The Springfield (Mass.) Republican
Saturday, May 29, 1875
Pages 4-5

The Holyoke Disaster

Seventy-One Persons Already Dead.
A Number of Others Fatally Burned
Further Particulars Of The Calamity

Affecting Scenes at the Dead-House Yesterday. — The Dead. — The Probably Fatally Burned.The Others Injured.The Scenes at the Dead House. — Among the Suffering Survivors. — The Inquest Postponed. — Yesterday's Visitors. — Further Incidents. — The Organist and Her Lover. — A Most Remarkable Case. — Funerals of the Victims. — Miscellaneous Notes. — The Republican and the Disaster.

Affecting Scenes at the Dead-House Yesterday.

      Further particulars of the dreadful disaster at Holyoke, Thursday evening, only confirm the accuracy of the accounts and estimates furnished by The Republican, yesterday morning. Several of those who were rescued scarcely alive have since been released from agony, swelling the number of those who have thus far died to seventy-one — sixteen males and fifty-five females — and out yesterday's estimate, that the total loss of life would reach at least seventy-five, will be fully realized as a considerable proportion of the score and most terribly burned cannot possibly recover. Besides the twenty-two in this list of "fatally burned" — all but two of whom are women — twenty-seven others, nine males and eighteen females, were less seriously burned or wounded, making the total number of victims one hundred and twenty.
      Yesterday was largely devoted to the identification of the dead, care for the wounded who still survived, and preparations for the funeral services over the victims, which will occur today.

The Dead.

Seventy-one in All, Sixteen Males and Fifty-five Females.

      Mary Boisvert, 15 years of age; Isai Morin, 22; Mrs. Dometilde Beauchemin, 45; Mary Perry, 18; Edmond Robert, 11, son of John Baptiste Robert; Louise Guyott, 50; Ezilde, 18, daughter of Louis Desjardin; Delina Cote, 22; Gaspar Pellrain, 23; Josephine Brisson, 17; John Baptiste Langevin, 40; Adele LaChapelle, 16; Phebe, 15, daughter of Joseph Dupont; rs. Joseph Daigneau, 36; Salina, 18, daughter of Louis LaPlant; Angelique Groment; Ellen A., 20, daughter of Louis Blair; Mathilde, 15, daughter of Mrs. Joseph Daigneau; Louis Desjardin, 55; Mrs. Fannie Tetrault, about 22; Benjamin Fortier, 22; Mrs. Hermida Poquin, 25; Eliza Fortier, 12; Delia, 16, daughter of Augustus Coash; Victoria, 18, daughter of Baptiste Dery; Cora, 11, daughter of Abram Ford; Mrs. Abram Ford, 44; Mrs. Olive A. Ammor, 55; Fabien Terriere, 18; Juila Girard, 16; Salina, 15, daughter of Louis Doucette; Joseph Chatelle, 20; Fabien Moreau, 55; Jacob Tereau, 55; Marie Clotier; Marciline Dufresne; Mary Pion, 25; Ida, 19, daughter of Prosper Meunier; Diorie Daigneau, 11; Eliza, 17, daughter of Jean Baptiste Perrin; Josephine Viger, 40; Marie, 20, daughter of John Lacoste; Salina Bodard; Ezilde LaFrance, 20; Edes Lariviere; Alphonsine, 15, daughter of Fabien Moreau; Antoine Osgerm 72; Mrs. Louise Jeter, 31; Joseph Messier, 45; Amminie Menier, 18 or 20; Mr. Langdeau, 45, one daughter 12, and one 16; Mrs. Major, 30; Mrs. Joseph Roger, 36; son of John Baptiste Daigneau, 10; Miss Poyette, 20; her sister, 16; Miss Louteau, 10; Tobien St. Pierre, 25; Miss Lacoste, 14, daughter of Joseph Lacoste; Salpuer, 9, daughter of John Robert; Mary, 18, Lillian, 22, daughters of Louis Desjardin; Mrs. Louis Desjardin, about 50; Mrs. Joseph Dupont, 44; a daughter of Mrs. Groux; Ada Lavigne, 54; Rosalie Lagaoe, 54; Isidore Lacrosse.

The Probably Fatally Burned.

Two Men and Twenty Women or Girls.

