Sunday, December 04, 2011


This must be the newspaper of record for the dark side. It makes the New York Times read like something off the afternoon schedule of the Lifetime Network. None of this needed to make it into print back then, yet here it is -- 100 years later.

March 29, 1911, Utica Herald-Dispatch, Page 1, (Transcript.)



Assembly and Senate Chambers Rendered Unfit for Occupancy and the State Library With Its Priceless Records Was Wiped Out, Together With Other Departments of State Government—Defective Wires Blamed for Fire Which Caused Financial Loss Mounting Into the Millions.

Albany. March 20.—Fire to-day destroyed a large section of that historic $25,000,000 pile, the State Capitol. Three wings of the building were gutted, the main structure was badly damaged and its million dollar staircase wrecked. The State Library, one of the greatest in the United States, went up in smoke with hundreds of thousands of costly books and numberless priceless documents. The Senate and Assembly libraries were also destroyed. The flames caused monetary damage of fully $10,000,000, but no money can replace the records and documents destroyed.

Night Watchman Samuel Abbott was burned to death while attempt ing to fight the flames.

The legislative business of the State was halted and the Senate and Assembly, which for weeks have been trying to elect a United States Senator, had to shift their sittings to the City Hall, the building being tendered by the municipality as a temporary Capitol.

Several Persons Injured.

Several of the Assemblymen were injured by falling debris, but none was seriously hurt Three men who were injured were taken to the Homeopathic HoepitaL They are: John Brennan, John Whitmyer and William Rogers. The latter may die.

For more than ten hours the firemen have been fighting the flames under the direction of Chief Bridgeford and are utterly exhausted.

Though the fire has been brought under control, sporadic outbursts of flames have kept the department on the jump. It is believed that by to-morrow part of the eastern section, will be rendered habitable, the largest part of the damage there having been caused by water.

The fire started at 2:30 this morning in a room on the third floor used by Assemblyman A. J. Levy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and was swept by a high wind across intervening courts to the other wings. The northwestern and southwestern wings were destroyed. At 8 o'clock the fire was still burning in the west wing, but the firemen had it under control.

The fire, which was well under way when discovered by a night watchman in Washington avenue, was fed by tons of paper in the library rooms and spread rapidly. The doomed wings were a seething furnace when the firemen arrived. Legislators; aroused from their beds by the excitement, aided the fire fighters. Many of them rushed to the building to carry out documents and books.

Night Watchman Abbott, the missing man, was employed to patrol the library wings. The firemen battered down doors and searched the corridor for him while the flames raged, but they were so filled with smoke and the terrific heat that firemen were driven back after a futile quest. Assemblyman Terry of Kings County and Assemblyman McDaniels of Tompkins County assisted the firemen.

Adjutant General Verbeck saved a number of valuable papers from his office on the second floor.

Insulation Was Defective.

Employee of the building had been complaining for several days that the insulation was worn from some of the electric wires. The superintendent of the building had requested that this be attended to to-day. The wires are believed to have started the fire. As the flames leaped for hundreds of feet into the air from the library windows, the citizens were awakened and thousands gathered about the hill on which the Capitol stands. All the available police were necessary to prevent the citizens from hindering the firemen. The high wind carried live sparks and caused tongues of flames, which curled from the windows, to stretch across intervening courts of the adjoining wings.

It was half an hour after the flames were discovered before a stream of water was turned on the burning building. By the time the firemen had arrived the fire had gained such headway that it was believed the entire group comprising the State Capitol was doomed. It was difficult to reach the windows of the apartments where the fire was blazing most briskly because of intervening buildings. Lines of hose were hauled through the legislative chambers and streams were directed from the windows.

Priceless Records Destroyed.

The fire was the most spectacular Albany has ever known. The flames could be seen for miles from Capitol Hill. Many of the pecords destroyed dated back from colonial and Revolutionary War days. The fire around the famous $1,000,000 red stone staircase, which was adorned wi th paintings of men famous in the history of the State. The wings were constructed of stone and were supposed to be fireproof. However, the partitions and finishings in t he interior were of wood and there were many pieces of inflammable material which helped feed the flames.

