January 10, 1912, The Washington Times, "MILLIONS IN SAFES IN EQUITABLE RUINS IMPERILED BY ICE,"
Page 2, Columns 1 & 2,
MILLIONS IN SAFES IN EQUITABLE RUINS IMPERILED BY ICE.
Grave Danger That Building's Massive Walls Will Fall.
FIREMEN WORK TO GET CHIEF'S BODY.
Flames Still Raging in Basement of Wrecked New York Structure.
Firemen today continued pouring great streams of water on the smoldering ruins of the ice-encrusted Equitable building, endeavoring to effect an entrance to search for the body of Battalion Chief William K. Walsh and others, who are believed to be dead in the structure.
Out on the icy streets, braving the bitter wind, financiers and brokers stood impatiently waiting for a chance to penetrate to the the vaults of the Equitable Life, the Equitable Trust, and the Mercantile Safe Deposit Company where money, securities, and jewels to the value of $2,000,000,000 are imperiled.
Business in Wall Street was still hampered today as never before by inability to secure the great volume of securities necessary for the routine transaction of business.
So far as it is possible to determine, the death rate in yesterday's fire was seven. Firemen fear, however, that three or four other missing employees at the building perished.
An accurate estimate of the loss in the fire is impossible. The loss to the Lawyers' Club will be more than $1,000,000. Until the vaults can be opened and their contents displayed, a fair estimate of the loss cannot be computed.
Money In Danger.
There is grave danger today that the massive walls of the wrecked building will fall into the streets. Although the billion or more, dollars' worth of securities in the Mercantile vaults are believed to be perfectly safe, Deputy Fire Chief John Binns today expressed grave fears that the old-fashioned brick vaults of the Equitable, containing securities and money to the certified value of $400,000,000, may fall from the second floor of the building into the basement, crumbling to pieces in the fall and permitting a total destruction of their rich deposit.
A fierce fire still is raging in the basement of the building, in the vicinity of the vaults of the Mercantile Safe Deposit Company, over which a huge ice roof has formed, so that the firemen cannot pour any more water on It. Firemen, however, do not believe the heat will injure the contents of the vaults.
Even if the vaults of the Equitable are saved intact, it will probably be two or three weeks before they or the vaults of the Mercantile can be opened, because of fear of spontaneous combustion.
Buried In Ice.
The body of Conrad Siebert, a night watchman, killed in the basement of the Mercantile, is buried today in a solid sheet of ice thirty feet deep. Up to last night Siebert's hands might be seen through the ice stretched appealingly forward to the bars through which President William Giblin, of the Mercantile, had been dragged to safety.
The building today is an almost solid mass of ice, which the firemen say holds the walls together like cement. The weight of this ice threatens to hurl the weakened floors into the basement and streets. The force of the ice already has bulged the walls facing Broadway and when the ice begins to thaw the walls will slip back into place, setting up a vibration, wreckers say, that may throw them down. In that event, it is feared the weight will crush through the thin shell of Broadway and be precipitated into the subway beneath.
All night long, under a dozen searchlights, firemen dug on the main stairway on the second floor for the body of Chief Walsh. Though they took their lives in their hands, the men refused to stop. There remain about 200 tons of ice and debris over the spot where Walsh is thought to be dead, and it will be several days before the body can be recovered.
Shortly before 10 o'clock the floors that remained fell under the weight of the ice, burying Chief Walsh's body under a mass of debris that cannot be removed for weeks, wreckers declare.
Old Style Vaults.
The vaults of the Equitable Life, erected many years ago, are known as the old style "chimney vaults." They consist of a brick vault within a brick vault, with an intervening air space. The interior vault has a steel lining. While they are fireproof, firemen say that if the floors give way beneath the weight and precipitate the vaults into the basement, they will fall to pieces. In that event the destruction of securities is feared.
