The Richardson Hotel Fire

The Richardson Hotel was built in the mid-1800’s and was next to the local train station. Please see the postcard photograph attached. It was a marvelous hotel. It consisted of five stories and it lasted a long time. It held, as you can see from the picture, many guests. In 1906 it burned down. The loss of life was significant, although the local newspaper does not mention how many guests died in the fire. In fact, the gist of the comments made by the rescuers, were about how awful the Fire Department was with the fire. It is an interesting story.

A five story building today would be eminently manageable. In 1906, they were still fighting fires with horse-drawn carriages. They did not have extended ladder trucks, nor did they have good attendance by the firemen. In fact, that is cited as the reason so many people died. The firemen that they did have were ill-trained to use a new invention, the human safety net. Here is what happened.

It was difficult to get professional firemen, and most of the Fire Department consisted of volunteers. One witness was quoted as saying that the fire carriages were not well manned. He said that there were not enough firemen at the Richardson Hotel site. Citizens did their best to help save the victims.

First, the pieces of apparatus…were very poorly manned,” complained one eyewitness. {Lowell SUN, pg. 8, 1/29/06}. The firefighters who were there were supposed to use the net to catch victims jumping out of windows during the fire. The problems abounded. There were no trained firefighters on the ground, according to other eyewitnesses. Firefighters did not know how to operate the nets, to the point that they did not know that the net was supposed to be held above your head in order to take the brunt of the weight of the person falling. They held the nets at the waist, and many people falling into the net hit the ground. When they did, they died. The second major problem was that the people holding the nets were not large enough to completely hold the weight of the victim. Sometimes a net was being held by two firefighters, and the people hit the ground and died. Finally, a group of eyewitnesses grabbed some of the human nets and helped by raising them over their heads, and saved some of their jumpers. The scorn for the firemen was great, however.

If it was not for valiant citizens grabbing the net, the loss of life would have been much greater. It took twenty minutes to raise ladders to the window, and by then the building was consumed. As a cautionary measure, ropes were thereafter mandated for fire escapes and windows.

In other news, Chicago was at the time in the middle of a series of murders. Apparently, things do not change in some cases. “Chicago Crime List is Growing,” said the newspaper. There had been another murder in Chicago overnight. Also, a man, “crazed with liquor,” shot three times at a woman, Mrs. Ida Pirington at Shaw Hosiery. I know the Shaw Hosiery building because it is right down the street. He missed with each shot, and Mrs. Pirington did not hold it against him. So saieth the newspaper.

In other news, Mr. Rogers sued the Textile School, now UMASS-LOWELL. He said it could not be used for a “drawing school,” for some reason. I wondered what happened to Mr. Rogers. Finally, schools closed down one-half day in honor of Lincoln Day by order of Governor Guild. In other news it was noted that Lowell had the largest parochial school in the state. The St. John de Baptiste School held 2,322 students. The nearest competitor was Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Roxbury with 1,988 students. Speaking of fires, there was a Blacksmith Shop fire on Hurd Street downtown. No loss of life in that fire.

The public schools continued their supremacy, but the Catholic schools were holding their own. There was a large Catholic population, and it was not all Irish. It included people from Poland, Lithuania, and Italy, as well as others. In 1909, St. Peter’s Parish was built and it was designed to rival the Immaculate Conception Church. When it was built, the parish contained St. Peter’s School, and there are still many Lowellians who remember attending that school before it closed its doors. The bulk of the stained glass windows in St. Peter’s found their way to St. Francis Church in Dracut. They are there today,

Well, that is about it for now. Have a great Labor Day weekend.

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