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Worst Saranac Lake fire in history

September 8, 2012
By HOWARD RILEY ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Last week I carried stories from an August 1925 Enterprise, one of which told about the worst fire in the history of Saranac Lake, in which seven people lost their lives. There has never since been such a loss of life in a fire in Saranac Lake.

The fire happened on July 4, 1925, in a building right next to the firehouse which later housed a second-hand store. The Enterprise (from the archives of the Adirondack Room of the Saranac Lake Free Library) was dated Aug. 26, 1925, and covered a follow-up of the investigation of the fire.

So when I went to the Internet to find out about the fire on the day it actually happened, the story turned up on Bunk's Place, the best website in the North Country about the North Country. Bunk, of course, is Phil Griffin, who used to create the cartoon character Mountain Al that ran in the Enterprise and the Lake Placid News; there on his site was the Associated Press story of the fire.

There were 18 people staying in the rooming house: Seven died, and 11 survived.

Mrs. George Duckett jumped from a third-floor window and survived; her husband, 21-year-old George Duckett, who jumped shortly after his wife jumped, died a short time later at the hospital. Here we pick up the AP story:

"Long before the firemen were able to enter the building a slight breeze blew smoke away from the windows of the third floor and Mrs. Duckett appeared at the window. 'Catch my baby,' she called to the firemen. A group of firemen gathered beneath the window with their hands outstretched and their faces turned upward. A white object was thrown out. The men caught it before it struck the ground. When they examined it they found it was a pillow from the bed. The firemen believe that Mrs. Duckett, crazed by fear, seized the pillow by mistake for her baby, who was one year old. Immediately after she threw out the pillow she jumped. (She survived and five months later was transferred to a Rochester hospital to be treated for a paralysis of her right arm and shoulder.) Later the firemen found the baby, who was burned to death, on the bed.

"Mrs. Charles Moniky of Saranac Lake somehow made her way to the first floor and walked through a window and was only slightly cut by glass. Her son, Kenneth, 11 years old died in the fire.

"Others who died were Patrick Martin, 65, of Chateaugay; Peter Dwyer, 55, of Saranac Lake; Joseph McGowan 21, of Burlington, Vt., and his 16-year-old brother.

"The eleven persons who escaped jumped to a porch on the third floor on the building adjoining. Investigators declared there was no fire escape on the building. Nearly three hours after the alarm had been sounded a call was issued for volunteers to enter the smoking building. Fire Chief E. W. Harrison had headed several attempts to enter the building which were invariably frustrated by smoke. Chief of Police Frank E. Sheldon was the first to respond with volunteer firemen John R. Hogan, William Tromble and Harley McDougal.

"Fighting their way through the smoke and flames the volunteers came upon the body of Dwyer. It was impossible to remain. A rope was passed to Chief Sheldon who wrapped it around the body, then it was pulled to a ladder and carried to the ground. Chief Sheldon found the body of the Moniky boy. His father, Charles Moniky, who was rescued, declared the lad refused to jump. 'You go first, father,' the lad said. 'I will follow you.' The firemen, however, found the body some distance from the window. The body of Patrick Martin was found near the window where he had collapsed. Joseph and Robert McGowan had arrived in Saranac Lake last night and entered the house just a few hours before the fire started. They were found dead in bed."


Inquest scheduled

"A coroner's inquest was scheduled for July 6 which will be attended by District Attorney Harold W. Main of Malone, village officials and survivors of the fire.

"Mr. Main had arrived with Lt. E. J. Helm of Troop B, New York State Police and immediately made an inspection of the ruins. Mr. Main declared he was satisfied the fire was not of incendiary origin but added, 'we will determine at the inquest if anyone is criminally responsible.'

"The fire was one of the worst in the history of the Adirondacks. It threw the entire territory, flag decked for the Fourth of July, into a gloom. A group of New York performers, who were here for a benefit performance for the Saranac Lake Day Nursery, which was given under the direction of William Morris Jr., of New York, were active in the relief work among the survivors, who had lost all their possessions."

When I was mayor in the early 1960s, we tore down that building to make space for the addition to the firehouse.



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