commenced his engagement with Messrs. Shook & Palmer last spring, when he played the part of _Sandy Morton_, in the play of "Two Men of Sandy Bar," at the Union Square Theatre, New York. From there he went to the Brooklyn Theatre on October 9 last. Mr. Murdoch was a nephew of Mr. James E. Murdoch, the eminent tragedian, and a brother of Frank Murdoch, the author of "Davy Crockett." He has a brother in New Orleans also an actor, whose stage name is William Wallace, and who lately made his debut in that city. Mr. Murdoch was an accomplished and educated gentleman, and a rising actor. During his engagement in Boston he played such characters as _Charles Middlewick_, in the play of "Our Boys," and _Harry Spreadbrow_, in "Sweethearts." He gave much satisfaction in Brooklyn in his interpretation of Eustace, in "Conscience," _Charles Surface_, in "School for Scandal," and was giving an exceptionally good rendition of _Pierre_, the cripple, in the "Two Orphans," at the time of the fire. He was a good vocalist and amateur artist. He had been suffering from sciatica for some time, and the malady had given him considerable pain during the six weeks previous to his tragic death, causing him to limp painfully at times. He occupied apartments at No. 53 Concord street, where his uncle, Mr. Henry Murdoch, resides.

_Claude Burroughs._

Claude Burroughs first made his appearance on the stage at the Winter Garden, New York, in 1865, playing in "Hamlet" with Edwin Booth. At the conclusion of his engagement with Mr. Stuart, who was then managing the Winter Garden, he went to Brooklyn, where he played light comedy parts in the Park Theatre, then under Mrs. Conway's management.

Upon the opening of the Union Square Theatre by Messrs. Shook & Palmer Mr. Burroughs was engaged to play light parts. His first appearance at that theatre was as a _reporter_ in "Agnes," the first piece produced in the house, and he has been in the cast of nearly every play since produced there. Upon a few occasions when not playing in New York he has accepted engagements in Brooklyn. He was the fop in "Atherley Court," the fop in "Jane Eyre," _Maxime_ in "Ferreol," and a very clever representative of _Talbot Champneys_ in "Our Boys." At the time of his death he was playing _Picard_, the valet in the "Two Orphans."

Since the opening of the St. Stephen's Hotel, in Eleventh street, in October, Mr. Burroughs has lived there. He had a delightful summer residence at Larchmont, on the New Haven Road, where he was wont to entertain his numerous friends. He was about twenty-six years of age and unmarried.

_Sketches of other Victims._

Stuart Campbell Hand, a young reporter on the staff of the _Commercial Advertiser_ of New York, is among the victims of the calamity. He is known to have visited the theatre on the night of the fire, and has not been seen since. He was only eighteen years old.

William L. Donnelly, another young reporter, left his home on the evening of the fire to visit the theatre, and was never seen alive again. He had just returned to New York from a journalistic trip to the West. Among the charred remains his stepfather felt a.s.sured he had discovered poor Donnelly's body, identifying it by several articles of clothing; but as these articles were partly divided between two crisped trunks his mother declined to acquiesce in the identification, for fear of receiving the wrong body.

Mrs. Caroline Berri and her mother, Mrs. Martin, were undoubtedly trampled upon by the panic-stricken audience, and then fell victims to the flames. Mrs. Berri was the wife of officer Richard Berri, of District-Attorney Britton's office. He accompanied her and Mrs. Martin to the theatre; but when the cry of fire rang through the house, and the audience became uncontrollable, he was standing in the vestibule.

He tried to push into the theatre to rescue his relatives, but was carried by the rushing crowd out into the street. His wife and her mother undoubtedly perished together.

Officer Patrick McKean, of the Central Office Squad, who was detailed to preserve order in the gallery of the theatre, is among the dead. He was a good officer, and had been made a member of the Central Squad for his exemplary conduct. He was seen working bravely in the vestibule of the theatre, trying to get the panic-stricken people to move out in an orderly manner. Just before the fatal blast of smoke and gas filled the entire building it was noticed that he was exhausted by his hard labors; that he had lost his hat, and that his coat was torn from him by the surging crowd. It is supposed that he was precipitated, when the flooring gave way, into the horrible pit from which so many dead were taken on Wednesday. Officer McKean was a young man--about thirty years of age, and the support of a widowed mother.