The intense heat caused the upper parts of the walls to bulge and the stone coping and glass from the windows in the upper floors of the six stories of the main structure caused an incessant rain of missiles. Search of the ruins was ordered in an attempt to find the remains of Abbott, and also to discover if, by any chance, any of the records had escaped destruction from the fire.

State Superintendent of Public Works Treman had practically all the records removed from his office while the fire was raging in the library wing and these are all safe.

Fed by tons of paper, the flames filled t he building and it is believed that Abbott, in trying to fight his way back to the street to turn in an alarm, found his way cut off by the swirling clouds of smoke. The high wind fanned the flames and imperiled many nearby buildings. Live sparks were carried through the air and the crowd was repeatedly driven back. Each time, however, it surged forward again and stood spellbound watching the handsome building being destroyed.

Rash Legislators.

Fire Chief Bridgeford, alarmed by the rashne ss of some of the legislators, gave orders that none should venture near the burning buildings until the firemen were assured that it was safe to do so. Bridgeford directed the fight against the fire in person and assured Governor Dix that it was being well handled. At 6:30 the western wing was still smouldering, although half a dozen streams of water were being poured upon it.

There was no insurance on the Capitol, as it was thought impossible that the structure could be destroyed by fire.

One of the most spectacular incidents of the blaze was the collapse of the roofs of the three wings. A squad of firemen, manning a number of lines of hose, entered the building a few minutes before and were stretching the hose up the stairway to reach the flames on the upper floor. There was a crash as a pillar supporting one of the wings collapsed. The firemen were ordered out and had just reached the court yard when, with a terrific roar. the three roofs came down at the same time.

To the crowds in the street, it seemed that some of the firemen had been buried under the wreckage. They were cut off from view by the clouds of dust and it was some time before it was learned that all had escaped. A mighty cheer went up from the crowd when the fire fighters again returned to the battle. The records destroyed consisted not only of a great bulk of books, reports and original documents of both houses of the Legislature and of the State executive offices, but thousands of manuscripts of every conceivable source which have been accumlating ever since the Dutch first landed at New York. The value of these from a historical standpoint is incalculable.

Court of Claims Records Destroyed.

Among the records of the Court of Claims destroyed were valuable papers bearing upon cases in which millions of dollars are involved. The loss of the records of the Court of Claims may lead to many legal entanglements. In the section given over to the State Board of Regents were the school records for this State accumulated for many years back, and upon which thousands of doctors and lawyers depend for their right to practice. State Architect Frank B. Ware.

(Continued on Page 8.)



after looking over the ruins, said that it would require a careful investigation to fix definitely the monetary loss.

A squad of troops from the Tenth Regiment Armory, this city, was summoned by Adjutant General Verbeck to keep the people out of the corridors. The soldiers began to arrive at 9 o'clock. They were stationed about the halls on the second and third floors to protect the departments and hold the crowd in check.

Owing to the altitude of Capitol Hill it was difficult from the first to get a good water pressure. The firemen were criticized, but they were not to blame.

Arrangements were underway to hold to-day's joint ballot for the election of a United States Senator, which must be taken under the law, at the City Hall in the Common Council chamber. Senator Roosevelt was notified to this effect and an effort was made to reach all of the members, which was a most difficult task.

Up to 9:15 the body of Abbott had not been found.

Flames Continue Damaging Work.

An immense crowd surrounded the building on all sides and remained awaiting developments. Thin wreaths of smoke crept through the towers of on the central portion of the Capitol shortly after 3 o'clock. By this time firemen had scaled the walls to the second floor and were fighting the flames there. While apparently under control at 9:30, the flames were still continuing their dmaging work.

A glance through the gutted walls disclosed heaps of debris which had once been treasures of literature beyond price.

Destruction of State Library.

The State Library was destroyed, the spacious department being a seething furnace when the firemen arrived. The fire quickly destroyed all bills, documents and papers, some of them dating as far back as 1776. These are irreplaceable. The library also contained all the works, documents of the Codes and Judiciary Committee of the present session.

The fire soon entered the document room which was quickly doomed. The flames ate up to the roof and swept over it, lighting the heavens and igniting other parts of the Capitol.

Five minutes after the fire leaped into the State Library with a roar its inflammable contents were licked up like oil in a furnace. The great oaken door was partly burned through and the firemen were unable to penetrate to any point of vantage that would enable them to train their hose on the flames with success.

