Saturday, July 7, 2007

The Great Brooklyn Theatre Fire

On the 4th of July, we did not go away, since my boyfriend and I had to work Tuesday and Thursday. Instead, we made a short trip to Green-Wood Cemetery, , which is about ten blocks from where I live. It's enormous, has four lakes (some bigger than others), a Gothic-looking chapel, hilly, lots of trees, great view of lower Manhattan. Really interesting funereal statuary, not to mention more mausoleums than I've ever seen in one place in my life.

We did some walking, and some slow driving (it kept raining). The nice guard at the entrance gave us a map, and we hunted down former Gov. DeWitt Clinton, but had less luck with Louis Moreau Gottschalk, the first important classical composer in the U.S.

One monument I noticed was what I thought was a memorial to the victims of the Brooklyn Theatre Fire. There was a large theatre called the Brooklyn Theatre; it looks like it was what's now in the southwest corner of what's now the Brooklyn Navy Yard. On the evening of Dec. 5, 1876, a kerosene lamp ignited a stage drop in the middle of a performance of "The Two Orphans". There were no fire escapes. The fire went up the drape to the ceiling of the theatre, and turned the building into a conflagration. Over 300 people died. Underneath the monument in Green-Wood are the victims whose bodies couldn't be identified. I thought I knew a lot of theatre fire history- in the 19th century, there was a massive fire at theatre Barnum rented (the menagerie was in the basement) on 14th Street and Irving Place (later the Academy of Music and then the Palladium), killed people and animals. And I've read about the Ringling Brothers fire in Hartford in the 1940s- the whole tent went up. But I'd never heard of the Brooklyn Theatre Fire before.

For contemporary newspaper accounts, go to:

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