© 2002-2017 Leona L. Gustafson

Ohio State Journal
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Friday, November 20, 1868
Page 8

Burning of Lunatic Asylum

Full Particulars and Incidents.



The Central Ohio Lunatic Asylum was almost entirely destroyed by fire on Wednesday night. The fire originated in the upper part of the northeast wing, and was discovered about nine o'clock. Appearances indicated that it had been burning for a considerable time, though the attendant states that she had been absent but about fifteen minutes. The room from which the flames and smoke issued at the time of discovery, was a dormitory in the extreme north end of the wing, was nearest the roof, and was separated from another dormitory by a narrow hall. The entire wing was occupied by women, and in this dormitory were several patients who appear to have been suffocated by the first whirl of dense smoke that poured down from the space between the ceiling and the roof.


The annual meeting of the Board of Trustees had taken place on Tuesday, and a great number of the patients with friends and officers of the institution were having a pleasant reunion in what was known as the Amusement Hall, when the alarm of fire was given. This at first did not cause much excitement, but when the extent of the disaster was discovered the utmost consternation prevailed. There were in the building about three hundred and thirty patients, including sixty of the most violent cases, which were in the hospital, a building entirely isolated from the main building.

The alarm brought the three engines promptly to the ground, and work was at once commenced. The "John Miller" was disabled early, and the "Ridgeway" was sent to replace it. This engine is the one that was laid aside some time ago on account of some disarrangement, and was of but little service. In about an hour after the engines commenced throwing water, the supply in the Asylum cisterns was exhausted.


The fire had progressed steadily all this time, and it seems evident that the building could not be saved. As soon as the fire was discovered, the removal of patients from the northeast wing commenced. The flame and dense smoke made it almost impossible to penetrate the rooms in the vicinity of the fire, and several persons who attempted to enter, were carried off helpless—almost suffocated. Among these was Mr. S. S. Rickley, who had pressed forward to rescue inmates, said to be in the room, with the greatest bravery.

Mr. Louis Seibert, Thomas Kelley, Mr. Hawkins, and one of the attendants at the Asylum particularly distinguished themselves in this effort, and succeeded in taking from the rooms the lifeless bodies of six patients. Other patients were rescued, with burns or other injury, or in such a state of helplessness as to revive only with the application of proper restoratives. In making this effort the gentlemen named were burned and otherwise injured, but they persevered until all were taken out.

The patients in the portions of the building not immediately endangered, exhibited no undue excitement with the exception of those aroused from slumber.

All available omnibuses, and carriages in the city were ordered to the Asylum as soon as it became evident that removal was necessary, and the transfer to the new Deaf and Dumb Asylum building on Town street commenced. This was attended with much difficulty, but was finally accomplished.


The engine whistle by this time had sounded the terrible "no water;" citizens were carrying and tossing and tumbling articles of furniture from the building; attendants and employees were busy with the two hundred frantic patients, carrying some from the burning building half-dressed, seating and reseating others in the carriages and omnibuses; a few of the more unfortunate patients were being taken from upper windows; women were kneeling beside the six lifeless forms placed upon the lawn, making vain efforts to restore; firemen maddened in their extremity and almost powerless, with the flames creeping steadily to the front of the building, and flashing out ever and anon from the central chimneys, rushed about as directed or as they deemed best; the building, now half in flames, loomed up as grand a fire picture was was ever beheld, and the scene was grand beyond description.


Arrangements were made to obtain a supply of water from distant cisterns; the long line of omnibuses and carriages moved toward the Deaf and Dumb Asylum, seeming in the strange light like a funeral procession. And the city at last having aroused from a seeming stupor, poured a flood of excited people into the grounds. The fire from this time progressed rapidly. There seemed to be a space of three or four feet between the ceiling and the roof, and this being favorable to a draft, the fire followed the roof around until by one o'clock it had enveloped the west wing as well as the front and east wing.

The roof was tin, was supported by heavy oak timbers, and was very difficult to perforate in any way. The central wing, which extends north, midway between the east and west wings, was saved almost entire. In this were the kitchen, bake-house, engine room, carpenter shops, &c. All the engines remained on the ground until nearly morning, and one until eleven o'clock yesterday.



