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Keokuk Building Collapse
July 14, 1893


Three Main Street Business Blocks Tumble to the Ground
Falling Timber and Bricks Bury Four Men
John Real and Harry Young Badly Injured
Many Miraculous Escapes and Moving Scenes

At 7:13 o'clock last evening, the three-story brick building at Nos. 824, 826 and 828 Main Street collapsed with but a moment's warning, taking four men down into the ruins. The men were Harry Young, who is employed as a painter by the Keokuk Book and Stationery Company and resides at No. 1111 Bank Street; John F. Real, of No. 1409 Des Moines Street, pressman at the Gate City office; and Dan Stebinger, who lives on Main, between Eleventh and Twelfth Streets, and works for The Keokuk Brick and Tile company; and Chas. Junkins. Messrs Young and Real were badly injured, while Stebinger escaped with injuries less serious.

The buildings at Nos. 824 and 826 were owned by Andrew Wiley, of Sand Prairie, having been sold to him not long ago by the Burrows' estate. J. Burrows owned the building on the corner, at No. 828. The first floor of No. 824 was used by Mr. Wiley for the storage of flour, and Fred Brellon, who is employed at the lumber yards, occupied the second floor as a residence, with his family. The first floor of No. 826 was occupied by J. W. Shepherd and M. J. Real as a saloon. The front room of the second floor of this building was used as a reception and reading room by A. P. A. and A. Hoagland occupied the rear room as a carpenter shop. The hall which occupied the third floor of both these buildings was used as a meeting place by the A. P. and A. who had but recently moved into it. Mr. Burrows occupied the first floor of his building on the corner with a stock of groceries, his family living on the second floor, they having moved there but a short time ago.

All three of the buildings were old ones, having been erected in 1853. For many years they had been considered unsafe, and it was stated on many sides that the buildings had been condemned seventeen years ago. It was occupied then by the Turners, who had many social gatherings within its walls, but was vacated by them, since when the owners, these often opportune to do so, refused to allow dancing parties to be given. One week ago Monday night a dance was given in the A. P. A. hall which was largely attended, and it is thought probable that the jar started the cracks which culminated in last night's collapse. Not many years after the completion of the buildings, and just before the war, the third story hall was used as an armory, and military companies drilled there. Even then, it is stated, the building was not thought to be overly secure.

Mr. Burrows and his family were at supper in their rooms over the store, when they heard a peculiar noise in the cellar. Mr. Burrows ran down and discovered that a portion of the foundation wall between his building and the next one had split off and fallen to the ground. He quickly summoned Mr. Shepherd from next door and when the two examined the place there was a short grinding noise as if the wall was moving. Mr. Shepherd told Mr. Burrows to get his family out without delay and hastened away to notify the occupants of the other buildings of the impending danger. In the saloon were M. J. Real, one of the proprietors, his brother John Real, Harry Young, Dan Stebinger, Charles Junkins, and Robert Gilles. Part of these thought Mr. Shepherd was joking when he gave the alarm and did not give quick heed to the warning. Those that did got out safe. Mr. Brellon and his family were warned and all got out, with the exception of a little child, who was found safe and sound after the accident. George Hixon, who was at supper with the Burrows family assisted them in getting out.

The collapse came at 7:13 o'clock or not more than a moment before. The wall started to give way at the point where the weak spot in the foundation had been discovered, and everything back of that spot crashed to the ground with a loud noise. The partition walls toward Ninth Street, throwing the outside walls ahead of it. The flooring in No. 826 having no support on the Ninth street side fell in and the floors above crashed down on top of it. All that was left standing of the three buildings was in the shape of an L, being the entire frontage of the three buildings, the side wall of No. 824 and a part of the back wall. The noise and dust made by the accident immediately attracted people from all directions, who came rushing to the scene. A fire alarm was turned in and the whole department responded. The police force was soon on the ground and ropes and barriers were stretched about the building to keep incautious ones back out of possible danger. John Real, Harry Young, Chas. Junkins and Dan Stebinger were taken down in the ruins. Stebinger was not fastened and made his escape by the back way suffering only a few bruises about the head. Junkins was saved by the ice chest which held the ceiling off of him and crawled quickly to a place of safety, almost uninjured.