The firemen were badly hampered in their early operations and the flames, fanned by a north wind, ate their way through the corridors and up to the very doors of the Assembly chamber. In fact, the fire was within ten feet of the chamber before the firemen could drag a hose around from State street.

Employees Aid Firemen.

Every employee of the Capitol who could be mustered into service joined the firemen in fighting the flames, which swept along the corridors in great licking torches that ate up the expensive furnishings of the various rooms wherever it touched.

At 4:45 o'clock the flames had swept across the entire west section of the building and were bursting into the Senate Finance Committee room and the adjoining office of the temporary president of the Senate. At that time the fire threatened to reach the onyx Senate chamber.

The flames lighted up the whole city and had it not been for the fact that the wind was blowing in the opposite direction would have threatened then new State education building across Washington avenue, to the north, which is being erected at cost of $4,000,000.

By 5 o'clock flames were shooting above the roof on the south west corner of the building and the roof over the State Library had fallen in.

Entire West Section Swept.

The flames quickly made their way to the State Excise department on the second foor, directly under the Assembly library, and the Court of Claims on the floor above was quickly destroyed.

State officials were routed out of their beds and hurried to the blazing building to rescue State records in other departments should they become endangered.

Senate Chamber Badly Damaged.

At 5:50 the firemen believed they would prevent the flames from getting into the Assembly chamber, but the Senate chamber on the other side of the building already had been damaged by the flames. The windows were broken and the long Senate lobby with its handsome furnishings was flooded with water.

State employees hurried in and out of the burning building carrying records and documents but no efforts were made to save the valuable furnishings.

The Attorney General's department on the second floor, with its library and legal documents, was threatened and water poured down in to the offices of the State Commission on Lunacy on the ground floor.

By 6 o'clock thousands of people had gathered about Capitol Square watching the flames as they forced their way through the magnificent building sending showers of sparks flying blocks away.

The newspaper men who entered the building had to grope their way through water and smoke and the advancing flames in the Assembly chamber threatened to drive the workers from the newspaper men's quarters on the "Midway."

Andrew H. Draper, State Superintendent of Education, who has direct charge of the library, was sleeping when the fire broke out, and his son, a physician would not allow him to be disturbed.

He said, however, that t here was no means of ascertaining the loss, as he had heard his father say that many of its contents were of in estimable value and could not be replaced if destroyed.

The library was on the third floor and extended completely across the western wing of the Capitol. It contained the first record of genealogical works in the United States. All of these were destroyed, as were everyone of its 167,000 volumes.

Flames at Door of Senate.

As the flames sped on across the south wing they burst forth almost to the very doors of the Senate chamber, entering into the gallery from the fourth floor.

Despite streams of water directed against the fire fiend in the Assembly chamber the flames continues to defy the firemen and threatened to destroy it.

At 6:30 o'clock the fire had reached the papier-mache ceiling of the Assembly chamber and the big chandelier in the center fell to the floor with a crash.

Meanwhile the flood of water, began to drip down into the office of the Governor's secretary on the second floor on the southeast corner of the building and help was hurriedly summoned to remove the valuable paintings in the executive chamber. Several of the big oil paintings in the Senate lobby were also removed.

Governor Dix aroused at 4 o'clock.

Governor Dix was aroused shortly after 4 o'clock, when it became apparent that great havoc would be wrought by the flames.

Attaches of the executive department hastened to the building to remove documents and papers it the fire threeatened the chamber. The Governor was kept in constant touch with the situation by telephone.

Captain Storey and several firemen were fighting the flames in the Senate Judiciary Committee room, when the fire eating through the supposedly fire proof doors, trapped them in a corner. They dropped their hose and managed to escape.

The firemen who were battling at the State library were overcome shortly after 5 o'clock, nine of them being made deathly sick by the great quantities of smoke they inhaled. They were forced to abandon their operations at this point.

Other Firemen Have Narrow Escapes.

Assistant Chief Walsh and several men also had a narrow escape from death. They were nearly caught by the falling roof of the north wing, but managed to run back in time when warned of the trembling walls.

Engineer Glavin of steamer No. 6 was reported to be seriously injured by falling glass on the senate side of the building.

As the flremen labored to keep the flames out of the Senate chamber the crash of breaking glass could be heard at frequent intervals, but so far as known Glavin was the only one hurt.

