Saturday, November 12, 2011

John H. Harrington's Editorial in The Lowell Sun in the Aftermath of the New York State Capitol Fire

March 31, 1911, The Lowell [Mass.] Sun, Editorial, [John H. Harrington, Proprietor] Page 12,


In the fire horror of New York city and the subsequent destruction of the capitol at Albany not only the state of New York but the entire country has an object lesson in the need of greater vigilance in the matter of providing protection against fire. Where the laws are lax and officials still worse, there is ever present the danger of such disasters as have visited New York state during the past week. How can such calamities be averted in the future? By strict laws to minimize the danger, to promote preventive measures and to maintain well disciplined fire departments. Unless heroic measures are adopted we may find some great conflagration such as that of Chelsea, Chicago or San Francisco to wipe out an entire city. The fire peril is becoming more dangerous as the years go by, and it would seem that legislative bodies are mainly to blame for the unguarded state of affairs in many cities and states.

That any state capitol should be left in such a dangerous condition as was that of New York, is beyond comprehension. That the priceless records of the city and state should have been exposed to loss by fire at any moment shows criminal negligence. There is a bad odor about the state capitol, not because of the fire, for this odor has attached to it for many years, in fact since the capitol was built. The structure has been the scene of many grafting schemes. The very construction of the building was the pretext for all kinds of swindling operations, mismanagement and incompetency. The building itself is located on a quicksand and parts of it have been sagging and sinking for years. The building was left without a tower on the assumption that this would be added later, but subsequently it was found that the foundation and supports were not strong enough to carry a tower. Is it any wonder that the building was an accumulation of botchery when the first architect after starting the work was dropped, the second abandoned it as a bad job and the third endeavored to make the best of the tangle. The New York capitol, it may he said, represents the work of many administrations, each of which sought to make money out of the job. Much that was badly done by one administration seemed to inspire other administrations to do something still worse until by the time the capitol was finished it had cost the state $25,000,000 and was not worth half the amount. But bad as it was known to be, nobody supposed it was a fire trap that would burn up in a few hours in spite of all the efforts of fire companies.

There is here a sorry spectacle in the work of public construction and fire protection. How could sane men construct and furnish a state capitol without a safety vault for the preservation of valuable records? There may have been some apology of this kind, but it did not save the records from destruction. The whole affair is a disgrace to the state and especially to the political bosses and leaders, from Lucius Robinson to John A. Dix and including Theodore Roosevelt, Tom Platt and David B. Hill. It would be difficult to say now just where the weight of the blame lay for making the state capitol a tinder box, but it is quite probable that one party is as much to blame for this result as the other. Both apparently shared in the extravagance, mismanagement and incompetence that produced the monstrosity.

It is stated that $4,000,000 will repair the damage. In all probability the expense will be more nearly $10,000,000, and then the capitol will be still a mass of defects, a building scarcely sufficient to support its own weight. Many New York citizens have cause to regret that the building was not destroyed outright so that a capitol might be built to meet all requirements in a decent way and so that the state might eventually have a state capitol that in architecture and convenience might compare with some of the best in the country.

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