Friday, August 5, 2011


January 9, 1912, The [Ogden City, Utah] Evening Standard, "EQUITABLE LIFE BUILDING IN NEW YORK DESTROYED,"
Page 1, Columns 1, 2 & 3,



Three Watchmen, Trapped by the Flames, Jump From the High Structure---Wm. Giblin, Head of the Mercantile Safe Deposit Company, Caught in the Vaults, But Released by Battering Down a Steel Door---Loss Estimated at 15,000,00

New York, Jan. 9. The great marble nine-story building of the Equitable Life Assurance society, at 120 Broadway, the home of the Mercantile Trust company, the Equitable Trust company, the banking house of Kountze Brothers, the Mercantile Safe Deposit company and the Harriman lines, was destroyed early today by fire. Three men lost their lives by leaping from the roof and the property loss is estimated at about $6,000,000.

Millions of dollars in cash and securities are locked in the vaults of the Assurance society and the banking and trust companies, but are not believed to be affected by the flames.

William Giblin, president of the Mercantile Safe Deposit company, was imprisoned with three other employes in the vaults and was rescued after the firemen had sawed through several two-inch steel bars. One man is believed to have lost his life in the vaults.

Deputy Fire Chief Walsh is supposed to have been burned to death, after being imprisoned in the burning structure.

The fire was in the heart of the financial district and the flames were fought mainly from the tops of sky-scrapers. Business was brought almost to a complete standstill among banking and brokerage houses, whose employes could not reach the scene of their daily activities. Financial firms stopped business to care for the firemen.

Most of the vital records of the Equitable Life Assurance society were kept in the branch offices of the society in the Hazen building, several blocks from the main offices.


New York, Jan. 9. The immense granite office building of the Equitable Life Assurance society on lower Broadway was destroyed today by a fire which is still burning. Four bodies already have been taken out of the building and there is little doubt that several more dead and alive are caught in the ruins.

The big Equitable building was also the home of the Union and Southern Pacific railways, the banking house of August Belmont & Co., the Mercantile Trust company, now a subsidiary of the Bankers' Trust company, the Mercantile Safe Deposit company, together with a number of New York financial firms.

Millions on millions of dollars in securities and cash were cared for in the immense vaults of the Equitable company and in the vaults of the trust and safe deposit companies, but it is not believed that the heat of the fire can penetrate the safes and that there will be no loss from this source.

The heaviest loss, besides that of the building, was caused by the destruction of insurance and railroad records.

Within two hours after the fire broke out at 5:30 o'clock, the bullding was a mass of flames and the firemen, working from the tops of skyscrapers and from the streets below were trying to prevent the flames spreading to the buildings on the opposite sides of the streets.

The Equitable building occupies the block between Broadway and Nassau streets and Pine and Cedar streets The fire was first dlscovered on the ground floor in a store room of the Cafe Savarin, and, carried by a draught of air, shot upward through an elevator shaft, setting fire to the upper floors. A general alarm was turned in, and when the fire department reached the scene the flames were bursting out of the windows in the southeast corner of the building.

A gale, sweeping through the streets, drove the flames through the building from end to end. Firemen dragged their hose to the tops of the Chase National bank on Pine street and the Fourth National bank on Nassau street, while other lines of hose were run up on a skyscraper opposite the building on Broadway from which streams of water were directed on the flames. Five alarms were turned in and fire tugs from the North and East rivers grouped themselves at a convenient dock and pumped volumes of water into the building.

Three watchmen in the building heroically remained to fight the flames with fire extinguishers, but they were finally driven to the roof. Firemen made a heroic attempt to save them and scaling ladders were run up.

Rescuers got as high as the fourth foors when the watchmen, their forms outlined against the glare of the flames, were seen to kneel and pray and then, as the corner of the building on which they were standing fell, they jumped to the street. The firemen on the scaling ladders had difficulty in making their way back to the streets.

Fire Commissioner Johnson discovered William Giblin, president of the Mercantile Safe Deposit company, at the corner of Cedar street and Broadway, imprisoned in the vaults. He could be seen from the streets and his legs were pinned down by a mass of fixtures and debris which had fallen from above. He was alive and held out his hand to the firemen, who made frantic, though futile, attempts to break through the heavy steel doors. Father McGean of the fire department administered the last rites to the man.

Commissioner Johnson said he thought the imprisoned man was the president of the Mercantile Safe Deposit company, who had arrived at the building after the fire was under way and had attempted to save some papers.

Two Men Imprisoned.

Deputy Fire Chief William Walsh and four firemen were caught under a section of the floor when the upper floor gave way. Firemen managed to reach a window ledge from which they were rescued by means of a life line, but when they looked back Chief Walsh had disappeared in the smoking ruins. Efforts were made to reach the spot where he was buried but the firemen could not find him.

Father McGean nearly lost his life when administering the last rites to Giblin, the firemen dragging him away just as a shower of bricks and stones fell on the spot where he had been kneeling.

As a fireman carried Father McGean away Giblin turned to him and pityingly said:

"For God's sake. Father, take me out of here! I am dying. Can't you get at me?"

Porters Rescued.

Two porters in the safe deposit ompany were rescued from the basement of the building when the sidewalk in front of the structure caved in. They were injured and removed to a hospital.

The fire was finally confined to the Equitable building, though for a time it seemed as if the flames would sweep across the street and set fire to the American Exchange National bank, at Cedar street and Broadway, on which the sparks were falling in a shower. This building was kept wet down by streams of water from the skyscrapers on all sides.