      Christine Diaon, 24; Mrs. Raymond, 23, daughter of Louis Boivin, and Mrs. Peter Girard, 40; daughter of Charles Baudreau, 16; Mary and Ellen Hicks, 20 and 25; Eveline, 12, daughter of Louis Woods; Mrs. Charles Baudreau, 44; Miss LaChance, 18; Marie, 12, daughter of J. Baptiste Robert; Louisa Brown, 20; two daughters of Frank Dery, 14 and 19, adn son, 16; Lizzie Mercier, 16; William Prudon Chaquette, 38; Mrs. Paul Jaudin; Delia Clukey, 20; Sophie Hibbert, 37; Mary LaFrance, Salina Hebert, daughter of E. D. Howard of Willimansett, 10.

The Others Injured.

A Further List of Twenty-Seven.

      The following is a list of all the others who suffered by the disaster. Those known to be severely burned are: Mrs. Widow Pion, 55; Sophie Dion, 18; Miss Doucette, 16; her brother, 15; Annie Hibbert, 35; Lucy Rennyg, 18; Paul Jeter, 30; Mrs. Thymothey Pyon, 45; Mr. Fevereau, 22.
      These have suffered less serious injuries: Mrs. Louise Cleent, 45; John Baptiste Benoit, 23; Miss Malvina Bessette, 25; Calixte Dufresne, 54; Miss Grandchamp, 20; John Baptiste Robert, Annie, 14, his daughter; Peter Pelker, Miss Versian, Henry Rennyg, 12; Louise Terriere, 24; Mr. Feveau, 22; Victoria Brisson, 20; Mrs. Groux, 45; Mrs. Marceline Lapointe, 44; Anna, 15, her daughter, Mrs. Ariel, Louise Theriault, Firmi Dion.

The Scenes at the Dead House.