John McGinniss, an old employee of the Brooklyn _Eagle_, was among the killed, with two lady friends whom he had escorted to the theatre. He was about thirty-five years old, and was well known in Brooklyn. It is likely that he bravely remained with his lady friends until the last.

He was an old fireman of the former volunteer department, accustomed to battling with flames, cool-headed, and rapid in decision, and if he had been alone would undoubtedly have found means of escape.

The body of Nicholas F. Kelly, aged twenty-two, was taken out of the theatre early Wednesday morning. As it was being placed in an undertaker's wagon a young man standing by glanced at the corpse, and after saying, "My G.o.d, that's Father Kelly's brother," fainted away.

The body was afterward identified by Father Kelly himself, who is the pastor of the Church of the Visitation, and one of the best-loved and most eloquent priests in Brooklyn.

_Almost Incredible._

The following story would be deemed almost incredible were it not vouched for by Police Captain Worth. Mr. Hecht, of 431 Pulaski street, a wealthy merchant, identified the remains of his son, Louis, eighteen years old, by the gold watch and gold chain and seal-skin hat found on the remains. As he stood stricken with grief over the charred corpse, two men jostled him aside, and, with many exclamations of sorrow and grief, claimed the body as that of their relative, and looked about for means to remove it. When the grief-stricken parent recovered from the shock their positive identification gave him, he again examined the body, and satisfying himself that they were those of his son, he directed their attention to the marks and signs by which he declared it impossible for him to be mistaken. The men pa.s.sed away. They, however, were followed by others. To these the father again rehea.r.s.ed his story of identification. "I thought," said Mr. Hecht, speaking to Coroner Nolan, "that the people were mistaken in the identification of the remains, but when over half a dozen people, whom I saw by their actions had no one among the unfortunates, came along, and with pretended cries of grief pointed out the body as that of some relative, I knew that it was done for the sake of obtaining possession of the valuables."

Mr. Hecht, before seeking out the coroner to obtain a permit for the removal of the body, placed his son, the dead boy's brother, guard over the remains. The coroner at once made all the necessary arrangements to offset the work of these fiends.

_The History of the Brooklyn Theatre._

In 1871 a building a.s.sociation, composed in chief of Wm. C. Kingsley, Alexander McCue, and Abner C. Keeney, erected for Mrs. F. B. Conway the edifice then known as "Mrs. Conway's Brooklyn Theatre." Under her management the first season opened on the evening of October 2d, 1871, the play being Bulwer's comedy of "Money," with Mr. and Mrs. Conway, Edward Lamb, Mrs. Farren, and others in the cast. Until 1875, with varying success, Mrs. Conway kept the theatre open, introducing her daughters, Minnie (now Mrs. Levy) and Lilian, Mr. Roche, Mr. Lamb, Mr.

Chippendale, Mrs. Farren and others, in the regular company, and playing as occasional stars, Booth, Raymond, Jefferson, Sothern, the Florences, the Williamses, and Charlotte Thompson. At her death the daughters continued the lease, making their managerial debut in "The Two Orphans." The house was packed, and when _Henriette_ said to the blind _Louise_, "Don't say so, dear sister; we are not without friends, I hope," the audience rose as with a single impulse, and for five minutes stopped the action of the play by demonstrations as wild as they were encouraging. It soon became evident, however, that the Conway element could not make the theatre a success, and a lease was issued to Sheridan Shook and A. M. Palmer, of the New York Union Square Theatre. Under their management as a star and stock theatre it soon became a popular resort. But perhaps the greatest success the theatre has known was the "Two Orphans," the strongest play of the century, which ran hundreds of nights in New York, and with almost equal favor was played in Brooklyn.

