This week, we remember the 1899 St. Patrick's Day tragedy known as the Windsor Hotel Fire.
As the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade passed by the Windsor Hotel on March 17, 1899, the curtains of the hotel’s front parlor windows ignited when a lit match was thrown into the street. This fire would become—at the time—the deadliest hotel fire to date in the U.S. with forty-five people dead.
The perpetrator who threw the match immediately fled the hotel without giving alarm. By the time the fire was discovered by a waiter, the entire parlor was in flames.
From the NFPA Quarterly vol.23, no.3, 1930:
“Unaided he made a brave effort to subdue the fire, but it was apparent that more help was needed. The St. Patrick’s Day parade was passing at the time. The streets were lined with spectators and guarded by policemen, interested onlookers were leaning out of the windows of the hotel itself, and strains of many brass bands deadened all other sound. As the head waiter, calling “Fire,” ran into the street and endeavored to reach an alarm box, which, unfortunately, was situated on the other side of Fifth Avenue, he was prevented from crossing by a puzzled policeman, who could not understand the excited man’s incoherent explanations above the din of the music.
The smoke and flames soon told their own story…”
Written by Jenny DeRocher, Simmons College '18 MLIS Candidate.
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