© 2002-2017 Leona L. Gustafson
Ohio State Journal
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Thursday, November 19, 1868
CENTRAL LUNATIC ASYLUM
Seven Inmates Perish In the Flames
TERRIFIC SCENES AND
TRANSFER OF THE INMATES TO OTHER BUILDINGS.
The Central Ohio Lunatic Asylum was last night almost entirely destroyed by fire. The fire originated in the north dormitory of the east wing, and was discovered about 0 o'clock. It was amusement night, and many of the inmates were collected in the Amusement Hall. The alarm was telegraphed to the engine houses, and the entire [Fire] Department was almost immediately on the ground. The flames spread very rapidly, and the work of rescuing the inmates was at once commenced. In the confusion seven persons perished in the flames, or were suffocated by the smoke. The bodies were secured by the most strenuous exertions, though the persons who carried them out were much injured.
The water thrown by the engines seemed for a time to retard the flame, but about ten o'clock the cisterns were exhausted. The scene at this time beggars all description. The frantic inmates being hurried from the burning building, the whole east wing of which was now in flames—coming, some of them, from beds of slumber, and worse, from beds of sickness—taken from windows and rushing out of doors; the engines all at work; men shouting and rushing from one point to another, carrying out furniture and tossing it from windows.
All this time the city seemed scarcely awake to the great disaster, comparatively few persons being on the ground. All omnibuses and carriages in the city were ordered to the asylum, and the inmates were transferred to the Deaf and Dumb Asylum, where they were as well cared for as possible. The scenes attending this transfer were of the most startling character, but it was believed no serious accident occurred.
When the water in the cisterns in the vicinity of the Asylum was exhausted, water was forced from other cisterns in the city, though this weakened the working force of the [Fire] Department on the ground. A strong stream was poured upon the building for hours after the Asylum cisterns gave out. The fire extended soon along the roof of the entire east wing, then along the front part of the main building to the extreme west end. For a time the wings in the center and on the west extending north were free from fire, but at this writing (2 A. M.) the indications are that the building will be entirely destroyed. The greater part of the furniture was saved, though much of it in a damaged condition. There was no insurance on the building. The names of the inmates who perished in the flames could not be ascertained with any certainty.
Dr. S. M. Smith, President of the Board of Trustees, was early on the ground and remained to the last, working with Dr. Peck, the Superintendent, to manage for the best. Numerous citizens spent almost the entire night at the building, assisting the Fire Department, and joining in the work of removing furniture.
The firemen worked with almost super-human energy, and had there been a sufficient supply of water might have accomplished much.
The disaster is one of the most terrible kind. The announcement will strike the people at large, as it did the citizens of Columbus last night, with a terror that cannot be spoken.
OUR FIRST SNOW came last night with the most terrible event that ever occurred in Columbus, the destruction of the Central Lunatic Asylum by fire. It will never be forgotten.
COURT OF COMMON PLEAS.—Yesterday was a busy day with the Grand Jury; but little business was done in Court. Court adjourned till 9 A. M., to-day.
HUMPTY DUMPTY.—The fire at the Lunatic Asylum last night prevents the giving of proper attention to the presentation of Humpty Dumpty last night at the Opera House. We can only say that the house was crowded, and that "Humpty Dumpty" is indescribable.
THE EXAMINATION of Judge Pugh, at Cincinnati, was not concluded yesterday. Stanley Matthews appears as counsel for the defense.
WM. H. RAREY, our fellow citizen, of Groveport, and brother of John S. Rarey, deceased, is about to commence a series of lectures on the are of taming wild horses.
TRANSFERS OF REAL ESTATE filed at the Recorder's office of Franklin county, Nov 18, 1868:
John C. Platter et al to Peter Palmer, lots 113 and 115 and "Masonic" lot in the town of Lockbourne, Dec, 3, 1866; $1,000.
Rebecca Miller to Isaac N. Case, quit claim to 100 acres of land in Perry township, Sept. 16, 1868; $375.
Friday, November 20, 1868
BURNING OF THE CENTRAL OHIO LUNATIC ASYLUM.
The Central Ohio Lunatic Asylum, situated at the eastern extremity of Broad street, in Columbus, was destroyed by fire on Wednesday night. To give friends at a distance some slight conception of the most terrible calamity that has ever befallen this city, is our present purpose and desire.
