A major exhibit commemorating the centennial of the Collinwood School Fire of 1908 will open at a public reception at Cleveland Public Library’s Memorial-Nottingham Branch on Monday, February 25, 2008, at 6:00 p.m.
The Collinwood School Fire remains the worst school building fire in United States history. On March 4, 1908, 172 children, two teachers and one neighborhood resident were killed as they attempted to flee Lake View School (Collinwood, Ohio) after a fire started in a closet below the front stairs. In the days following the fire, school buildings across the country were inspected. In the years following the fire, stricter building codes and fire laws were put into place to prevent such a tragedy from occurring again.
The story of the fire is told through spectacular period photographs, newspaper front pages, postcards, articles, period documents and a rare motion picture --to be shown publicly for the first time in a century-- of the fire scene and public funeral. (A short film of the Cleveland Fire Department in 1900 will also be shown. Cleveland Fire Department provided backup assistance to the Collinwood Fire Department during the 1908 fire.) A selection of fire safety brochures, produced by the National Fire Protection Association, will be available for library patrons to take home free of charge.
The exhibit also gives a glimpse into the history of Collinwood from its birth as the Collinsville railroad station in 1874 to its development as a leading railroad repair center, freight transfer point and manufacturing powerhouse. Its role as a place for lakeside recreation is told through a series of images of Euclid Beach Park.
The exhibit will remain on display at the Memorial-Nottingham Branch (17109 Lake Shore Boulevard) through March 31. Hours: Mon, Tues, Thurs (9:30-8:00), Wed, Fri, Sat (9:30-6:00). The exhibit will then travel to the following locations: Collinwood Branch Library (April-May), Main Library (June-September), West Park Branch (October) and South Brooklyn Branch (November).
Background information on the films
The Collinwood School Fire film was shot as the fire smoldered by twenty-three-year-old William H. Bullock*, a moving picture operator at the American Amusement Company (716 Superior Avenue, N.E.), who had rushed to the scene of the fire on a streetcar with his motion picture equipment. A week later he was showing the film in the American Theatre until Cleveland Police Chief Fred Kohler, responding to public indignation, “invited” him to cease and desist. The film was discovered in the archives of the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound division of the Library of Congress. It is believed that recently discovered footage represents only a portion of what was originally filmed.
The short film of the Cleveland Fire Department displaying its fire equipment was filmed in 1900 at Fire Department Headquarters (located on St. Clair Avenue on the current site of the Justice Center) by pioneering American cameraman G.W. “Billy” Bitzer (1872-1944). Best known as D. W. Griffith’s cameraman, Bitzer worked for the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company from its founding in the 1890s and later filmed Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, one of the most influential and controversial films in the history of American cinema. This film was also discovered in the archives of the Library of Congress.
*William Hubern Bullock was born September 13, 1885, in Patterson, New Jersey, the son of Edith Ayers Bullock and Sam Bullock, both immigrants from England. He died June 23, 1949, at his home at 15610 Pythias Avenue, in the Collinwood neighborhood of Cleveland. He was married to Josephine Bullock (Ca. 1892 - 2 May 1974). They had no children. Bullock was involved in the motion picture business his entire life. He was a projectionist at the Palace Theatre in Cleveland at the time of his death. He was buried at Lake View Cemetery.