I’ve been doing a lot of family history work lately…I’ve dabbled in genealogy research for decades, and I’m constantly amazed at some of the discoveries that I make even to this day…long-lost stories of people, places, and events that I knew no connection to until my research found one.
One of those stories centers around one of the great American tragedies of the 1800s, the Brooklyn Theater Fire of 1876. I learned a bit about it years ago reading my great-grandfather’s unfinished memoir, in which he tells the story of his own mother’s experience at the time of the fire.
It turns out I had four family members who perished in that fire, which occurred during a highly-anticipated performance that had a packed house. My great-great grandmother, who turned 30 just two weeks before the event, had a ticket as well and only missed the show because she got stuck at work while her four brothers (two brothers and two half-brothers) attended…and all four died. Had she made it to the show, I wouldn’t exist, as she undoubtedly would have perished as well and my lineage would have stopped right then and there in 1876.
According to my great grandfather’s memoir, she wore black every day the rest of her life.
A couple days ago I ran across a story that was written almost a year ago, on the anniversary of the fire (December 5). The Brooklyn Theater Fire may be a little-known story today, but back in 1876 it was a true tragedy of epic proportions. This Bowery Boys post recounts it quite well: New York City History: A Wretched Anniversary: The Brooklyn Theater Fire of 1876.