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McGregor Fire Kills 8 - 1939


Posted By: Reid R. Johnson (email)
Date: 4/2/2014 at 18:01:40

Muscatine Journal and News Tribune, Monday, 23 January 1939.

McGregor, Ia. -- McGregor residents were saddened today by the states worst fire tragedy in a decade as grief-stricken relatives completed funeral arrangements for the eight victims, including four children, who died of suffocation Saturday night in a blazing apartment house.

Cause of the blaze remained unknown after a Clayton county coroner's jury completed its investigation. Damage to the two-story brick building in downtown McGregor was estimated at $10,000.

The victims were:

Harry Marlett, 21; Mrs. Ida Davis, 68; E. Leslie Spaulding, 45; Mrs. Charles Long, 36; her three children, Charles Edward, 6; Robert Wayne, 3; and William Henry, 1; and Shirley Mae Warmouth, 3.

Shirley Mae, the daughter of Mrs. Francis Warmouth of Rockford, Ill., had been visiting here with her grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Long.

Spaulding was recognized as a poet of considerable talent.

None of the bodies was burned badly. Most of the victims had thrown coats over their night clothing and had put on shoes. Firemen said several were found near the windows.

The eight victims were the only ones in the apartments above the McTaggert and Flanders Furniture store at the time the fire broke out.

Two high school boys discovered flames shooting out of the rear of the building and notified firemen.

Spectators jammed the street in front of the structure. They said they saw the faces of some of the children at the windows and heard the fearful cries of the victims as they struggled to the front windows for aid.

Charles Long, 40, whose family was wiped out, and Cedric Spaulding, 12, son of one of the victims were overcome with smoke in rescue attempts. They recovered quickly, however.

Separate funeral services will be held for the victims Tuesday.

All but Mrs. Davis will be buried here. Her burial will be at Sanborn, Ia.

--- ---

Oelwein Daily Register, Tuesday, 24 January 1939.

McGregor, Ia., Jan. 24.-- Eight persons who suffocated in an apartment fire here last Saturday night were buried today.

Mass funeral services were held for Mrs. Charles Long, 36, her half-brother, Harvey Marlette, 21, her granddaughter, Shirley Mae Warmouth, 3, and her three children, Charles, 6, Robert, 3, and William, 1.

Services for E. Leslie Spaulding, 45, McGregor poet, were held from the home of his parents and burial was in Pleasant Grove cemetery.

Mrs. Ida Davis, 60, a seamstress, the eighth victim, was buried at Sanborn.

Virtually the entire population of the town turned out for the funerals.

_____ _____

Added by S. Ferrall, 04/08/2014:

Tragic-Eyed Friends Attend Two Rites On Tuesday
McGregor, Ia. - Six caskets were lowered into graves at Mt. Pleasant (sic) Cemetery here Tuesday, containing the bodies of seven of the eight victims who were suffocated in this town's worst tragedy. At the same time, the casket of the eighth victim was buried at Sanborn in Western Iowa.

Joint funeral services for six of the victims were held Tuesday morning. They included the rites for Harvey Marlett, 21, local CCC worker; Mrs. Charles Long, 36; her three children, William Henry, 1; Charles Ward, 6 and Robert Wayne, 3; and her granddaughter, Shirley Mae Warmouth, 3, of Rockford, Ill.

In the afternoon, single services for E. Leslie Spaulding, 45, noted Iowa poet, were held at the home of his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Spaulding, after which his body was buried in the family lot in the same cemetery.

At Sanborn occurred the funeral and burial services for Mrs. Ida Davis, 68-year-old widowed seamstress, the eighth victim.

Several hundred sad, tragic-eyed friends, relatives, and neighbors attended the two funeral services here. Prior to the services, steady streams of humanity poured into the Pilkington Funeral Home to view the mute evidence of the tragedy.

The tree smallest white caskets, containing the bodies of the two oldest Long children and Mrs. Long's granddaughter, had metal remembrance shields bearing the inscription: "Our Darling." Mrs. Long and her year-old baby son, were buried in the same casket.

The other two caskets were of gray and contained the bodies of Marlett and Spaulding.

