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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

1888 :: Eleven Persons Perish in Fire

Dallas Morning News, June 5, 1888. Most Horrible Holocaust. Eleven Persons Burned to Death. The Leading Hotel in Rockdale Consumed by Fire -- Men, Women and Little Children Devoured by the Flames. 

Rockdale, Tex., June 4 – Rockdale was stricken this morning [the 4th] at a little after 3 o’clock with fire and holocaust so appalling and heartrending that language is inadequate to describe the scene.

At the time stated the town was aroused by cries of fire and the rapid discharge of firearms. The fire was discovered about the staircase in the office of the three story brick building known as the Mundine hotel. So terrible and rapid was the work of the flames that out of thirteen persons known to have been in the hotel eleven perished. Those known to have been lost are:

  • Mrs. W.A. Brooks, wife of the proprietor of the hotel, and her four sons, aged about 4, 6, 9 and 15 years respectively.
  • J.F. Briscoe, wife and two little children.
  • Isaac Crown.
  • A traveling salesman, supposed from papers found to be named Pemberton Pierce. He was representing Geo. Zeigler, of Philadelphia, but the hotel register being lost there is nothing more to identify by.

Mr. D.M. Oldham, representing F. Cannon & Co. of Galveston, escaped without injury, and Dr. W.A. Brooks, proprietor, was pulled by main force out of the room occupied by his family, he having reached the door but resisting every effort to be saved before his wife and children. He was carried down the rear staircase.

Mr. D.M. Oldham, who occupied an extreme southeast room in the second story, says he was awakened by a roaring, cracking sound, thinking that a storm had arisen and was blowing the doors and window blinds about, but he soon detected smoke in his room, arose, went to the door and opened it only wide enough to see the flames in the hall. 

Hastily closing the door, he went to the window, threw his clothing out on the wide veranda which surrounds the south and east side of the second story, and from there to the ground, he then followed by sliding down one of the supports of the veranda. 

Almost immediately after reaching the ground he saw the party supposed to be Pemberton Pierce rush out on the veranda all aflame and leap to the ground, striking on his head and killing himself instantly. 

Thus have perished two most estimable families, one of Rockdale’s promising young businessmen, Isaac Crown, and a stranger whose sad fate will startle and grieve those to whom he was dear.

J.F. Briscoe was for many years a barber at this place, thoroughly respected by everyone, and who by thrift and industry had risen to independence. He recently sold out his business here and opened one in the same line at Taylor, married to a young and beautiful woman who with her two little children had stopped over here, being en route to her girlhood’s home in Indiana. She was joined by her husband, who came in on the 11:30 train last night, only to share with his loved ones a horrible death. 

Mrs. Brooks, who has been identified with all that is good of Rockdale since its construction, was well and widely known by the traveling public, her husband and she always having kept the principal hotel.
Dr. Brooks is entirely dazed, crushed at heart and badly injured, but whether fatally or not cannot be determined, but it is thought he may recover.

Isaac Crown, the junior partner of the firm of I. Baum & Co., was about 30 years of age and unmarried. No citizen held a higher place in the esteem and confidence of all than did this young man.

The origin of the fire is yet conjectural. The hotel building was occupied on the first floor by the United States postoffice and the firm of T.B. Kemp & Co., general merchants, and from neither could anything be saved except such valuables as were contained in fire-proof safes. 

Adjoining the hotel on the north was a one-story brick building, owned by J.S. Perry and occupied by J.R. Rowland for the storage of general merchandise, whose main stock was kept in the building adjoining still on the north. The first-named building was entirely consumed with its contents, and the last named is nearly destroyed, with the goods badly damaged. 

Here the course of the fire was checked by the heroic efforts of the citizens, who worked with unceasing and fearless energy, unaided by organization of any kind and no conveniences for obtaining water. All business here is entirely suspended, and a gloom has been cast over Rockdale which cannot be removed for many a day.

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