Posts Tagged ‘fire’


Visitors and caretakers at this cemetery have reported families in 19th century clothing wandering around this obelisk with their luggage. It seems that the victims of the Ashtabula Train Disaster, ripped so suddenly from life, do not realize they are dead and continue their travels in eternity


On December 29, 1876, the Lake Shore and Michigan Railway’s No. 5 Pacific Express train traveling from Erie, Pennsylvania, was approaching Ashtabula, Ohio. Despite the bitter cold outside, the interior of the train was warm and bright courtesy of oil lamps and coal-burning stoves, and the passengers were cheerful and in the holiday spirit. Crossing a bridge that spanned a deep gorge, the engineer of the first engine felt a ominous pull as the cars behind him began to fall with the failing iron truss bridge bridge. Somehow, he managed to uncouple the engine but watched helplessly as the passenger cars plunged into the freezing water. Passengers who weren’t killed by impact faced new threats as they struggled to escape the sinking cars: the paralyzing freezing water filled their voluminous winter clothes while fires erupted from the now-broken oil lamps and overturned coal stoves. Help was slow in arriving at the water’s edge down the steep embankment, and an estimated 90 to 100 people lost their lives that night. The exact number of deceased could never be determined due to the lack of passenger records and the fires that burned many bodies past the point of recognition, but scholars believe at least 160 people were on the train.


The monument in Chestnut Grove Cemetery stands specifically in memory to those unrecognized dead. The names of those known to be among them are engraved on the base of the obelisk. Perhaps they are the warmly clad wanders out of time that can be seen milling around the monument some days, seemingly uncomprehending of their fate.


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I think most people who have visited cemeteries with larger, more elaborate monuments and particularly mausoleums are familiar with the funerary symbol of the inverted torch. You can see the torches descending from the wreaths on the Winslow mausoleum at Lake View Cemetery, their fires still burning despite their unnatural position.


But I did have to read Stories in Stone before I realized that you will see two varieties of the inverted torch in cemeteries, one extinguished and one still aflame. Both symbolize death, but the inverted burning torch alludes to eternal life.


Both the monuments for D. S. Possons and the Cottingham family have burning inverted torches on them.


There are a few more examples from Mayfield Cemetery on mausoleum doors for the Sampliner and Fisher families.



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Romeo and Rosa Casino

On May 15, 1929, a fire broke out in the main building on Cleveland Clinic’s campus in a room where nitro-cellulose x-ray films were stored. The nitro-cellulose films deteriorated and produced toxic gases when heated, causing the fire. The three possible heat sources considered at the time of the fire  were a steampipe leak, an incandescent lightbulb, and a discarded cigarette or match. The bulb has emerged as the mostly likely explanation.  One was hanging near the x-ray films.

The films warmed and released a toxic gas which ignited.  The toxic gases, described everywhere as being yellowish brown vapors, first exploded and traveled up through the building through pipes. The fire was not the killer that day – a few died from debris from the explosions, but most were victims of the deadly gases.  Some victims died within moments of their exposure, but other succumbed hours after first inhaling the gas.  These victims assisted in treating other with oxygen or leaving the immediate vicinity reportedly feeling fine, and then later collapsed.   By the time the deaths were tallied, 123 were dead – 80 visitors or patients, 43 Clinic employees. Another 92 people were injured.  The Casinos were among their number.  They were laid to rest in Lake View Cemetery, with an epitaph that reminds us that they, like so many others that day, died unexpectedly.

You can find the Casinos on this scanned newspaper list from the St. Petersburg Independent of the victims of the disaster. This transcription lists the dead, their home towns, and some of their reasons for being there that day. The Cleveland Memory Project has photographs as well as a copy of a report written about the disaster a month later.

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