      In the night scene of the awful disaster had been shocking and dreadful beyond local parallel, the morning witnessed an almost equally horrible phase of the calamity in the basement of the Park street school-house, which had been converted for the time into a morgue. Here the dreadful, sickening corpses lay wrapped in white cotton cloth, and here, at 8 o'clock, were admitted seeking their dead. The brick floor was littered at the one end with blocks of wood, at the other were piles of coal, and between and on either side of the entrance, were the rows of sheeted bodies — their beaten, burned and blackened members protruding from the coverings. Here an arm eaten away to the bond, next to the black skull of a woman whose lower body was scarcely disfigured, and across there merely a heap of black, charred bones! The stoutest nerves would revolt at the spectacle, and what wonder that strong men turned away shuddering, sick at the sight? There was every attitude of agony, most commonly the arms being thrown up, as if to guard the face from the destroying fame; again the fingers and arms would be outstretched, indicative of the struggles of that terrible death.
      As early as 6 o'clock, yesterday morning, the streets leading to South Hadley were filled with people on their way to the scene of the disaster, and at 8 o'clock the number who thronged about the gate-way of the Park street school-house was estimated at several thousand, while the incoming morning trains brought large numbers of sight-seers, completely filling the street for several rods. Among the crowd were the friends of the victims of the fire, and Mayor Pearsons, who was early on the ground, ordered the gates of the school grounds opened to the immediate friends of the dead, in order that the bodies might, as far as possible, be identified , only three or four, however, being admitted at once. The poor people came in quietly, with few outward demonstrations of grief—stunned by the suddenness anf magnitude of their bereavement. There were many touching scenes and moving pictures as the work of the identification went on. Some of the victims were burned to a crisp cinder-down to the very bones about their faces, and then a ring, a shawl, some article of apparel, the peculiar formation of a finger, even, would recall them to living and seeking friends. An old man of perhaps 65 years, one of the first admitted to the basement, after a long and unsuccessful searching among the bodies after his lost daughter, went home and soon returned with his feeble old wife; whose anguish as she eagerly lifted the cloth from each charred, revolting body, in search of some clew to the missing loved one, was pitiful in the extreme. She was about to abandon the search, when she espied a garter which she knew to belong to her daughter, and, by this slight clew, the body was identified. Another equally singular coincidence was the identification of a little daughter of Joseph Briggs of Cabot street by her young sister, who instantly recognized her by the shoes she had on. The head of the poor unfortunate was charred beyond all recognition, and the grief of the surviving sister was one of the most painful features of the morning. Indeed, she could only give vent to her terrible anguish by low, piteous moans. The body of one woman was recognized by a ring which was taken from her hand, upon which the fingers were nearly burned off, while her head and upper portions of her body were burned to the bone. And the body of a man, whose head was nearly burned off, was principally identified by a charred postal card in his pocket. Joseph Messier's body was recognized by the clothes, the head being nearly burned from the body.
      May Pearsons was present and actively overseeing these preliminaries to the final disposition of the killed; wile Deputy Sheriff Ham and the police force were everywhere assisting in the classification of the bodies. It was very pleasant, too, the way those rough fellows adapted themselves to the occasion, having, beneath the assumed brusqueness of their official duties, the tenderest care for the anguished throng. The air of the basement was heavy with the odor of the fore, and crying and wailing often filled the room. Though many stout men gave way to tears, there were instances of marvelous self-control on the part of women, who stifled their own grief, for the time, and strove to repress the audible expressions of sorrow on the part of the other women. It was very noticeable that the weaker man or woman came in leaning upon the stronger—and very often it was the physically able that found support in the person of a son or daughter.
      Father Dufresne was calm and efficient, caring closely for his stricken flock. When a number of the victims had been identified, Sheriff Ham requested the priest to tell the friends of the known dead to withdraw, that others might seek theirs, too. And the obeyed the old man quickly, uncomplainingly. No words were exchanged, no arguments were needed, the simple word and motion of Father Dufresne sent them tearfully away.
      The last one to be recognized of those in the Park street school-house was Mrs. Louise Jeter, wife of Paul Jeter. He was terribly burned about the head and left arm. Her body was charred the most terribly of all there, and none could recognize her until her husband arrived and identified her by means of a broken ring. The poor fellow's grief was most affecting. This last body was identified at half-past 9, only a little over a dozen hours from the time the church was burned—a remarkably short space of time, considering the fearful disfiguration of the corpses.
      After the bodies had been identified, Mayor Pearsons ordered the police at the gate to admit the general crowd, which had rapidly augmented, and, during the next two hours, several thousand people gratified a morbid curiosity by gazing upon the terrible results of the disaster spread upon the floor of the basement. Some were not satisfied with a passing view, but insisted upon drawing aside the covering from over the mutilated forms, seeming in fact to be almost fascinated by the sight, and the police were sometimes obliged to force people from the apartment. The visitors to the channel house included all sizes, ages, and conditions, prominent among them being the laborer with his entire family, not excepting the babe at his breast.
      Soon after the visitors to the morgue had disperses, the bodies were given in charge of the city undertakers, who at once set about preparing them for burial. The coffins, which were of pine, neatly but not extravagantly finished, were furnished at the city's expense, at a cost of about $10, and as they were carted through the streets, piled tier upon tier in the rough express-wagons, one was forcibly reminded of the similar scenes on the Florence road for several days after the Mill river disaster of a year ago. The coffins were padded with cotton batting, and lined with cotton sheeting, in which the bodies were also enshrouded. In some cases, however, the friends of the dead would bring in some article to render a little softer the resting place of the charred remains of their unfortunate loved ones. One poor old father, for instance, after identifying the body of his oldest daughter, went home and soon returned with sheets and a pillow, and tremulously asked that her remains might be laid upon them. The coffins, as fast as occupied, were closed, the lid fastened, and the name of the person tacked upon the outside. After the remains had all been encoffined, the friends were allowed to take them to their homes, and most of them were removed from the school building during the day. It was not uncommon to see a coffin containing a dead body and surrounded by lighted candles, and a poor sufferer, writhing in pain, but in many instances, perfectly conscious, occupying adjoining rooms.

Among the Suffering Survivors.