It is pointed out that, of course the vast part of this great fortune is in registered stocks and bonds, which could be replaced, so that the loss to the Equitable and its thousands of policy holders would not be great; certainly nothing like the $400,000,000 the securities represent. There would be the inconvenience of replacing them, but the actual loss would not be heavy. Of course, the money in the vaults could not be replaced if burned.
If the floors hold and the great fortune is saved, it may be weeks before it is safe to open the doors or the vaults. The air in them is believed to be up to a very high temperature; hot enough to burn. But fire cannot live where there is no air. Should the doors be opened, however, and air, with its accompanying oxygen be permitted to enter, spontaneous combustion, Fire Chief Binns declares, would instantly ensue, charring to bits the papers contained in the vaults. A great cake of solid ice covers the vaults, holding the heat inside.
Fortunes Tied Up.
The vaults of the Mercantile Company are in no danger of breaking up, even if the building does collapse, because they are in the basement. The windows around them are covered by several feet of ice, which prevents firemen from throwing any more water on the hot fire that is raging about them. Several streams of water are still being poured in the general direction of the vaults, but it is admitted, little, if any, of it, is reaching the fire.
Conservative financiers declared today there was more than a billion dollars in securities, money and jewels in these basement vaults, which will be tied up until such time as it is safe to open them. Of this the Gould estate has about $100,000,000; the Equitable Trust Company, $50,000,000: the Harriman estate, $125,000,000; Thomas F. Ryan, $100,000,000; August Belmont, $150,000,000, in the Belmont vault; Kuhn, Loeb & Co. $100,000,000; Kountze Brothers, bankers,
$15,000,000; the Mercantile Trust Company, $70,000,000; William A. Read & Co., bankers, $100,000,000; Mrs. Russell Sage, $50,000,000; Union and Southern Pacific securities of almost inestimable value.
Of course, the vast portion of these great fortunes is in registered securities, duplicates of which may be secured easily in the event they are lost. The Equitable had $100,000,000 in cash in its vaults; the Mercantile Trust Company, $6,000,000; the Belmont, Read & Kountze banks also having millions in actual cash on hand.
The Canavan Wrecking Company last night placed 350 workmen in the Equitable building, attempting to clear away some of the debris from the vaults and to brace up the tottering walls so the vaults would not be injured. They worked, under the glare of the searchlights for several hours, and then were ordered from the building by the firemen, who feared they were in danger.
Every fireman in the department today speaks reverently of Battalion Chief Walsh. With escape easy, Walsh deliberately returned to a spot where Captain Bass, of engine company No. 4, had been working, to order them out of the building. He was caught on the stairway by hundreds of tons of debris.
Bass and his men had escaped a moment before on scaling ladders.
Broadway is blocked today, and probably will be for some time. There are four feet of solid ice in the street before the building.
In view of the enormous amount of wealth piled up in the vaults of the wrecked building. Police Commissioner Waldo today assigned seventy-five plain clothesmen under Inspector Hughes, to guard the vaults. Because of the great crowds flocking to the scene the police fear crooks may penetrate into the financial district below the "dead line," and, today warned all bankers and brokers against sending money or negotiable papers through the street except under guard.
Page 2, Column 2,
But One Inquiry Here As to Effect of the Fire on Equitable.
"Of the 5,000 policyholders we have in Washington, only one has inquired at the office here as to what effect the fire in New York, in which the Equitable building was burned yesterday, will have on the company," said George C. Jordan, manager of the local offices of the Equitable Life Assurance Society today. "The building in New York was not included in the assets of the company so the policyholders have nothing to worry about. The greatest building in the world probably will be erected by the society where the old one stood," said Mr. Jordan.
The annual convention of managers and agents of the society will be held in New York January 17 and 18, Just the same at which a banquet will be given in honor of Judge William A. Day, the president. The managers and agents hold separate meetings on the first day and on the second a joint meeting. At least 200 picked men will attend this convention, says Mr. Jordan. Tyler Nordlinger is the delegate from the District of Columbia.