The firemen experienced great difficulty in coping with the fire in the Assembly chamber. At 6:30 they were hopeful it would be confined largely to the ceiling, although the place has been flooded.

At 6:45 part of the roof on the northwest corner of the building fell in with a crashing shower of burning embers in all directions.

Sudden spurts of flames wearied the firemen and they were worn out after seven hours of work. When flames were suddenly discovered issuing from the ceiling of the Assembly chamber, the firemen rushed in, but the blaze proved a stubborn one and it was sometime before it was extinguished. Much of the woodwork and ornamental work of the roof was destroyed or blackened by the fire and smoke.

All of the business of the State was tied up as a result of the fire The routine of the directing heads of the various departments was thrown into confusion which will require months to readjust completely. Among the offlces which were out out of commission were those of the executive chamber, the Attorney General, the State Board of Tax Commissioners, State Excise Department, the State Treasurer and the State Commissioner of Education.

Men Who Discovered Fire.

Stories as to the discovery of the fire differ. According to one told by Fred Luby and Andrew Lynch, elevatormen, who had been detained by the Democratic caucus until after 1 o'clock, they were about to leave the building when they smelled smoke. They started to investigate and the fumes led them toward the State Library which is next to the rooms of the Assembly Judiciary Committee. They said they found Benjamin F. Freund of New York attempting to stamp out a blaze which he declared had started in some mysterious manner between the committee room and the adjoining apartment. Almost instantly, said the men.=, the flames burst into the committee room driving the three occupants into the corridor. Freund, Luby and Lynch ran toward the State Library elevator to descend to the main floor but the fire made such headway that their exit in that direction was cut off and they had to turn and flee in the other direction. By the time the three men got to the street the fire had been seen from the outside.

Governor Dix's Office Flooded.

The tons of water which the firemen threw into the structure covered the floor of the Governor's office to the depth of a foot. It is estimated that the damage to the executive chamber will run close to $5,000, most of it being done by water and smoke.

The fire was rapidly eating its way into the room of Majority Leader Wagner when checked by the firemen. Considerable damage was done in the adjoining room occupied by the Senate Finance Committee by the water.

State Commissioner of Education Andrew Draper announced after the fire that his foresight had been the means of saving several invaluable documents. Mr. Draper said that while numberless documents of rare value can never be replaced it will take more than $3,000,000 [?] to have duplicates made of other State papers, of which facsimiles exist.

The Commissioner of Education has made arrangements to carry on the work of his department in the State Normal School, which is under his jurisdiction, and notified his employes to report there for duty until further notice.

The magnificent ceiling constructed over the famous $1,000,000 stairway was proved by to-day's fire to have been merely papier mache and was consumed in the flames. The stairway was also destroyed.

Broke Open Governor's Desk.

Governor Dix congratulated George P. Decker, an attache of the office of William Church Osborn, for his work in saving valuable papers from the Governor's desk in the executive chambers. Although the room was filled with smoke and water was pouring into it, Mr. Decker rushed in and broke open the Governor's desk and seized as many papers and documents as he could carry, then made his way out, almost overcome by the fumes.

Souvenir Hunters Shut Out.

Because relic and souvenir hunters were busy to-day in the Capitol, a premptory order was issued by Superintendent of Buildings John Bowe to put every one out except the firemen. To carry this order into weffect a number of national guardsmen were called into service.

There was much pilfering: done it is alleged, around the Senate and Assembly chambers and this caused the order to be issued. Stenographers and clerks were thrust out of the building, as well as other State employees. There was a good deal of protest over the order, but Superintendent Bowe said it was necessary.

That the fire was caused by defective wiring in the Assembly Judiciary room, is the opinion of Assemblyman A. J. Levy of New York, who has had occasion to report the fefects in the wires. Assemblyman Levy in an interview with a National News correspondent to-day, said that the electric facilities there were in a poor condition.

"Several times I have received shocks from them," said he. "I made up my mind that I would not touch them and I kept my word."

Assemblyman Levy said further that a complaint had been filed against the condition of the switches yesterday morning.

Building Cost $26,000,000.