      But sorrowful and trying as were the scenes of the school-house morgue, a visit to the burned and suffering victims, whom the disaster had left with something of life, was even more sickening, and appealed with far deeper claims to the sympathy of the beholder. The wounded were given such care as the individual circumstances would admit of, which, it is not improper to say, was painfully inadequate and misdirected. The home of the Canadian operatives in our manufacturing places it is known does not abound in the superfluous comforts of life, much less its luxuries. Hence when human life is compressed into great tenements so tightly that one or two or a few contracted rooms holy families of ten or a dozen members, it will be seen that there is little available and suitable space left for the care of the sick. So a tour of the wounded and smarting survivors of Thursday night's catastrophe, yesterday, found most of them propped up in heavy pillows and sweltering beds , of feathers often, in the very kitchen itself in more than one instance, else in adjoining rooms from where the family cooking was in progress. There is no ventilation in these vast tenement blocks, while the injudicious but yet well-intentioned friends were found often in clusters of a half or a whole dozen, hanging over the bedsides of the sufferers in their closet rooms. It was simply cruel torture, increasing many fold the agonies of the helpless, writhing sufferers. Many of the burned were taken to "Canada," where they did not seem to be provided with the wisest of medical care, though it was little enough that anybody could do for so many of the poor wretches. Even though such a proposition would have met with great and very natural opposition it seems sad that these people were not taken at the outset to the Home of Providence, whose gentlest, tenderest of nursing, and cleanly, airy chambers would have done something to mitigate the acuteness of their sufferings. It is a singular fact, by the way, that the eyes of the burned escape injury; almost without exception.
      For the dead, at least, the ills and pains of this life were over, but it was hard to discover aught of promise or cheer in the anguished lot of these maimed living ones. At the Doucette house on Adams street lay young Lucy Rennyg, sadly, seriously burned in the face and body, while in the adjoining little room, both opening from the kitchen, feverishly tossed little nine-year-old Henry Renny in unconscious misery. Near by was Mrs. Peter Girard, scorched, it was believed beyond hope of recovery. Lizzie Mercier on Union street is a great sufferer, but it is hoped will live. She was pulled out of the fatal church door which there were 80 bodies on top of her and so her life was kept from the flames. A sad, most pitiable object is William Pardon Chaquette in the Meneir block, who formerly worked in the Whiting paper mill. He certainly does not give promise of working again soon. His head and neck are most terribly burned, while his hands are white puffy blisters. Nine-year-old Evelyn Woods, in Parsons's block on Cypress street is badly burned about the limbs and face. In the Hillman bakery, Delia Clukey, a 20-year old woman, was burned into horrible deformity. Her face is puffed hideously, so that as she lay on the bed it was impossible to determine her sex. Calixte Dufresne, brother of the priest, is blackened by the smoke of the fire and himself is very seriously singed, so that his recovery is unlikely. A saddened household was that near the ruined church, yesterday, in which lay Sophia Hebbert, the mother of six children, very near to death's door. The only person at all presentable in appearance was Anna La Point, a 15-year old maiden; but Mrs. Marsaline Dupont, on the other hand, was fearfully and literally roasted about the head and face, so that there is no prospect for her recovery. She, too, will leave six children whose ages range from 3 to 13 years. But there is little need of further pursuing this chapter of horrors.
      Few heads of families were stricken down in the disaster, there will be little suffering growing out of it, and so need for popular almsgiving such as was called forth by the Mill river tragedy. There are some special cases, however, where money could be well bestowed. Mrs. Joseph Daigneu, whose husband was killed in a brick yard, a year ago, leaves behind her four orphaned children; and Deputy Sheriff Ham was accosted while driving, yesterday, by an honest old Irishman, who, pointing to two lonesome little fellows before his door, said: "An shure an' them kids has 'nary parent in the world and divil's the bit of food they'll take from ither folks now!"
      The physicians have generally done all in their power to relieve suffering, in but few cases waiting to be called, but going about rather in search of persons requiring their aid. It was a point with the physicians, yesterday, whenever one was found whose life could be prolonged but a few hours, to put him under the influence of drugs which tended to make death easy. City Physical Carpenter has not been behind the others in his attentions to the suffers.

The Inquest Postponed.

      Coroner D. E. Kingsbury summoned a coroner's jury, about half-past 8 yesterday morning, consisting of Alderman H. A. Chase, C. B. Harris, A. D. Barker, A. A. Tyler, O. S. Tuttle and Levi Perkins, the former being the chosen foreman. The body of Fabien Moreau, formerly in the employ of Mr. Kingsbury, was viewed and identified, and the jury adjourned to the Holyoke house at 9 o'clock, Monday morning. It was thought best to delay the inquest on account of the present excitement, and because most of those who will be summoned as witnesses are now busy in caring for their dead and wounded relatives.

Yesterday's Visitors.