The conveniences in the auditorium of the Brooklyn Theatre were admirably arranged for ingress and comfort, but for egress and safety they were like those of every other theatre. The outer entrance was shut off from the street by three doors. Two of these opened on to a corridor, on the left of which was the box office, and at the further end the ticket-taker's stand, with movable doors, kept shut until a few moments before the close of the performance. An orderly and an unexcited audience would have no difficulty in getting out, for there were two large doors opening from the first circle on to the corridor, which in turn led to the movable doors referred to. The third door at the front entrance opened on a short and narrow hall, on one side of which was the party wall, and on the other a high iron part.i.tion. From this hall one long flight of narrow stairs led, two stories up, to the gallery. At all times the exodus of the gallery boys, in all theatres, is noisy and turbulent, but on an occasion like this no words could picture the rush. Critical examination of the places of exit from the lower sections of the theatre affords no ground for censure of the architect, but the gallery exit couldn't by any ingenuity be worse. Under ordinary circ.u.mstances five minutes' time would amply suffice to empty the house, but when disorder and confusion reign no deduction can be made, because the base of information is necessarily unreliable.

[Ill.u.s.tration: "My G.o.d! if the Door should be locked."

Mein Gott! wenn die Thur verschlossen ware.]

As far as experience and money could secure immunity from danger, the Brooklyn Theatre was equal to the best appointed playhouses. Every gas jet was shielded by gauze shades. No smoking was allowed in any of the rooms. No matches were tolerated. No one but the gas man, Mr. Webster, was permitted to light the gas. In the rear of the left hand proscenium box was Mr. Thorpe's private office. It communicated with the box and also with the auditorium. It was used this week by Mr.

Thorne as a dressing room. Mrs. Thorne was, as always, with him. On the other side of the stage, behind the other box, was f.a.n.n.y Morant's room. Instead of remaining till the close of the piece, she left at the end of the fifth act. Above Thorpe's room was a dressing room at the top of an exceedingly narrow stairway, occupied by Murdoch and Burroughs.

_Other Memorable Disasters by Fire._

The disaster at the Brooklyn Theatre far surpa.s.ses in loss of life any accident by fire in this country or Europe. Theatres have been frequently burned and losses of life have not been uncommon, but the Brooklyn tragedy is altogether unparalleled. The disaster at Richmond, Va., December 16, 1811, when seventy persons were killed, has up to this time been known as the most terrible of the cla.s.s, but it is many times overshadowed by the Brooklyn fire.

The following are the princ.i.p.al theatres that have been burned in this country, with loss of life:

National Theatre, Philadelphia, Ninth and Chestnut streets, July 6, 1854, and an actor named Shepherd burned.

Fox's Theatre, Philadelphia, Walnut street, below Ninth, June 19, 1867. None of the audience were injured, but ten firemen and five spectators were killed by the falling of the front wall, and thirty persons were injured.

The following theatres were burned without loss of life:

Front street, Baltimore, Feb. 3, 1838; Melodeon, Pittsburg, 1865; Silbee's Lyceum, Philadelphia, July 21, 1851; Gaiety, New Orleans, Nov. 7, 1854; Adelphi, San Francisco, May, 1851; Sandford's Opera House, Philadelphia, 1851; Winter Garden, New York, March 23, 1867; Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, April 2, 1820; Columbia Museum, Boston, January 15, 1807; Park Theatre, New York, 1848; City Museum, Philadelphia, Nov., 1868; Academy of Music, New York, May 22, 1866; Butler's American Theatre, Fifth Avenue, New York, January 1, 1872; Waverly, New York, 1872; Adelphi, Boston, February 4, 1871; and theatres during the Chicago fire, Oct. 8 and 9, 1871; Arch Street Opera House, March 20, 1872, and Barnum's Hippodrome, December 24, 1872.

_Scenes and Incidents._

How true it is that it requires great events to bring out latent properties in the minds of the every-day people one meets. Especially is this true of woman.

"Oh, woman, in our hours of ease, Inconstant, shy, and hard to please; When pain and anguish wring the brow A ministering angel, thou."

