Buffalo and its German Community - Pages 43 & 44

Chapter 9

Disasterous Days for Buffalo -- Cholera -- Fire in the American Hotel -- The Burning of the Music Hall and St. Louis Church -- The Assassination of President McKinley

The epidemics did not spare Buffalo. Even in 1832, the first year of her existence, the city was felled by a serious affliction. Asiatic cholera, travelling on its deathmarch from India to Europe, was transported by Irish immigrants who landed in Quebec. The disease was spread to America and made its way to Buffalo. This dreadful and hitherto unknown contagious disease claimed 80 victims in the months of July and August. One could find no ways to prevent the disease's spread nor find a successful cure. Many residents fled in fear as soon as it became known that there was cholera in the city. The corpses of those who died because of the disease were buried one or two hours after death. A wagon drove through the streets ready to pick up the dead and bury them. Cholera snatched its victims so quickly that some who appeared to be in perfect health in the morning were in the grave by nightfall. Another epidemic followed in 1834 which was not as drastic as the first. When the contagion returned in 1849 it claimed more victims than it had previously. Since the population had risen the proportion of those infected was not as great. In 1854 cholera appeared for the last time.

On January 25, 1865 the American Hotel on Main Street between Eagle and Court burnt to the ground. It was located where Adam, Meldrum and Anderson now stands. Not only did the fire create great financial damage, but also took the lives of three hopeful young men pursuing their occupational callings. These men were James H. Sidway, George H. Tifft and William H. Gillet.

No inferno, which plaqued our city, affected the German population as much as the fire of March 25, 1885. The Music Hall, built in 1883,and the old St. Louis Church were reduced to ashes. On the evening of this date the McCaully Opera Company was supposed to present the comic opera Falka in the large theater of the Music Hall. There were about 50 people in the audience. Suddenly the call "Fire" was sounded. A faulty gas pipeline circling the theater floor and going behind the stage scenery had ignited. In an incredibly short time the entire theater was engulfed in flames. The first fire alarm for the city fire department was at about fifteen minutes to eight. Six minutes later the general alarm sounded, calling out the whole fire-fighting force. It took a bit of time before the hoses were operating. The Fire Department had to deal with several obstructions including frozen water mains. But even under the most favorable circumstances the unleashed forces of such a destructive element would have made the men powerless. A large crowd gathered around the fire and watched as one of the most beautiful buildings in the city, a monument to the spirit of German enterprise, became the plunder of the fire demon.

Due to the strong northerly winds sparks and flames spread to the roof of old, venerable St. Louis Church. Despite the efforts of firefighters, the church also was claimed by the flames. Two men died. Joseph Grimm, a bricklayer who led the firemen into the tower of the church, was driven by the flames to the edge where the roof had given way. He fell and died of multiple injuries. George J. Roth, a fireman, was found burned to death amid the ruins. Shortly before the outbreak of the fire in the Music Hall services had begun in St. Louis Church. The congregation was sent out and the costly altar pieces were brought to safety.

Dark shadows fell over the exposition with the assassination of President McKinley in the Temple of Music. The fifth of September was set aside as President's day. Promptly and according to plan the exposition grounds teamed with participants from all over the country. The day on which the President gave his speech left a lasting legacy for the nation. The following day as the President attended a reception in the Temple of Music, he encountered the fatal bullet of anarchist Leon Czolgoss. The mortally wounded President was taken to the house of Exposition-President John G. Milburn on the corner of Delaware and West Ferry. Despite the best medical care and nursing possible on September 14, 1901 the wound proved fatal. The wake, held in the Milburn residence, was a simple affair. The body was escorted by regular soldiers and militia to City Hall. After thousands of people had taken their last look at the murdered president, the body was taken first to Washington and then to Canton Ohio, McKinley's home state. There with great ceremony the president gained his final rest. The people of the State of New York erected a monument, in the shape of an obelisk, in Niagara Square to commemorate the martyred president.

The trial of the murder began in Buffalo on September 23. Three days after the murderer was sentenced to death he was transported to the State Penitentiary in Auburn where he was executed. At first it was assumed that the murderer was an agent for an anarchistic group but it was later discovered that he acted out the heinous crime on his own initiative.

Caption under picture reads the YMCA Building

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Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks
Revised June 19, 2005