      Prominent among the many visitors from this city were Bishop O'Reilly and Father Phelan of the cathedral, and Father Gagnier of the French Catholic church, and these gentlemen, besides visiting the school-house morgue, also called upon some of the sufferers, and offered many expressions of counsel and sympathy. The French Catholics from far up the river also showed their sympathy and good-will for their afflicting countrymen by their presence in the city, and many of the bed-sides of the sufferers were surrounded with relatives and friends from a distance, who had been summoned thither by telegraph. Among the messages of condolence which came pouring in over the wires yesterday, was the following from the publisher of the Worcester French newspaper, Le Travailleur, to Peter Monat: "Le Travailleur sympathizes, for proof, a public meeting of our compatriots here, to-night."

Further Incidents.

      Many, probably a majority, of those in the burned church were dressed out in their best, a number wearing watches, including several gold ones with chains. As the owner of one of these was being dragged from the living pile, the watch and chain were broken away, but were saved. The great quantity of ear rings was also noticed by those handling the bodies. The ruins of the church, yesterday, presented a saddening spectacle, strewn with scorched prayer-books, pieces of clothing, matted hair and clotted blood.
      A sad case was that of E. D. Howard of Willimansett, who was in the church with his little adopted daughter, the child of Louis Woods of Chicopee, whom he had taken into his family within 10 days. Howard himself escaped from the church by jumping from the window, though badly burned. His little daughter was fatally burned about the breast, though she lived for several hours after being taken out.
      Many of those who had lost friends were frantic with grief, and attempted to force their way into the enclosure where the victims were lying. One large, strong woman, to whom Special Policemen Charles Ely refused admittance, struck him a blow to the breast that nearly knocked him over. Mr. Ely states that one of the first sights he saw on approaching the church was a woman with her clothes nearly all burned off, her left arm running with blood, her right all burned and crisped, her back burned so that her shoulder-blades protruded from the flesh, running about in the most excruciating agony, and uttering the most piercing shrieks.
      Dr. Edward O'Connor was in West Holyoke, five miles away, when he first saw the light of the blazing church, and thinking it might be near his own home, he hastened home as swiftly as possible, arriving in time to take care of eight persons, that night, most of them being young women. Yesterday he was called upon to attend three cases of miscarriage, caused by the , caused by the violent fright of the occasion. Another lady was made seriously ill, and Mrs. John Wilkinson, living close by the church, and who had been at the point of death for several days with severe illness, being left alone, became raving insane, leaping from her bed and requiring several men to control her. She was better at last accounts, though not out of danger.
      Chief Engineer Mullin happened to be walking on Main street, near the South Holyoke engine-house, when the alarm was given, and at one sent the Mount Holyoke hose to the fire, and sounded general alarm from the engine-house on teh Hill.
      When one woman was lifted from the place where she was first laid, her back hair all broke out in flame, and she soon expired.

The Organist and Her Lover.

      The fate of Amminie Menier and her lover was a strange event of the fire. She was the organist for the evening, in the absence of the regular one, and was cut off from escape when the church burned. Her lover escaped, but, finding that she was still within, turned to rescue her, was overcome by the flames and perished with her.

A Most Remarkable Case.

      One of the most protracted cases of suffering was that of Mary Desjardin, who, burned to a crisp, and blind, past all recognition, somehow found her way to the hill north of the church and wandered around there about 20 minutes, probably, before she was found and taken to her home on the North flat, where she died about 11 o'clock, Friday morning, having lingered for 15 hours in fearful agony. Her sister, Lillian, also died, Friday forenoon, at the Home of Providence, whither she was taken, Thursday midnight. Mrs. Desjardin, their mother, who was burned in the church, had taken all the money of the family with her, and of course it was entirely lost. Of this large and very poor family, there are several quite small children and one married daughter now left.

Funerals of the Victims.