Another of the many instances of such devotion as Scott hints at in these lines was witnessed on that terrible night. While the fire was in progress, a fireman near the entrance on Washington street saw a strange sight. An undersized, delicate-looking woman came staggering out, carrying literally on her back and shoulders a man weighing apparently a hundred and fifty pounds. Thinking the man was hurt, a.s.sistance was offered. It appeared, however, that the man (who was the father of the girl) was paralyzed on one side, and that, fearing he would be unable to make his way out, his daughter had lifted him up bodily and carried him from the parquet to the front entrance. She desired no further help than the placing of him on a car, and left the scene before his name could be ascertained.

_A Terrible Moment of Suspense._

In one of those graphic narratives of her experience on the eventful night that proved such a trying ordeal to her, and was yet borne with such high-souled self-possession, Miss Kate Claxton relates one incident of intense interest. * * * "The back entrance was by this time a perfect h.e.l.l of fire. Miss Harrison, on my call, rushed from her room and darted by me into a little subterranean pa.s.sage, which led from the stage under the floor to the box office in front of the house. No such pa.s.sage exists in other theatres. It was designed by Mrs. Conway when the theatre was built, so that she could readily communicate with her treasurer. I rapidly followed Miss Harrison, and it seemed as if the fire, swept by the draught, almost licked the clothes from our backs as we entered the pa.s.sage. As we fled through it I remembered that it was closed at the other end by a door with a spring lock, and was usually kept closed, one of the ushers carrying the key. As I reached the flight of three or four steps leading up to the door my heart stood still, and I hesitated to try it. I thought,

_'My G.o.d, if it is locked!'_

Outside of the door we could hear the roaring of the maddened mult.i.tude struggling through the pa.s.sage without. We must really have hesitated only a flash, but it seemed to me that we stood there for hours. The door fortunately was open, and we were in a second inside the box office. With the strength of despair we burst the door open against the struggling throng, and in an instant were in their midst.

We had yet some distance to go; the fire followed us fast, and there was still a crowd of excited people to pa.s.s through. We got into the crowd and dashed along, heedless that now and again we felt that we had trod upon a human being. Once I looked down and saw a human face, horribly distorted and burned. Oh, my G.o.d! it was a fearful sight. I shall never forget it. Afterward I saw the injured man taken out. He was horribly injured, and I think, must be dead. As soon as we got into the street we dashed into the police station. There a gentleman loaned me his overcoat, and after a short stay in the station we walked around home."

_Escaping through the Grating._

William Kerr, of Hamden street, Brooklyn, says that he was in front of the theatre when the fire broke out. He attempted to enter the theatre, but was prevented, and stepping back to the street he heard a noise beneath the sidewalk. The iron plate over the coal-hole was pushed up, and the head and shoulders of a man appeared. He pulled the man to the sidewalk, and he was followed by another man. He was then ordered off by the police. The police clapped the plate back, and nothing is known of the fate of the men who went back.

_Mad Struggles for Life._

When the rush from the parquet was at its height a father and mother with their child had made their way as far as the lobby, when the father, who held the child in his arms, was knocked down by the crowd.

The child fell with its father, and its cries could be heard above all the din. The father struggled to his feet, and as he arose with the child in his grasp, the blood flowed from several gashes in his face and crimsoned his shirt. At the sight of the blood the wife shrieked and immediately fainted, falling upon the people directly in front of her. Two men who appeared to think less of themselves than of others, lifted her up, and after a desperate struggle succeeded in removing her to the street, thence to the police station, where she was afterward joined by her husband and child. The man was found to have been badly injured by being trampled upon, beside being cut about the face.

In another instance a wife became separated from her husband. The husband had fallen beneath the feet of the crowd, and his face was trampled into an almost unrecognizable ma.s.s. The woman became frenzied and clutching her hat tore it from her head. Few people paid any attention to her. Her cries were heard on the street.

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Burning of the Brooklyn Theatre Part 2 summary

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