The Windsor Hotel Fire On St. Patrick’s Day In 1899 Killed 86
It only took 115 years, but finally 31 unidentified dead, who were killed in New York City’s deadliest hotel fire, will be receiving a stone which commemorates their final resting place.
On Thursday, October 9 at 4:00 p.m., a memorial service was held at Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, N.Y. to officially unveil and dedicate a monument to those who were interred without a marker.
The Windsor Hotel built between 1872 and 1873, stood at 575 Fifth Avenue, between 46th and 47tth Streets and was considered one of New York’s finest hotels.
At a few minutes after 3:00 p.m. on Friday, March 17, 1899 with thousands of spectators along Fifth Avenue watching the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, a fire broke out at The Windsor Hotel and spread like lightning throughout the entire structure.
On the 46th Street side of the hotel, John Foy, a waiter at the hotel was passing the parlor located on the second floor. Foy watched a guest light a cigar and try to toss the lighted match out one of the open bow windows. The wind was blowing in and the match struck one of the window curtains setting it on fire. Foy attempted to be a hero and to extinguish the flames, but within seconds the fire had spread all over the corridor, and Foy fled. The man who carelessly started the blaze was never identified.
Though the fire was discovered immediately, the alarm turned in promptly and fire fighters arrived rapidly, the entire hotel was reduced to rubble within an hour.
The newspapers of the day commented that had the fire broken out at night when the hotel’s 500 plus rooms were fully occupied with sleeping guests, the loss of life would have been tremendously greater.
As it was the final death toll was about 86 (exact numbers unknown), half of whom were unidentified and 31 of whom were buried April 17, 1899 in a group plot in Kensico Cemetery about 25 miles outside of the city.
Plans were drawn up to build a fitting memorial to honor those who perished in the conflagration. Noted sculptor Max Bachmann was commissioned to design a grand monument.
The monument was to be of granite, twenty-one feet high and twenty feet wide. It was to consist of a life size bronze figure of “Grief,” bearing a palm, and standing beside three columns. One of the columns was to be perfect, to represent those who escaped from the fire. The second was to be partly broken, to represent the identified dead, while the third was to be broken off at the base, to represent the unidentified dead. The names of those who perished in the fire, but whose bodies were not recovered, would be cut in the stone.
The monument committee consisted of Rev. Dr. D. Parker Morgan, Chauncey M. Depew, James F. Sutton and Gardner Wetherbee of the Hotel Manhattan. The New England Monument Company were responsible for constructing the monument, which was to cost $7,500.
Apparently the monies were never raised and the monument went unbuilt.
For a few years afterwards there would be occasional reminders of the disaster like this magic lantern slide shown at silent motion picture houses during intermission reminding people not to smoke inside a theatre. But the fire stayed in the collective minds of the public for about one generation.
By 1919 with so many major tragedies having affected New Yorkers, (the General Slocum Fire, Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, Titanic, Lusitania, 1918 worldwide influenza pandemic, The Great War) the Windsor Hotel Fire was soon forgotten.
Finally a century later, the unknown victims will be remembered.