      During the forenoon, Mayer Pearsons and one of two members of the board of aldermen held a conference with Father Dufresne and a number of the representative French Catholic citizen, in reference to the disposal of the bodies. Mayor Pearsons advised that, on account of the warm weather, they be buried at once, but Father Dufresne and Joseph Prew urged that the burials be deferred until to-day, as several were anxious to remove the remains of their friends to their former homes in Canada, while all of them objected to interring the bodies so soon after death. So strong was this feeling that the mayor made no further objection, and general funeral services will be held over the remains of all the dead at 10 o'clock this morning. The brick and other debris in the basement of the new church were removed yesterday, and it is Father Dufresne's plan to have this apartment temporarily fitted up for this service, the coffins to be arranges on long tables.
      The exercises, which will be of a very solemn nature, will be conducted by Father Dufresne of Holyoke, assisted by Father Gagnier of this city, and perhaps one or two others. With the exception of nine bodies — eight of which will be sent to Canada for interment and one to Burlington, Vt., — the remains will be buried in the society's new cemetery at South Hadley Falls. It is proposed to arrange the graves in rows, or in a square, and as compactly as possible, and a suitable monument will ultimately mark their place of burial. The bodies to be taken to Canada are those of Josephine Brisson, Eliza Fortier, Benjamin Fortier, Josephine Viger, Louise Guyott, Isaiah Morin, Salina Plante and Tobien St. Pierre. Paul Jaudin conveyed the remains of his wife to Burington, Vt., for interment, at the city's expense, last evening. He lost sight of his wife in the crowd, and in attempting to save her, he was himself seriously burned about the face and hands. The mayor authorized Almoner Judd to bury as many bodies as necessary at the city's expense, but the remains of all but two or three have been taken in charge by their friends. The city has been exceedingly generous in her aid to the sufferers, and it is probable that the "calamity bill" will amount to about $800.

Miscellaneous Notes.

      Employés in many of the mills were included among the dead, and several of the manufacturers naturally considered it expedient to "shut up shop" for a day or two, to await the subsiding of the excitement attending the disaster. The works closed, yesterday, were the Hadley thread mills, the Springfield blanket company's mill, one of the Lyman company's group, the Hampden mills and the woolen mill of Webber and Beebe. The latter will probably remain closed to-day. Twelve operatives in the Hadley thread mills were lost, 10 of them employed in one room, five from the blanket mill, three from Webber & Beebe's mill, while several are missing from the Hampden, Lyman and alpaca mills.
      The pictorial papers, Frank Leslie's, Harper's Weekly, and the New York Graphic had artists on the ground during a greater part of yesterday, taking sketches of the scenes inside and about the morgue, the church ruins an of the church in its former state.
      The burned church was insured by Parks & Browning for $2000 each in the Westchester company of Westchester, N.Y., and the Globe of Chicago.

The Republican and the Disaster.

      It is seldom that a harder task is laid upon a newspaper than confronted the Republican on Thursday evening. The news of the disaster did not reach this office till just after the last train for the north had left, the burned church was nine miles away, the inevitable confusion of the scene was aggravated by the fact that where the survivors, from whom must be gathered a trustworthy account of the fire, did not speak English, and there were but a few short hours available for work. Yet, not only would the readers of The Republican demand a full and graphic account of the disaster in their Friday morning paper, but all the great newspapers of the country depended upon this office to furnish them also for the same issue an intelligible report through the Associated Press. A strong force of reporters was at once sent by fast teams to Holyoke, Manager Denver of the Western Union telegraph office detailed two operators to accompany the party, and, by diligent work on the part of all, four columns of matter were written, telegraphed and put into type, in season for the paper to reach its readers at the usual hour. In addition to this, the most striking portions of The Republican's account were dispatched at once to the Associated Press , so that the papers connected with that organization, not only in New England, but throughout the middle states and the West, were able to present a clear and comprehensive report of the disaster. Although the news of the fire attained little circulation through this city or the surrounding country Thursday evening, it spread rapidly yesterday morning, and the unusually large edition of 14,500 copies of The Republican found quick and ready sale. None of our readers could have been more surprised at the comprehensiveness and accuracy of The Republican's account than were those citizens of Holyoke whose official position made them more sensible than any outsider could possibly be of the difficulty of the undertaking; Mayor Pearsons, Deputy Sheriff Ham, Alderman Chase and other prominent persons, who were familiar with the facts, all agreed that the report was remarkably full and free from errors, — a common remark being, "It doesn't seen as if there was anything left to say about it."

| Precious Blood Church Fire Contents |

| | Hampden County Page |
| Western Mass History & Genealogy |

© Laurel O'Donnell 1998 - 2005, ©Art Corbiel, 2000, respectively, all rights reserved
This document may be downloaded for personal non-commercial use only
and should not be reproduced or distributed in any format without permission.