The flames had the intensity of a blast furnace. The heavy floors of the building buckled under the white heat of the fire and fell in, while the walls crumbled and dropped into the streets.

Parts of the Brooklvn fire department were sent to aid in preventing the spread of flames. Business in the financial section was brought practically to a standstill. Thousands of clerks in banking and brokerage houses, railroad and industrial corporations were held back by police lines formed two blocks north of the fire and traffic of every kind in the streets nearby the burning building was forbidden by the police.

Three Men In Vaults.

After the flames had been checked three men were reported to be alive in the vaults of the Mercantile Safe Deposit company, where one man had already lost his life, and the firemen tried to batter down the steel doors. The falling stone and brick had blocked and warped the doors so that they could not be unlocked.

While the firemen were hammering away, a part of the coping fell and the rescuers had a narrow escape. After the stone had fallen the firemen made renewed efforts to penetrate the doors. Firemon at last succeeded in battering in a steel door and rescuing two watchmen who were imprisoned in the vault. They also rescued William Giblin.

Ambulances from four hospitals were on the scene and took care of the injured.

Assessed at $12,000,000.

With the exception of one insurance building, the Equitable Life Assurance society had a greater assessed valuation than any other building in the financial district, the figures being $12,000,000.

Tho other occupants of the Equitable building, besides the Harriman railway, were the executive offices of the Western Maryland railroad, together with the offices of Herbert Satterlee, son-in-law of J. P. Morgan, and Alexander & Green.

After President Giblin was rescued he was carried to the boiler room of the Trinity building. Surgeons stripped him of his clothing and wrapped him in heavy blankets. Stimulants were administered. After a brief rest Mr. Giblin said:

How Giblin Was Caught.

"I was sitting up last night with my wife, who has been very ill, when an employe of the hotel informed me that the Equitable building was on fire. When I arrived at the building there were no flames but plenty of smoke. I hurried into one of the vaults to get some valuable papers, followed by one of the night watchmen. The vault had a spring lock and I left my keys outside.

"When the man and I started to leave the door swung shut and we were both prisoners. The smoke was awful. We shouted, but it seemed we were doomed. The other man was alive up to half an hour ago, but just before I was carried out he fainted and I think he must be dead."

Mr. Giblin was taken to the Hudson street hospital. He was very weak, but in no immediate danger. The offices of the Harriman lines, which were in the building, were being moved to 165 Broadway. Everything had been moved save the papers in the legal department. Many valuable records, including the autobiography of E. H. Harriman, was there, and it was believed that these and other valuable records were destroyed.

Three employes of the building leaped from the third floor to the street. They were taken to the hospital seriously injured.

After the fire had been checked and the firemen were able to get closer to the building it was discovered that the Belmont building, on Nassau street, which adjoins the burning building, had been saved, though the offices of August Belmont & Co. had been flooded with water.

Railroad Loss Not Heavy.

President Lovett of the Harriman lines said that, as all of the Union and Southern Pacific securities held in the treasury were kept outside the city, the monetary loss to the railroads would be small. Mr Lovett said that the extent of inconvenience suffered because of the loss of records will, of course, depend on whether the vault's on the third and fourth floors have been destroyed. The records referred to include those of the comptroller's department, the treasurer's office and the transfer department.

President Day of the Equitable called a meeting of the executive committee at the company's new building in Greenwich street to consider the matter of securing temporary quarters. Of the 1,300 clerks employed by the society, about 600 were in the main building, while the others were engaged at work in the Greenwich street building. The offices of the Equitable Trust company luckily escaped the flames, but were damaged by water, as were the offices of August Belmont.

Four Known to Be Dead.

Four men are known to be dead and five injured in the fire and several persons are missing, including Battalion Chief Walsh.

The fire was still burning in the debris in the basement of the building this afternoon.

Conservative estimates of the damage placed the loss in the neighborhood of $10,000,000, while others say that the loss will run as high as $15,000,000.

According to an officer of the Equitable, the great safety deposit vaults in the building contained last night securities aggregating between $250,000,000 and $300,000,000. The vaults are belived to be intact.

President Day of the Equitable said this afternoon:

"The burning of the home office at 120 Broadway will cause but temporary inconvenience. Securities and important records are protected by fireproof vaults which are intact. Most of the office force and records were removed some time ago to the society's building, No. 2 Albany street.

"The executive offices of the society and the cashier's department have been established in the City Investing building. This will, for the time being, be the home office of the society."

Gage E. Tarbell. a former vice president of the Equitable, said that the society carried its own insurance. Many of the large banks announced today that, owing to the fire, they would not exercise their prerogative of calling loans today. The money market, owing to the action of the Stock Exchange, was practically at a standstill.


New York, Jan. 8 Banking and brokerage business was halted for a time by the fire and the governors of the stock exchange met to determine what action should be taken with respect to deliveries of securities purchased yesterday. The decision was reached that transfers may be suspended for a day by mutual consent.

The clearing house in the Chase National bank was closed and temporary quarters were opened at the Chamber of Commerce. Depositors and bank customers of the burned out trust companies as well as those of financial institutions located in the neighborhood of the burned building were unable to reach their banks, being held back by the police lines.

An officer of the Equitable Life Assurance society said that the society had duplicates of every record, which were stored in a building several blocks away from the burned structure. The fire, he said, would not affect the company's business with its policyholders throughout the country.

Officials of the Mercantile Safe Deposit company said the vaults were intact and not a cent would be lost.

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