The visit to the Brooklyn Historical Society started outside this time. We finally learned about the structural importance of the building from the gigantic heads to the very detailed carvings. After our brief lesson outside it was time to head on in. This discussion started on the Brooklyn Theater fire on December 5th 1876. The Brooklyn Theater was the main place in Brooklyn to get entertainment. It seated 1,000 people, had 5balcanys, with one big spiral staircase to the top. The Theater was decorated with oil paintings and lit with gas candles, bad combination. That night the theater was filled to capacity and the room started to fill with smoke. The actors continued the show, but as the smoke progressed people panicked and fled to the two back doors. As the first floor cleared out everyone thought the whole place was evacuated however they forgot the above floors. When the building was finally finished burning the people saw a gruesome sight. 300 dead burned victims filled up the stairs to the fifth floor.
The documents our group studied the Brooklyn Theater Fire Association Records (1876-1879). They were documents that showed if families of the victims received money for funeral costs or damages. The first person in a folder was a woman, Ms. May Black, from 164 presidents St. Brooklyn. She wrote about her injury and not being able to work or take care of her large family. Her letter was different then the others because she actually sent in a bill to the relief fund writing; Doctor bill $50-100, Loss of time $100-00, Shawl $88-00, Loans, coats that was with me at the theater 20-00, Total = $180. Another person in the folder was a young man of 25 years of age, John Addison he had to support his mother who was ill and his brother on an income of $12. The family only received $8 and no one to take of the mother. Stories were mostly similar to John’s family. Some families were more fortunate then others and some received nothing for their loss. Our group learned that funeral costs went from $47-150 and families that still had an income only received up to $7-20 salary.
The only question that came to my mind was, how did the Brooklyn Fund decide which victims family received money?