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Dictionary of Wisconsin History

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Term: Newhall House fire (1883)


Milwaukee's Newhall House, one of the state's largest hotels, burned in the early morning of January 10, 1883. The blaze apparently started in the elevator shaft and spread quickly through the old wooden structure. By the time the fire was discovered the flames were out of control, and the staff failed to arouse many of the guests and employees. The firemen broke their extension ladder on the electric wires that hung next to the building. The hotel had had several fires over the previous years and was considered a "tinder-box" by the fire department. About 90 persons perished in the blaze, many of them jumping from upper floors of the six-story structure. Among the rescued guests were "General Tom Thumb" and his wife, famous entertainers. The hero of the day was a volunteer fireman named Herman Stauss who carried a ladder to the alley, and with the help of a bystander raised it and swung it from the roof of an adjacent building to a fifth floor window. Across this insecure "bridge" he carried or led to safety 10 of the 50 servant girls who were sleeping in the fifth floor rooms.

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[Source: WHS Library reference file prepared by Margaret Gleason.]
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