1890: Fire at an asylum | AspenTimes.com
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1890: Fire at an asylum

In celebrating the 125th anniversary of The Aspen Times, we are printing a story or two from each year the newspaper has existed – 125 historical selections in 125 days. This series is in conjunction with the Aspen Historical Society.The New York Holocaust.Utica, N.Y., May 8. – The larger portion of the Chenango county buildings located at Preston, near Norwich, burned at midnight last night, and ten inmates, possibly more, were burned. The buildings destroyed were the asylum in which there were about 80 inmates and the pauper house and idiot ward in which there were 40 inmates. Both were three story wooden buildings in good repair; having wings of two stories in height. They were valued at $25,000 and insured for $19,000. They are a total loss. The horrible part of the disaster was the burning of ten idiots who penned themselves in and were roasted alive. The origin of the fire was probably from smoldering sparks of a slight fire which occurred Wednesday afternoon. Deborah Dibble, a feeble-minded old woman, set her clothing and bedding on fire and was burned fatally before the flames could be extinguished. It is supposed the fire started from smoldering sparks from this event.The porter was awakened by a pauper and attempted to release the idiots but was driven back by the fire. He then ran through the other buildings in his night clothes rescuing inmates and insane patients. Some of them were forced out and fought against release, but all were saved. Most of them were taken to the Methodist and Universalist churches till other quarters could be provided. Some escaped and took to the woods where the sheriff and his deputies are hunting form them to-day.The names of nine inmates who were burned are, Sarah Mills, Sarah Gallagher, Arvilla Atwood, Sarah Bailey, Laura Gray, Deborah Dibble, Mary O’Daniels, Edith Austin and Adelia Benedict.Keeper Wainwright rescued several at the peril of his life. The scene at the fire was indescribable and the horrors of Longue Pointe were reenacted on a smaller scale. The demented and terror stricken inmates wandered around the burning pile in a hopeless manner. The great wooden building lit the woods for miles around. A bucket brigade was formed and about 100 labored to save the smaller buildings in the rear with success.Scenes at the fire.Norwich, N.Y., May 8. – The excitement over the destruction of the poor house and county insane asylum this morning was intense. Those who had friends there eagerly sought information of their fate. Preston is six miles from any railroad. A procession of all sorts of vehicles has been going there all day, The smoke and stench from the holocaust was perceptible here. At the scene of the disaster the stench is sickening. The idiots were locked in and roasted like beasts, Keeper Wainwright said: “On opening the door leading from the hall to the idiot department, I was thunderstruck to see the interior a mass of flames. I attempted to rescue the inmates who were all securely shut in their cells as usual, but was driven back by the heat and smoke. I saw the idiots were doomed and nothing could save them. I then aroused the paupers, in some instances the poor people were dazed and it was necessary to carry them bodily from the house and turn them loose in the yard and fields. There were 12 inmates in the idiot asylum and they must have been overcome by heat, for I heard nothing from them and they roasted like pigs.”Coroner Fernold of this place went to Preston and ordered the removal of the charred and blackened remains in the ruins. Buckets of water were dashed upon them and at length the roasted trunks were pulled out and laid upon the grass. All were burned beyond recognition. In some cases the remains were removed with shovels, nothing but a skull or a few bones giving indications that they were once human beings.Grand Army Excursionists.Chicago, Aug. 8. – Every passenger train arriving in the city to-day on all the western roads brought large bodies of excursionists going to Boston and New York, who are taking advantage of the cheap rates consequent on the Grand Army encampment in the former place. This morning the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul brought the California department of the G. A. R. and all the roads had one or more contingents. The Rock Island will bring in four special trains to-morrow from Kansas and Colorado.The crowd from Chicago east is unprecedented. The Michigan Central office to-day was thronged with people and large numbers were unable to get accommodations. This road has arranged for a new line of Chicago and Boston sleeping cars to go into service on the West Shore trains. It is said that more than 50 per cent of this extra travel is made up of Grand Army men. Ordinary tourists are taking advantage of the cheap rates in great numbers.Suffering in Oklahoma.Washington, Aug. 8. – The president to-day sent a letter to Governor Steele, of Oklahoma, representing that great distress prevails among the residents of the territory, and requesting the attention of congress be called to the fact. The president in transmitting the letter says: “Information received by me from other sources leads me to believe the governor is altogether right in his impression that there will be, unless relief is afforded, widespread suffering in Oklahoma. Many of these people expended for travel all their accumulations and means. The grain prospects for this year are, by reason of no rain, thought unfavorable, I am advised that there is unexpended a balance of $45,000 of the fund appropriated for the relief of the Mississippi flood sufferers and I recommend that authority be given to use this fund to meet the necessities of the poor people in Oklahoma.”


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