In the office buildings across Washington place scores of men detained beyond office hours worked at their desks. One of them saw a girl rush to a window and throw up the sash. Behind her dashed a seething curtain of yellow flame.
She climbed to the sill, stood in black outline against the light, hesitating, then, with a last touch of futile thrift, slipped her chatelaine bag over her wrist and jumped. Her body went whirling downward through the woven wire glass of a canopy to the flagging below.
Her sisters who followed, flamed through the air like rockets. Their path could be followed but hardly heard.
It was eighty-five feet from the eighth floor to the ground, about ninety-five feet from ninth door, 113 feet from the cornice of the roof, and the upward rush of a draft and the crackle of the flames drowned their cries.
"Jimmy" Lehan, a traffic squad policeman, dashed up eight flights of stairs when the fire was at its height, braced his shoulders against a barred door, and burst it in. He found a score of girls made with fright. He ordered them down the smoke filled stairways, but they balked. He used his club, and beat them down to safety. Not one of the number perished.
A boy who jumped from one of the upper floors was caught by a policeman who braced himself and held the youngster, practically uninjured, although both fell to the street.
Six girls fought their way to a window on the ninth floor over the bodies of fallen fellow workers and crawled out in a single file to an eight inch stone ledge running the length of the building.
More than a hundred feet above the sidewalk they crept along their perilous pathway to a swinging electric feed wire spanning Washington place.
The leaders paused for their companions to catch up at the end of the ledge and the six grabbed the wire simultaneously. It snapped like rotten whipcord and they crashed down to death.
A 13 year old girl hung for three minutes by her finger tips to the sill of a tenth floor window. A tongue of flame licked at her fingers and she dropped into a life net held by firemen. Two women fell into the net at almost the same moment. The strands parted and the two were added to the death list.
A girl threw her pocketbook, then her hat, then her furs from a tenth floor window. A moment later her body came whirling after them to death.
At a ninth floor window a man and a woman appeared. The man embraced the woman and kissed her. Then he hurled her to the street and jumped. Both were killed.
Five girls smashed a pane of glass, dropped in a struggling tangle and were crushed into a shapeless mass.
A girl on the eighth floor leaped for a firemen's ladder which reached only to the sixth floor. She missed, struck the edge of a life net, and was picked up with her back broken.
From one window a girl of about 13 years, a woman, a man, and two women with their arms about one another threw themselves to the ground in rapid succession. The little girl was whirled to the New York hospital in an automobile.
She screamed as the driver and policeman lifted her into the hallway. A surgeon came out, gave one look at her face and touched her wrist. "She is dead," he said.
One girl jumped into a horse blanket held by the firemen and the policemen. The blanket ripped like cheesecloth and her body was mangled almost beyond recognition.
Another dropped into a tarpaulin held by three men. Her weight tore it from their grasp and she struck the street, breaking almost every bone in her body.
Almost at the same time a man somersaulted down upon the shoulder of a policeman holding the tarpaulin. He glanced off, struck the sidewalk, and was picked up dead.
Within the building a man on the eighth floor stationed himself at the door of one of the elevators and with a club kept back the girls who had stampeded to the wire cages. Thirty were admitted to the car at a time. They were rushed down as fast as possible.
The call for ambulances was followed by successive appeals for police until 500 patrolmen arrived to cope with a crowd numbering tens of thousands - a mixture of the morbidly curious and of half crazed relatives and friends of the victims. A hundred mounted policemen had to charge the crowd repeatedly to keep it back.
Led by Fire Chief Croker, a squad of firemen stormed the stairways and gained access to the building at 7 o'clock. Two searchlights from buildings opposite lighted the way of the fire fighters as the ascended to the top floors.
Fifty roasted bodies were found on the ninth floor. They lay in every possible posture, some so charred that recognition was impossible. A half dozen were nude, with the flesh hanging in shreds to the bones.
Women with their hair burned away, with here and there a limb burned entirely off, and the charred stump visible, were lifted tenderly from the debris, wrapped in oilcloth, and lowered by pulleys to the street.
Across the street there rested on the sidewalk a hundred pine coffins, into which were placed the bodies. As fast as this was done the coffins were carried away in a kind of vehicle that could be pressed into service to the morgue at Bellevue hospital and to the Charities Pier morgue, opened for the first time since the Slocum horror.
One of the first physicians on the scene was Dr. Ralph A. Froelich, 119 Waverley place. He saw most of the girls jump to the street and as each one fell he rushed to her side and administered hypodermic injections to deaden the pain. He treated twelve of the victims, whom he found still breathing, but each died within a short time.