All the caskets were open as none of the victims received any burns. A coroner's jury decided that all deaths were due to suffocation when the fire broke out in the rear of the first floor of the McTaggart-Flanders Furniture Store Building late Saturday night, trapping all eight occupants in the upstairs' apartments.

Meanwhile, citizens of the communityand the immediate country-side were taking up collections to help in the only way possible now. Three various groups wee seeking funds to give the surviving relatives.

Clothes were needed for the Long family as all wearing apparel was destroyed by either smoke, water, or fire. A kindly mother whose baby has grown up sent a freshly laundered layette for Mrs. Long's baby son, William Henry. Other friends donated similar gifts for the other Long children. Shirley Mae Warmouth, granddaughter of Mrs. Long, was dressed in a pink organdy dress with a turquoise blue velvet sash.

One of Spaulding's latest poems, found in the briefcase which he clutched in his right hand when his body was found on the floor beside his desk after the fire had been extinguished, follows:

"I feel that some day I shall sing again.
That past this desert of unhappy days,
Beyond these mists of doubt and tears of rain
There will be waiting for me sunlit ways.
Old dreams die hard,
The breath of April still stirs me a little,
And I see far above the ramparts of the last long hill
The pallid gleaming of one friendly star.
No matter what may come,
I'm sure of this, that all the mangling fingers of despair
Can never take me from the certain bliss of siren music on the desert air.
Somewhere beyond this present hurricane is calm and peace
And I shall sing again."

~Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, Tuesday evening edition, January 24, 1939
~Cemetery is named Pleasant Grove, not Mt. Pleasant

_____ _____

Crowd Hears Tots Scream, Unable To Aid.

Victims Suffocated By Dense Smoke From Fire In McTaggart - Flanders Furniture Store.

MCGREGOR: Eight persons perished from suffocation from the smoke of a fire which ravaged the McTaggart - Flanders furniture store late Saturday evening. Fanned by the high wind, the fire made such rapid headway, that, although the firemen had two streams of water on it within twenty minutes after the alarm was sounded, it was impossible to rescue the occupants of the apartments over the store.

Mr. and Mrs. Lyle Flanders had left the store only about ten minutes before the siren blew. The fire seemed to have started in the back part of the store, in the work shop. Ladders were put up to the windows and the windows broken, but the smoke was so dense that nothing could be seen inside the rooms and it was impossible to force ones way into the inferno.

Charles Long, whose whole family was wiped out, climbed a ladder, broke the window right over where his children slept, but could not penetrate the smoke and was driven (next few words obliterated) a few minutes before the alarm was sounded, her husband stopping into a grocery to make some purchases, which was all that saved him.

The building, a two-story brick structure, was badly wrecked. It is a very old building, dating back sixty years or more. It was originally a grocery, and for many years belonged to Mr. Stow, father-in-law of Clarence Spaulding. After Mr. Stow's death, the building was occupied by C. F. Spaulding as a furniture store, until within the past year when he sold his business to M. McTaggart & Son of Elkader.

When the fire was under control and it was possible to go into the building, rescue workers conveyed the bodies of the eight victims to the hospital, where all efforts to revive them failed. The bodies then were removed to Pilkington's undertaking parlor.

The eight victims were:

Mrs. Ida Davis, 60.
Edward Spaulding, 48.
Harvey Marlett, 20.
Mrs. Charles Long, 48.
Three children of the Long family, a boy of 9, girl of 5, and a baby of 9 months; also a grandchild of Mrs. Long, Shirley Mae Warmouth, 2.

Mrs. Davis is survived by a daughter in Mason City Mrs. Jack Burns, and a son, Harold Davis, of Sanborn. She was a daughter of an old McGregor family. Her father was Hiram Sawvell, who lived on a farm south of town for many years. She is also survived by two brothers in Sanborn and one sister, Mrs. Mike Thomas, of McGregor.

Harvey Marlett was a half-brother of Charles Long, and graduated from the local high school about three years ago. He has been in the CCC camp.

