Friday, January 15, 2010

Ice Cream Cone Holocaust.

This 1924 map shows the Cone factory in the small brick (red) building along Union ave. The next, angled brick buildings housed an automotive factory, and the larger brick row housed Farrington manufacturing, makers of jewelery boxes. Those buildings had once housed the Sturtevant blower works, which burned in an earlier and larger fire, before moving to Readville. Note the dotted line running between the two long rows of brick buildings on the left - the space between the buildings represents the path of the Stony Brook conduit, which had been built earlier in the century. The Burnett & Sherman automotive plant is new to me. The complex had housed a series of automotive concerns in the early years of the century, assembling and modifying cars. Burnett & Sherman was a Ford dealer, located on Commonwealth avenue in Allston, and they are listed in the 1925 Boston Directory as manufacturing auto bodies at Union avenue. Farrington lasted into the 1950s - I've written about them here. One section of the old Sturtevant/Farrington factory complex still stands along what is now Amory street extension.

Boston Daily Globe March 28, 1925


Trapped in Alleyway Fighting Four-Alarm $150,000 Spectacular Blaze in Cone Factory in Jamaica Plain -- Four Overcome in Building.

Thousands at Scene; Commissioner Glynn Hurt, Aids Rescues.

Trapped in an alleyway, with a smouldering tenement behind them and a tottering, roaring factory in front of them, four Boston firemen stood by their guns to the end last evening, and went down, crushed under a 60-foot brick wall. The fire was at Union av, Jamaica Plain.

No firemen were killed, but four of them were dug out of the blazing debris and sent to the City Hospital.

The injured are:

Lieut George Hennessey, Engine 12, of 38 Lindsey st. Dorchester, multiple contusions and abrasions of the body.

George A. Stuart, Engine 45, 567 South St, Roslindale, compound fracture of the left leg. Probably fatally hurt.

Albert F. Single, Engine 45, 16 Murray Hill Rd, Roslindale, compound fracture of the left ankle.

Lieut Bartholomew J. Dowd, Engine 45, 15 Johnswood road, Roslindale, multiple contusions and abrasions of the head and body.

George A. Stuart’s left leg was crushed in two places by the wall, and he was badly injured internally. Early this morning his name was on the dangerous list at the hospital and he was “very low.” The attendants said he would probably die.

The other three are expected to live. Two of them are officers of the department who clung to lines while sending their men back from the scene on errands.

Fire Very Spectacular

The fire was very spectacular, and because of the situation, was perhaps seen by more spectators than any Boston fire in years. Thousands saw the wall topple on the daredevils who fought to the last inch. A great human cry of horror went up.

The fire was in the Atlantic Ice Cream Cone Company factory, a three story brick structure 40 feet by 100 feet, fronting on Union av and with one side on an alley leading from Union ave to a second alley which runs alongside the railroad tracks at the point.

The factory is located between two railroads, The Providence division of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad and the elevated railway of the Boston Elevated. It is a short distance beyond the Green-st station of the Elevated. The box which was rung is located at the corner of Green and Amory sts. Four alarms were sounded.

Repeatedly Warned

The firemen who were hurt had repeatedly been warned that they were in danger in the alleyway. The brick factory was in all respects like a blast furnace. The roof had fallen in, carrying floors with it, and from the cellar the entire contents of the building was pouring in a forced draft straight up through the roof and 50 feet in the air.

On the other side of the 15-foot alley, a two and a half story wooden dwelling house, vacated under peremptory order of the Police Department, was smouldering at the roof and sides. Intermittently, flames broke out, covering the roof, and running down the front of the structure, almost scorching the backs of the rubber-coated “gunmen.”

Two of them hanging to each gun, the firemen delayed withdrawing until too late. They hoped by their streams to keep enough of the blaze back into the factory so that the dwelling would be saved. Other engine companies, from outside, were spraying them and the dwellings with a dozen streams.

