Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The following two images are off page 38 of Paul Mercer and Vickie Weiss's 128-page history, The New York State Capitol and the Great Fire of 1911, all proceeds of which go to benefit the Friends of the New York State Library

Both of Mercer and Weiss's captions are somewhat at odds with reality.
The inadequacy of the firemen’s hoses against the fast-moving fire is obvious in this photograph of the western section burning. As Joseph Gravit wrote, there were virtually no fire extinguishers or hoses inside the building: "[E]fforts...had been made for some years to secure adequate fire protection in the library quarters; but all to no result. The Capitol burn? It was fire proof! It proved to be fire proof just like a furnace---what is in it will burn."
In every photograph of firemen shooting their hose streams into the Capitol building that day, we never see the water accessing anything above the second story. However, the written record makes very clear that there was no fire in the second story, only smoke and water damage. Since the Albany fire department lacked aerial water towers, there could be no firefighting from the exterior of the building. This makes the entirety of the imagery put out as such just bogus narrative schmaltz, like Gravit's heroic librarians.

The second caption is even more of a goof:
As the southwest tower collapses, a puff of smoke issues from the manuscript room window. Joseph Gravit reflected on this, writing, "It seems a special dispensation of providence [that] the library staff...did not know of it earlier, for they would have been caught in the manuscript room, accessible only by wooden stairs...towards the advancing fire...Anywhere that they would have been seeking the invaluable, their sense of duty would have held them until escape was cut off."
Because one little problem for Gavit----the puff of smoke we see in the photograph is emanating from a second-story room, while the Manuscript Room was on a third-floor mezzanine level, one-and-a-half flights up.

As for his brave librarians being "caught in the manuscript room, accessible only by wooden stairs," see Stokes' description above of supposedly rescuing some of the ancient manuscripts after he "found that it would be possible to get to the floor the archives were on through the burned floor of the room above the apartment of the clerk of the Senate. We promptly did this, and by breaking through the panel of the door, were able to climb into the room where the early records of New York's colonial history had been kept." Apparently, there was a secret backdoor entrance to the manuscript room that even Gravit didn't know about.

From the: 82nd Annual Report,1899,
An inspection of the closets in the manuscript room brought to light a large number of manuscript and printed maps, not recorded in any of the existing catalogues. As frequent inquiries are made for original maps of surveys an index of the above maps was begun at once. This index is to be completed gradually by references to maps in the bound volumes of manuscripts. An index has also been made to the contents of packages of miscellaneous papers found in the same closets. These papers ought at some future date to be permanently arranged, but for the present it was thought wiser not to disturb the original order in which they were found.
Why doesn't Gravit, Mercer, Weiss, or Nancy Kelley for that matter, ever mention that the manuscript room was outfitted with closets? We learn that somewhere in the State Library rooms the manuscripts relating to the War of 1812 survived by being segregated in their own closet. Why would documents of that particular period or class be treated any differently?

Also in the 82nd Annual Report, 1899, Transcript. is Melvil Dewey on Fireproof safes, and the essential characteristic of fire proofing: compartmentalization.
"The capitol walls are so massive that we have no fear of fire except as it might burn out individual rooms finished in wood."
Fools like Gavit can speak of furnaces as if one's whole house might be subject to their internal effects. Dewey tells us that "the peculiar character of a great library was recognized the world over in unusual safeguards," while Gavit doesn't even offer up a rational excuse beyond "partisan" lapses. No one paid a price for the unconscionable losses in the State Capitol in 1911. In that way it is just like September 11th.

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