The New York State Capitol has been termed "the costliest public building in America" and it probably deserved the name for it was started in 1867 and additions have been made from time to time increasing its cost to $26.000.000. Although the Capitol was originally designed to cost only $4,000,000 it has alfready cost more than the Capitol at Washington and the Congressional Library together. Even at the present time the Capital is not complete according to the elaborate plans which have been formulated. The Capitol at Albany covers three acres of ground. The structure is 400 feet long and 300 feet wide and its walls are 100 feet high.

The National Capitol at Washington has cost approximately $14,000,000 less than the New York State Capitol, so lavish have the legislators been in adding to the great group.

Scandal has been attached to the construction ever since the first spade full of earth was thrown. In 1879 a pamphlet wsa issued reviewing the history of the work as far as it had gone then and alleging irregularities. The State Library contained in all 167,000 volumes. There were also many costly relics from the early Indian wars and the War of the Revolution in the library.

May Have to Rebuild Big Section.

It is feared that the whole western section of the Capitol will have to be rebuilt. According to architects who viewed the ruins to-day, this will take from three to four years.

Governor Dix and legislative leaders will confer to-day on some plan for the future sessions. There is no place other than a theater or hall in Albany big enough for the Legislature to meet in and do business. It is believed that the suggestion that a portion of the new State Educational building be prepared immediately for the use of the Legislature will be considered to-day.

The books of the State Treasurer, the State Fiscal Supervisor and of other State departments were removed to the City Hall, where temporary offices have been established.

Investigating the Cause.

The conflagration exposed the fact that the Capitol was without fire fighting equipment. Even a fire alarm apparatus was lacking.

Among the thousands of sightseers who insisted on getting by the police lines and into the danger tone this afternoon were hundreds of women who were indignant when turned back.

An investigation of the structure to ascertain definitely the cause of the fire is already under way, although it is expected that the legislature will adopt a resolution calling for a broad inquiry and appropriating a sum for that purpose. If the most persistent report of the day turns out to be true it will be found that an electric push button was responsible for the disaster. Fifty State militiamen stayed on the ground during the day assisting in the salvage work and helping the police keep back the crowds.

An Inspection of the structure by the fire chief showed that further damage from the fire and smoke had been done than was at first reported. The Lieutenant Governor's room, it was found, had been flooded to the depth of over a foot. In the official apartments of the State bill drafting department, the bureau of weights and measures and the Forest, Fish and Game Department smoke had blackened the walls and water had damaged the furniture and furnishings.


Lawmakers Will Work Under Difficulties for a Time at Least.

(Special to the HERALD-DISPATCH.)

Albany. March 2J.—With the City Hall of Albany designated as the Capitol of the State of New York until such other designation is made, the legislation of the State is being transacted under difficulties. The Senate and Assembly met there to-day. the former in the Common Council chambers and the latter in the Supreme Court room, and a joint session and ballot for United States Senator was taken. As an emergency measure the pairs of last week's end were put in force that there might be no quorum balloting and a vote of 46 among a dozen candidates was recorded. The fire in the Capitol did not penetrate into the Assembly and Senate chambers, but water is all over the building and the State architect has advised that until the walls on the west side, where the State Library was located, cool sufficiently to make an examination, he cannot tell whether the building to its center line, within which the two legislative chambers are situated, is safe for occupation, and the legislators will not come back till it is declared safe. The Assembly chamber regular transaction of legislation.

The Democrats will attempt to hold to-night in the Common Council chamber of the City Hall the caucus they scheduled for this morning and it is understood that the conflict between the regulars and insurgents over candidates- has narrowed down to three—D. Cady Herrick, Isadore Straus and Martin H. Glynn. In the balloting of the joint caucus to-day John D. Kernan received the insurgent votes, 28 in all. The regulars and Republicans though present paired themselves which left only four votes for Sheehan and seven for Depew.

A regular session will be held in the City Hall to-morrow and by that time it will be determined what legislative business may be transacted and then it is expected that pairs will be arranged and no quorum sessions held till such time as the Legislature may get back into the Capitol or into quarters which can be arranged for the regular transaction of legislation.

The State Armory here has been offered to the Legislature but its drill hall would have to be fitted up for the legislators. The entire west end of the Capitol is burned out within the walls and flooded with water. State departments which have been damaged or cut off are occupying offices in the City Hall temporary and other places.

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