At 10:30 the roof fell with a terrifying roar. The firemen clung closer to their nozzles. Twenty minutes later, at 10 before 11, the 60 foot wall folded up like a jackknife, swayed in midair, and dropped on the four valiant hosemen.

The blaze was abandoned as the firemen on the other wagons leaped to safety. But it was only for a moment. In a trice the men of Engine 12 had leaped back on their wagon and were searching the blazing debris with frantic streams to keep the wreckage from becoming a funeral pyre.

Rescued From Smoking Ruins

Other companies, not in a position to render this humane service, dropped their task of property saving, and, risking the imminent fall of the other walls and remaining spire of the broken wall, pawed through the smoking ruins of brick and wood until they got their comrades out.

Stretchers arrived quickly. Everybody gave way to let the doctors and firemen work. A Catholic priest started posthaste for the hospital. Fire Commissioner Theodore A. Glynn, himself bruised by the tumbling brick, took command of the rescue work, assisted by Deputy Foley. Chief of Department Sennott, who had been attacking the blaze from another angle, was on the scene within two minutes.

After the unconscious men had been carried to ambulances, the work of extinguishing the blaze went on. A second wall was in danger of collapsing on the Union-st side and crushing another home. This did not happen, however, and all the dwellings were saved from serious damage. Firemen estimated the loss at $150,000.

Four Overcome in Building

Twenty men were at the work in the cone factory when the fire started, and so quickly did it shoot through the building that at least four men were overcome before they could reach the street. No one seemed to know how the fire started, but it was agreed there was a rush of flame from the vicinity of the gas meter. By 10 o’clock a crew from the gas company had shut off the gas main at Green and Washington sts.

James Kelley of 49 Union av. next door to the factory, heard there were men still in the building as other workmen rushed out. He plunged into the smoke-filled doorway, closely followed by patrolman John Kilduff of Station 13.

Between them they half-carried half-supported four men out of the building. Then patrolman Kilduff found the alarm had not been sounded. He ran to the corner of Green and Amory sts and sent in an alarm at 9:35.

By the time the apparatus arrived the flames were bursting through the upper-story windows and tinting the sky. A second alarm was sounded at once and it had scarcely ceased ringing when a third was ordered. Chief Sennott came on the third and when he got to the scene, at 10 o’clock, a forth alarm went banging over the wires.

Shortly after Chief Sennott’s wagon got to the fire, he was followed by Henry A. Fox, assistant chief of department, who took up the work of directing operations from the railroad side. Commissioner Glynn arrived and got immediately where the fight was the thickest.

Thousands of Spectators

Probably no Fourth of July bonfire has ever been witnessed by such a crowd, not has any Fourth of July bonfire been as spectacular. The factory is situated in a hollow, surrounded by vacant lots which form a natural amphitheatre. On two sides the railway structures furnished ideal grandstands. Ignoring instructions of police, thousands made their way to the railroad right of way.

On the other side, passengers on Elevated trains gazed from the windows at the blazing ruin. Motormen slowed down their trains. Sheds, precariously built, bore hundreds of spectators who risked their necks for a view. Every knoll in the vacant lots held spectators who elbowed and scrambled for position.

The streets on the way to the fire looked like the Larz Anderson Bridge after a Yale game. For miles the streets were lined with automobiles filled with spectators, so that a special traffic detail had to be sent from Station 13. Even at that the task was almost hopeless.

Before the traffic men arrived, and while route policemen were establishing fire lines, a fireman stationed himself under the Elevated structure at Green and Washington sts, clearing the way for apparatus, which was arriving momentarily.

The factory is at No. 47 Union av. On one side of it, separated by only two feet, and dwarfed into insignificance, is the little single dwelling of James Kelley, No. 49. Flames swept and mushroomed out over the roof of this little house for hours, from the second story windows of the factory, but firemen took a stand behind the protection of the gable roof and sent streams into the building. They themselves and the roof were kept dripping by other companies. The roof was somewhat damaged, however.