Edward Spaulding, a life-long resident of McGregor, was well known as one of Iowa's poets, having had many poems published in various poetry magazines as well as other magazines and papers. He graduated from the McGregor high school in 1907, and later finished the course of law at Northwestern University, Chicago, after which he established a law office in partnership with Judge Eichendorf.

The two young lawyers had bought the practice of A. Chapin, an early McGregor lawyer. The partnership was soon dissolved, and Mr. Spaulding devoted more of his time to his literary vocation. The following is a poem he wrote several years ago and which he called "Credo," and evidently gives his philosophy of life:

"Always and ever a dreamer,
No-time and never a saint,
Too lazy to be a schemer,
Too hazy anent the quaint
Concepts of hell and heaven
The future my kaema has
Too much like seven come 'leven,
Desire first fathers the thought,
Taking the world as I find it,
Sharing its beauty with God,
Knowing I never shall mind it,
When I am under the sod.
Never have been a blasphemer,
However my faith may be faint,
Always and ever a dreamer,
No-time and never a saint."

The fire was discovered by two high school boys, Eldon Staples and Junior O'Neill about 10:30 p.m. They saw the flames shooting out of the rear of the store.

A large crowd quickly gathered about the building and someone shouted, "Jump! Jump! All of you jump before it is to late." The windows were 14 feet above the street and Marlett was seen breaking the glass in one of the windows, but escape was blocked by screens. Marlett attempted to break out the screen but he weakened quickly and his efforts to get out were futile.

The rapidity with which the fire swept the place was indicated by electric clocks which stopped at 12 minutes before eleven o'clock. Several McGregor people stated that the alarm was first sounded at 10:44.

The entire McGregor volunteer fire department answered the call. In spite of the high wind and a temperature below zero, the fire was soon under control.

The eight who died were the only persons in the apartments when the fire broke out. The blaze, according to William Walter, chief of the fire department, started from spontaneous combustion in the upholstering department of the furniture store. The flames swept up the rear stairs and down the corridor, cutting off all avenue of escape.

The father was the only member of the Long family to survive. Long had been shopping earlier in the evening with his family. They left him to complete the purchases. Long, a WPA worker, returned just at the moment his children began to scream. He rushed into the burning building in an attempt to rescue his wife and children. Following him in, Town Marshal Grant Smothers found Long unconscious on the stairway. He recovered Sunday.

Cedric Spaulding, 12-year-old son of E. Leslie Spaulding, was found outside the building half clad, without shoes and suffering from shock. At first it was thought he had escaped by running down the burning stairs. Later it was learned he had run from his grandparents', where he had gone to spend the night.

In a statement to the press, Chief Walter said, "So many ask 'Why didn't they jump?' The distance is not great. Probably they could have dropped down without a fatality if they had had time. But obviously they couldn't think clearly in that choking smoke, awakening in a panic as they did."

"They stopped to put on their clothes - instead of making at once to the windows. I don't believe many of us in McGregor slept last night. The children had stopped screaming just before we arrived, but those who hear them said it was something they will never forget."

~Clayton County Register, 25 Jan. 1939

_____ _____

Photos from the Dubuque Telegraph Herald and the Clayton County Register (courtesy Des Moines Register), are a few of several that were printed in the papers. Those included here are some of the clearest images (photo collage created by S. Ferrall)

Left top: The photo of the furniture store where the fire occurred was printed in the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, Monday evening edition, January 23, 1939.
Photo caption:
An exterior view of the McTaggart-Flanders Furniture Store Building at McGregor is shown after the fire was extinguished and the bodies of the eight victims were removed. Thousands were attracted to McGregor Sunday to view the fire but on one, unless acting in an official capacity, was allowed entrance to the burned structure.

The remaining photos are from Clayton County Register 1/25/1939, pg 2

Right top: Mr. and Mrs. Charles Long are shown with one of their children. Mrs. Long and the baby died in the fire.

Left bottom: Harvey Marlett, 21, another of the victims of this tragic blaze.

Center bottom: E. Leslie Spaulding, one of the victims. Recognized as an Iowa poet.

Right bottom: Only partly-clad, Cedric Spaulding, son of one of the victims, ran from the home of his grandparents to the burning building, where he knew his father was trapped.


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