Wednesday, June 6, 2012

1888 :: Rockdale Enshrouded with a Mantel of Gloom


Galveston Daily News, June 6, 1888. Rockdale -- The work of desolation and death closes over one of the most peaceful and prosperous little towns in Texas, enshrouding it with a mantel of gloom too impenetrable for a stranger living beyond its borders to be able, however sympathetic, to even faintly appreciate. The loss of property, the earnings of years of hard work and close application falls heavy upon poor men, reduced late in life to begin the struggle new. But such considerations pale into absolute insignificance when contrasted with the appalling loss of life, wrought in a few brief moments in so awful a manner.

As has been stated, the Mundine hotel was a three-story brick structure about 60 x 80 feet in size, fronting on the south the International and Great Northern railroad, and on the east Main street, which is 100 feet wide.

The hotel was a perfect mass of windows with a veranda running its entire length on the south and east sides of the second story and a veranda in the third story, connected with halls running to the south and east sides. In addition to these there was another gallery at the extreme west side of the second story of the building, with steps leading to the ground. In the extreme southwest corner of the second story, opening on galleries both south and west, were the rooms occupied by Dr. W.A. Brooks, wife and four children. Next east of them on the same floor, opening on the south gallery, was the room occupied by J.F. Briscoe, wife and two children, next to which ran a cross hall, also leading to the south gallery. Still east, across the hall mentioned, was the room occupied by Pemberton Pierce and next, in the extreme southeast corner of the same floor was the room of Mr. Oldham, while directly above the latter, in the third story, was the room of Isaac Crown.

It almost surpasses human conception that in a building with such numerous avenues of egress that of thirteen people only two should have escaped. The only rational theory advanced is that the fire originated about the staircase in the first story, and a comparatively small space being open to the top of the house operated as a flue, filling the house with a volume of smoke so dense that the inmates were only awakened to suffer almost instant suffocation.

Little air was stirring during the course of the fire, in consequence of which there was no cause to prevent the entire house rapidly filling with smoke. Still it would seem that more than two should have escaped.

Before anyone was aroused or an alarm given the entire first story must have been a seething mass of flames, for in three minutes after Mr. Oldham, who gave the first alarm and descended by one of the upright supports of the south gallery had reached the ground flames burst forth from his room.

It is, alas! Too late to consider what might have been done had certain precautions been taken, but this town having enjoyed immunity from fires for many years perhaps engendered a feeling of security leading to some carelessness, not in the hotel management alone, but the citizens at large, which sooner or later was likely to lead to disaster. And how terrible has it fallen!

Messrs. Scarborough & Hicks have received the following telegram -- Philadelphia, Pa., June 4 – See best undertaker and express body of Mr. Pierce in best shape possible to David Schuyler & Son, undertakers, Philadelphia. Express his effects to 904 Cherry street. George H. Ziegler.

Dr. W. A. Brooks, who was rescued while struggling to regain his family, is not seriously burned or injured, but is of course, terribly prostrated by the loss of his wife and four children. He says that when he was awakened the room was full of smoke, that he rose quickly and reached a window, which he raised, by means of which he obtained a little fresh air and then went back for his family, groping in dense smoke. While doing this he heard the window fall, returned to it and smashed it with his fist and arm, was grabbed by someone and forcibly removed; after which his mind is clouded until he found himself in safety, just beginning to realize his awful loss.

To undertake to mention the names of any who signalized themselves by daring flames and smoke in their efforts to save life would be wrong, as the writer could not name them all. Suffice it to say that no means were left untried and, He who notes the humblest sparrow’s fall will bless the manly bravery and humane efforts of those who in these feeble lines are nameless.

Disposition of Bodies. With every tender care possible the remains of the Brooks and Briscoe families, as near as they could be identified, charred and broken as they were, were placed in two separate coffins and interred in the Odd Fellows cemetery after funeral services at the Baptist church, under the auspices of the Odd Fellows and Knights and Ladies of Honor. The services were attended by almost the entire population of Rockdale.

The remains of Isaac Crown were also buried last yesterday afternoon in the Jewish cemetery, under the auspices of the Masonic fraternity.

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