The origin of the fire is, and will probably remain, a mystery. It was first discovered shortly before ten, near the northern extremity of the east wing of the Asylum, which is occupied by the female inmates, and dense smoke began to issue from those wards and cells in which are confined the incurable class of patients. About two hundred of the patients were absent from their wards, having been conducted in the early part of the evening to the large Amusement Hall, where they had been joined by a large number of ladies and gentlemen from the city, and where both sane and insane were mingling together in friendly intercourse and enjoying the exciting pleasures of the dance. At first discovery, the fire caused no serious alarm. It was thought that the flames could be easily subdued, and the prompt arrival of the fire companies, which had been telegraphed, strengthened the confidence of all in this belief. But the firemen were able to do absolutely nothing to check the progress of the flames. The water thrown upon the building floated of the tin roof, and ran down to the waterspouts like rain. The iron grates or bars broke the force of the streams of water turned against them, and prevented the water from penetrating the rooms except in the form of spray. And instead of running the hose through the halls of the building and beating the flames back from within, they were driven forward by attacks in the rear from without. In a brief time it was announced that the supply of water in the cisterns was exhausted, and then the fearful truth flashed upon the minds of all that the entire Asylum was lost. The Whole of this magnificent structure was at once abandoned to destruction. One of those indiscribable [sic.] scenes then followed, which are beheld but once in a life time, a faithful impression of which canno[t] be conveyed to those absent from the appalling spectacle.
The flames cut of communication between the extreme end of the east wing and the main building, so that the only hope of rescuing the worst class of female inmates from their peri[l]ous position was by breaking through the heavily-barred windows, or cutting a passage-way through the tin-plated roof. Ladders were thrown against the Asylum's walls, the strong iron grating covering the windows was torn away, and the shrieking lunatics were tenderly taken in the arms of strong, brave men, and borne down the long ladders to the ground. Some were led along the steep roof of the Conservatory building, and thence handed carefully down to a place of safety; others were dragged through holes cut in the ceilings of their cells, and passing out upon the high roof of the main building, moved through the storm like spectres walking in the air or upon the sea. May of these unfortunate women were almost entirely nude. Some had nothing on but their night clothing, some had sheets or blankets wrapped about their heads; others with their hair streaming in the wind, looked like furies let loose. The feet of almost all were without covering, and not a few were without covering upon the upper portion of their persons.
A stranger spectacle was presented in another part of this extraordinary scene. All the female patients whose rooms could be reached had been assembled in the large Amusement Hall, and had there been locked to prevent their escape. Almost all the guards and attendants being engaged in saving property and life; these congregated maniacs were left to indulge all the wild fancies and vagaries of their distempered minds. Some kneeled down and engaged in earnest prayer, some engaged in loud exhortations, some declared that they had just reached the place of final torments and that the flames around them were the flames of hell, while others indulged in loud laughter and jests, now muttering horrid oaths, now lifting their eyes in supplication, and again dancing in a perfect ecstasy of delight. One immense woman sprang with one bound upon the beautiful piano at the head of the room, and with her heavy shoes danced so long and with such violence upon it, that although the lunatic's neck was not broken, the instrument was completely destroyed.
In the removal of these raving maniacs in carriages and omnibuses they generally presented a very quiet demeanor and gave but little trouble, except that some manifested an unaccountable disposition to rush back into the flames from which they had just been rescued.
Sleeping in rooms next to the one in which the fire originated were the six ill-fated women who suffered the agonies of death by suffocation before help could reach them. Their lifeless bodies were snatched from the flames, and being borne out from the reach of the devouring element, lay stretched amid the falling snow, upon the grass, rendering more ghastly and ghostly the harrowing scene.
Before midnight the patients had all been removed to the Hospital, the Deaf and Dumb Asylum and the Penitentiary, and at this hour, if not before, all hope of saving any part of this magnificent structure had been utterly abandoned. The flames had run along under the tin roofing like fire along the grass on the prairie, and shot heavenward, muttering rythms [sic.] of vengeance up the sky. A river of fire, extending hundreds of yards, seemed to flow on, when fanned by the winds, like the waves of the sea.
Soon after midnight, ten thousand people had reached the grounds. Almost a thousand of these set themselves to work to save the furniture and other movable property of the Institution. Bedsteads, chairs, tables, pianos, desks, mirrors, blankets, quilts, dishes, books, musical instruments and paintings were carried out at the doors or hurled from the windows, and being deposited in the yard, formed innumerable mounds and tumuli like the ruins and debris after an earthquake's destruction.
Today, these massive walls, in their magnitude and solemn grandeur, call to mind the monuments and remains of Imperial Rome. An Institution, the largest save one in the Union—which for thirty years has been the pride and glory of our noble State, has passed away. But it will reappear again, grander in its proportions, broader in the charities and more boundless in its blessings to the brotherhood of man.
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