Spectators marveled that this little house and that of Anna Kelley, on the other side of the alleyway, were not destroyed. Again and again the houses seemed to have been raised bodily to the kindling point, and again and again they smouldered and licked into flame. At such times the spectators would shout “The roof, the roof,” and streams would be switched from the doomed building to these dwellings.

Directly opposite the factory, on the other side of Union av, is another dwelling. This had the protection of the 30-foot width of Union av, but was endangered by the precarious, toppling Union-av wall of the factory. From its front dooryard streams were tossed into the windows of the blazing structure. This dooryard is 10 feet above the street level, which gave the firemen an added advantage. Those streams were manipulated by the crews of Engines 33, 17 and 26. Each had a man watching the toppling wall, ready to order them back.

All of these houses were ordered emptied by the police, who refused to let the occupants stay long enough to take out anything but the most easily portable valuables. A dozen children were taken out of the house of Anna Kelley unhurt.

Another Plant Takes Fire.

In back of the fire, toward the steam railroad, are more wooden structures which would have been easy to kindle. These were kept safely wet down. Also, there are the brick factories and shops of Burnett & Sherman, an automobile company; a wet wash, and a manufacturer of jeweler’s specialties. Burnett & Sherman’s plant caught for a few minutes, but was soon drowned out. Ladder 1 worked over the Sherman plant.

Engine 13 had the post of honor and danger, under the wall, which finally fell. Four hosemen, Arthur J. Belaskyh, Frank J. Scott, Edward Brickley and P.F. Hegerty were on the wagon, working a gun and a line. They were silhouetted against the sheets of flame sweeping up from the building.

The crowd saw the wall crumple, without any noise or other warning. The firemen didn’t see it until it had fallen half-way down, like an avalanche of snow from a sloping roof.

Then they looked up, hesitated for what seemed minutes, and jumped. They jumped on the lee side of the wagon, which saved them from death. They were pelted with fragment, buffeted by bricks, but the wagon took the brunt, and they escaped.

The groan of horror went p from the crowd, which had seen the four firemen go down. In a trice the Engine 13 men were back on their wagon, striving desperately to extinguish the blazing timbers which formed a bonfire about the place where their comrades lay, under a ton of bricks.

A pathetic incident was furnished by the streams which the unfortunate heroes had held, bubbling like streams through the blazing debris. The wires of the neighborhood had long since gone, and were lying about crackling where they touched metal. That put the neighborhood street lights out, and only the glaze of the blaze furnished light for the rescue squads, which blistered their hands, tossing aside burning embers and red-hot bricks, until they made a hole in the ground, where lay their broken and bruised comrades.

Glynn Hurt, Aids Rescues

It was the work of but a few minutes to send stretchers scurrying in four directions. Commissioner Glynn, brushing from his civilian clothes the mortar from the brick which struck him and the mire from the ground where he had been brought to his knees by the crash, plunged into the work.

At his side, and similarly injured, were his aid, Lieut John J. Crehan; Chief Sennott’s aid, Lieut John Goode; Lieut Haleyh of Engine 12 and Hoseman Buckley.

The crash shook the ground for blocks. Rev William P. O’Connor of the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes hastened to the hospital to administer the last rites of the Catholic church if necessary.

When the injured men had gone to the hospital, and it was feared some would die, the firemen went back to their work with set faces. For hours the fire blazed but it did no further substantial damage. The factory was at that time a hopeless ruin.

Charles T. Kerwin, 40, of 1475 Columbus av, a “spark” who had been standing beside the firemen when the wall went, and who escaped, was thrown into slight hysterics. He went about pointing to the spot, saying “Four of them. In there. Four of them. In there.”

Commissioner Glynn said his men were handicapped by lack of pressure. The difference between the streams from the six-inch mains in the vicinity of Union av and those from the 16-inch mains of Washington st was noticeable.

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