On December 5, 1876, a toppled lantern on the stage of the Brooklyn Theatre would cause a horrific fire that would leave 278 dead. The building was thought to be up to safety standards, though all of the victims were trapped in a single staircase, most dying from smoke inhalation as they clambered to flee the balcony.
103 victims were either unidentifiable or belonged to families who could not afford a proper burial. This would usually mean burial in a pauper’s field, but because the tragedy had received so much sympathy and press, a grand monument was dedicated to their sad deaths. They were buried in a circular mass grave in Green-Wood Cemetery, marked in the center with a granite obelisk.
Coincidentally, one of the fire’s survivor’s, Kate Claxton, was buried in another area of the cemetery in 1924. She had played the lead in The Two Orphans, the play that was being performed that fateful night in 1876. She only managed to escape by remembering that there was an underground tunnel that lead from a dressing room to the box office.
Visit New York State with Atlas Obscura Trips
Only in Queens: Tasting Our Way Through New York’s Most Diverse Borough
Manhattan may have name-brand recognition and Brooklyn a certain cache, but Queens is the city’s largest and most diverse borough. Join us, October 4-7, to dig into Queens’ rich neighborhood life.