|San Francisco Call, 04-May-1897|
125 years ago today, a fire broke out at a large charity bazaar which was being held in a temporary building in Paris. At least 126 people died and many more were injured. It was later determined that the operator of a cinematograph (movie projector) lit by an ether lamp caused the fire, which quickly spread to his collection of movies on nitrocellulose film and to the building, which was made out of wood and tarpaper. Some of the victims could only be identified by jewelry or, in at least one case, forensic dentistry.
Anna Gould, Countess Castellane and daughter of robber baron Jay Gould, lived until l961.
This accident and some others led to improvements in fire safety and regulations on the use of movie projectors.
PERISH IN A
Burning of a Building
Used as a Charity
HORRIBLE STAMPEDE OF
Women With Their Clothing
Ablaze Rushed Madly
SCORES OF BODIES REMOVED
FROM THE RUINS.
As an Aftermath There Will Be Mourning
Among Society Leaders of Several Countries -- A Sister of the Empress of
Austria and Countess Castellane
(Anna Gould) Reported
PARIS. France, May 4. -- The grand Bazaar des Charities, inaugurated yesterday, ended this afternoon in a disaster which caused the loss of at least 200 lives and which has thrown many of the best known families in France and other Continental countries into mourning.
The flimsy structure in the Rue Jean Goujon, in which the bazaar was held, built entirely of planks and cloths, caught fire at 4:30 o'clock and in a few minutes was reduced to a heap of ashes.
Fully 1800 people were in the bazaar at the time. There was a wild rush for the exits, which were quickly blocked with struggling masses of humanity, and many of those seeking to escape were knocked down and trampled to death, while others were suffocated in the awful crush.
The roof collapsed shortly after the fire started, burying scores who were still struggling to escape.
Among the dead are many leaders of Continental society. It is reported that several English and American visitors were also cremated. Among the reported missing is the Duchesse d'Alencon, a sister of the Empress of Austria and the wife of Prince Ferdinand of Orleans. The Duchess d'Uzes was injured.
Among those killed were:
VICOMTESSE DE BONNEVAL.
BARONNE DE MAUNDAY-GRACEY.
BARONNE DE SAINT-MARTIN.
VICOMTESSE DE SAINT-FERIER.
COMTESSE DE BRADEVILLE.
MME. DE CLERMONT.
MME. HAUSMANN, WITE OF FORMER PREFECT.
SISTER GINOUX DE FIRMONT. SUPERIOR OF THE CONVENT DE RAINCEY.
MME DE CARION LATOUR AND TWO DAUGHTERS OF COMTE DE CHEVILLY.
COMTESSE DE MOUSTIER.
COMTESS DE MIMMERS.
THE WIFE OF GENERAL MEUNIER.
MMES DE FLORES AND BRAZIER DE THUY.
NINETEEN SISTERS belonging to the convent of Notre Dame de Bon Secours.
More than 100 corpses have not been identified.
The injured include: Duchesse de Latorre, Vicomtesse d'Avenel, Comtesse de Raincey, Marquise de Lubessos, Marquis de Gallifet, General Mounier, General de Bire; Mesdames de Macedo, Dubreuil, Recamier, De Challemel, Malezieux, and Comte de Montclair, Comte du Vesia, Baronne de Lissingen, Comtesse d'Hora and daughter.
The bazaar was held by a representative syndicate of the chief charitable institutions, which every year unite for the purpose of selling all kinds of articles, the profits from which are devoted to the relief of the poor. The receipts each year have amounted to about 1,000,000 francs.
The fire started in a cinematograph installation near the stall of the Duchesse d'Uzes. It is supposed the fire originated from an imperfectly insulated electric wire.
The flames spread with such frightful rapidity that the building was almost immediately a raging furnace. The fire started immediately after the departure of Msgr. Clari, Papal Nuncio, who attended the function for the purpose of giving his blessing.
The building had eight exits. The place where the fire started was on the left side of the structure, and the visitors and those attending the stalls rushed for the exit on the right. In the mad panic which followed, every one, with a few noble exceptions, fought for his own life.
The majority of the dead seem to have been mercifully suffocated before being burned. In the awful struggle to get out of the building most of the ladies who escaped lost part of their clothing. Some of them were almost nude, their skirts and petticoats being stripped off. As they rushed out of the burning structure they fell swooning in the street.
