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New York Fire Hero


Edward P. Wells, of Jamestown, distinguished himself on this date in 1899 at the great Windsor Hotel fire in New York City. The hotel, situated on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Forty-Seventh Street, burned to the ground, killing over thirty people and injuring more than fifty. Many of the injured were not hotel guests, but spectators watching the St. Patrick's Day parade below.

Wells, president of the James River National Bank in Jamestown, was visiting the city with his wife and daughter. Securing rooms on the sixth floor of the hotel, they gathered on the Fifth Avenue face of the building to watch the annual parade march below.

As the parade passed the hotel, a lace curtain on the second floor caught fire. The fire soon spread throughout the interior halls and stairways. By the time the Wells family noticed the smoke, the hotel corridors were completely blocked by smoke and flames, which had reach all the way to the roof.

While other guests leaped from windows or attempted to run through the smoky hallways, Mr. Wells calmly searched his room. Finding a length of rope, the North Dakota banker threw one end out the window and found that it indeed reached the ground. He then tied the rope around his daughter, and lowered her to the ground. Next, he secured his wife and evacuated her in the same manner. Lastly, Mr. Wells secured one end of the rope inside the apartment and grabbed two towels from the room. He wrapped his hands with the towels, and slid down the rope to the ground. Despite the six-story drop, the entire Wells family emerged from the fire without a scratch, thanks to Mr. Wells's quick thinking.

The rest of the hotel was not as fortunate. Within two hours, the entire building was reduced to rubble, and the list of dead and missing grew by the minute. Many, especially women, lost their lives by jumping in desperation from the hotel's windows. Several others died from injuries sustained while they attempted to run through the interior of the building to safety. The total loss of the building amounted to more than a million dollars, which would be equal to more than twenty-five million dollars today.

Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job


The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. Saturday (Evening ed.), March 18, 1899: p.1.