The hospital building, in which were confined the worst cases, was not injured at all. The walls of the main building remain standing almost intact, the handsome stone corners of the front being most shattered.

Hundreds of people visited the grounds yesterday, and in the evening the massive ruin, with a fitful tongue of flame flashing out here and there; feasting on a window frame; pouncing upon a hidden bit of ornamental work; dancing on an isolated patch of flooring; with the thousand school children and ladies and gentlemen, strolling about the lawn half green and half white; and the workmen tired and drooping, and the steward and attendants bowed as if stricken with sudden sorrow; and the screams of the inmates of the hospital made the scene almost as peculiar as on Wednesday night.


The furniture was yesterday disposed of in different ways: The bedding and clothing were taken to the Deaf and Dumb Asylum. Much of the furniture was stored in the central wing of the building. Other portions were taken to the State House and the Rink. Much of this is damaged, but the loss will not be heavy.

The building was the oldest Asylum in the State, additions having been made from time to time until it was the largest perhaps, or having the greatest accommodating capacity. It had been in use from twenty to thirty years. The actual loss to the State will scarcely reach $200,000.

At the meeting of the Board on Tuesday, the various reports showed the most favorable condition of things. The system almost perfect; the success in treatment greater than ever before; and the remark was made that it was a model institution. The next evening it was in ruins.

The Governor will recommend in his message to the General Assembly, which meets on Monday next, the immediate reconstruction of the building on the fire-proof plan.

The Board of Trustees, is now composed of Dr. S. M. Smith, President; Judge Wm. B. Thrall, Secretary; Henry B. Curtis, Henry Wilson, John Hunter, and Dr. Wm. Fullerton, and all expressed their unqualified satisfaction with the management.


Dr. Smith and Mr. Hunter spent the entire day yesterday with Dr. Peck, arranging for the comforts of the patients. In answer to telegrams prompt and generous responses were received from the Northern Ohio Lunatic Asylum, offering accom-modations for 120 inmates, and the Long View Asylum offering accommodations for 80. No response was received from the Southern Asylum at Dayton, but a favorable one is expected.

Many of the counties sent yesterday answering telegrams, stating willingness to take charge of their insane. The officers from Muskingum county arrived last night to receive their patients. About 25 of those not seriously affected were yesterday sent to their homes, and in a few days it is hoped that every patient will be cared for.


The following are the names of all that are known to have perished in the building: Miss Caroline Conner, Miss Lizzie Herrold, and Mrs. C. Bradford, of Athens county; Mrs. Murphy, (over 80 years of age), of Wyandotte county; Mrs. Susan A. Parker, of Licking county, and Bridget Brophy of Franklin. The remains await the order of relatives. Several observers are quite certain that a man perished in a different portion of the building, but nothing definite is known in regard to this.


All the patients were accounted for at the Deaf and Dumb Asylum, but twelve or fifteen, who escaped in the confusion. Six of these returned or were returned to the Asylum yesterday. Of the others, all but one were well enough to reach home, for which they no doubt started. One man walked a distance of thirty miles, reaching his home yesterday, carrying the news of the disaster.

The scenes at the Deaf and Dumb Asylum on the arrival of such a host of such strange visitors can be better imagined than described. Over a hundred pupils were aroused from warm beds and forced to double on their comrades in upper dormitories, giving their warm beds to the shivering, and frightened visitors. Study rooms were transformed into wards for the more violent, and by 2 P. M., yesterday, everything had settled down to smooth going order.

Among the few pleasant incidents is related that one of the patients, when released from the burning building on Wednesday night, and hearing the order for transfer to the Deaf and Dumb Asylum, picked up a fellow patient, much larger than himself and quite as able to walk, and carried him the entire distance to the Deaf and Dumb Asylum. In contrast her is one of the saddest:

A week ago a young girl arrived at the Asylum from Delaware. On the receipt of the news on Wednesday night at Delaware, her cousin started on the midnight train, and reached the Asylum grounds to find her lifeless remains upon the lawn.

The sadness and sorrow of the terrible disaster can never be told. The Superintendent and Matron and officers of the institution are devoting themselves to their sad work, and deserve the warmest praise.

The Board of Trustees desire us to express their thanks for the faithful aid rendered by all classes of citizens. Many of the medical profession rendered most efficient assistance.


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