More than 150 escaped through a window of the Hotel dv Palais, upon which the bazaar building backed.
Nachtel, the director of the ambulances, says he saw a group of corpses seated witb their heads burned off.
Mme. Lucie Faure, daughter of the President, escaped, owing to her making a call on her way to the bazaar. Her parents suffered cruel anxiety for more than an hour. Mme. Lucie arrived on the scene after the roof fell.
- The firemen and gendarmes were promptly on hand, but when they arrived the building was in ruins and all their efforts were directed to removing the dead and injured.
From the stories told by the survivors it is learned that the dresses of a number of ladies caught fire before they scarcely had an opportunity to attempt to escape, and their shrieks of agony as they ran hither and thither in blind terror added to the panic. They ran into crowds near the exits, and in this manner the fire communicated to the clothing of others, who either perished miserably or were frightfully burned.
The bodies thus far recovered have been removed to the Palais de l'lndustrie, close to the scene of the fire. It will be impossible to identify all, many of them being burned beyond recognition. Some of them were completely carbonized, while others were without heads or limbs.
So far as can be learned about 500 persons were enveloped in the flames, the others in the building having managed to effect an escape before the fire gained great headway. A hundred and fifty seriously injured have been taken to the hospitals or are being treated at their homes.
The ruins are still smoking to-night. Until they have cooled sufficiently to allow a thorough search it will be impossible to know the extent and number of the victims.
Great crowds gathered at the fire, but could render no assistance to the imprisoned people owing to the intensity of the heat. Twenty minutes after the fire was discovered the building was wholly destroyed.
The excitement in Paris was hardly imaginable. Everybody seemed to forget to dine, and the theaters were virtually empty. Thousands of persons from all parts of the city rushed to the Champs Elysees, and the crowd in the streets leading to the Rue Jean Goujon resembled that which assembled in the Place de la Concorde on September 4, 1870.
There were distressing scenes around the Palace de l'lndustrie, where the bodies and fragments of bodies were deposited. Scores of persons were awaiting admission to seek for the identity of relatives. Dozens were admitted at a time, but the improvised mortuary was so full it was impossible to meet the demands fast enough. Many were sobbing, while others were laughing hysterically or accusing the police of cruelty in excluding them.
Every time a number of persons were admitted groans were raised by those left behind. A reporter who entered says policemen walked to and fro with lighted torches, the smoke from which make everything blurred and indistinct, like a London fog.
Hurdles were fixed around the ball, on the other side of which were heaps of apparently old clothes, though a close inspection showed they, were unrecognizable bits of bodies. In the center of the room was a pile of deal coffins.
About one hundred bodies have been recovered, and it is believed that at least another hundred are yet under the ruins.
As news of the disaster spread hundreds of carriages went streaming along the Champs Elysees, conveying people seeking relatives. Within a half hour there were witnessed indescribable scenes of grief. One lady on reaching the scene went mad.
The building was about 300 feet long and 200 wide. The interior represented a street of medieval Paris buildings and the decorations of which were bought from the managers of preceding exhibitions by Baron Mackau and presented to the syndicate for the occasion. The shops and houses with their quaint balconies and peaked gables were utilized as stalls for a display of costly and beautiful fabrics.
The lists of the dead and wounded are very incomplete, and those cabled may possibly prove incorrect here and there. No two are alike.
Some reports say the Duchesse d'Alencon certainly perished, while others deny this. The Duke d'Alencon was injured.
Viscomtesse d'Avenel, who is now said to be dead, was the wife of the celebrated writer for the Revue des Deux Mondes.
Mme. de Flores, reported dead, was the wife of the Spanish Consul.
No Americans have been identified among the dead, nor are any definitely declared to be missing. Miss Elsie Bushbeck of Philadelphia was in the building, but escaped.
One of the many rumors impossible to verify in the confusion says the Countess of Castellane (Anna Gould) was in the building.
LONDON, ENG., May 4. -- A Paris dispatch to the Chronicle says Msgr. Clari, Papal Nuncio, is missing. Six Dominican monks perished. The dispatch adds the first estimates of the loss of life were far below actuality. The Prefecture of Police believes 350 perished. The Times says many foreigners were among the stall keepers, including a number of English and Americans. It adds it is feared some of them are among the victims.