The Rescue

Those who entered Real & Shepherd's place first saw a terrible wreck. The front of the room to the back of the bar was practically uninjured, but full of irritating dust and debris. Toward Ninth Street was the open sky seen over a mountain of timbers, flooring and plaster. The ice chest was standing against the inner wall and had caught and upheld one side of the fallen floors, leaving a triangular tunnel upon the floor barely large enough to admit a man with difficulty. Back in this
tunnel was a man afterwards found to be Harry Young.

The first man to enter was Wm. Higham who with great courage crawled back to Young before the mass had cease to shake, and next came Dr. G. Walter Barr who took the imprisoned man a dose of morphine dissolved in whiskey from the bar. But Young absolutely refused to taste the medicine in spite of the entreaties and commands of the doctor. He was lying on his side pinned between the floor and the ceiling upholding the great mass of weighty debris which covered him to
the shoulders. At first he was in good mental, conmental condition, but in a few minutes became unconscious from shock or hemorrhage. "Tell them to keep to the left there is another man there" yelled Junkins, but the other man had fallen through to the cellar. It was Jack Real, one of the most popular men in town.

While Higham was pulling plaster off Young, a hand was stuck through a hole in the floor, and a voice warned him to be careful about causing another fall of debris. Real was lying on a section of floor which had broken off just above his head off the incline which all the timbers had, allowing his head and shoulders to project into the cellar. With the hard floor below him as he lay on his face, he was covered with bricks and mortar, the pressure being chiefly upon his legs. He was conscious and displayed great nerve, as he materially assisted in directing the work of rescue, occasionally giving the rescuers words of encouragement, and asking several times about Young.

In a very few minutes abundance of help arrived and with the usual number of bosses and with any number of willing hands the work of rescue began. It was soon seen that it would be dangerous and slow to attempt to take off all the mountain covering the men. The most practicable way was to take the floor out from below them, and saws and axes were used as rapidly as possible. It was slow work and seemed slower. A few inches of debris would be cleaned off the floor and then the boards sawed through and torn off. Around Young was a couple of chairs crushed to minute pieces. He was gotten out first, barely able to murmur, "Where's Jack," as he was carried on a stretcher across to Alton's stable and examined by the surgeons. It took much longer to relieve Real who was sawed out in the same way into the cellar. Men sawed frantically at the floor below him, others supported his body as it was released inch by inch, and a surgeon handed him stimulants and morphine at intervals and sponged his head with cold water. It was dark down in the cellar, and candles were used for light with some danger of starting a fire which would have been a holocaust. The gas was burned off at the meter to prevent danger from this source and great care was used, but a little blaze started once and was extinguished by a slap from a man's hand. At another time an excited workman held a candle against Real's thigh for a full minute before another could reach to knock it away, but the clothing would not burn and Real did not know it.

Then Mr. Real was finally released he was carried to the front end of the cellar and raised to the sidewalk through the basement window, on a board. He was then placed on a stretcher and carried across the street to Alton's livery stable. Here his anxious mother, who while at home had heard of the accident and slipped away from those who were with her, entered and walked up to the stretcher where her son lay and at sight of him, almost broke down. The man again showed his fortitude and bravery, for reaching out his arm, he placed it around the aged mother and drawing her down to him, kissed her, and bade her not be worried about him, that he was alright, although at that very moment he was suffering great agony. The sight of her son made the parent almost frantic, but he patted and soothed her, uttering cheering words. She was taken away from him into the office of the stable and afterwards to her home, corner Fourteenth and Des Moines streets, where her injured son had preceded her, having been taken on the Rolla horse wagon, to avoid the curious crowd, and that his injuries might be attended to under better surroundings.

The Injuries

Young was the worst injured of the victims. He was attended at the livery stable and was afterward taken home. He had his chest crushed, especially over the region of the heart, several ribs being fractured, and was suffering from hemorrhage in the lungs, causing him to expectorate bright, red blood. He suffered greatly from shock and when first taken out had no perceptible pulse. He stuck to his refusal to take no stimulants and whisky was given him hypodermatically. In the early evening the surgeons gave out no practical hope of his recovery, but about midnight he improved and today he seemed to have a chance to live.

The manner in which Real was caught indicated that his legs would be badly fractured and the surgeons were surprised to find no bones were broken. He was badly bruised from the hips down, especially below the knee and his shoulder, were pretty badly hurt (sic). There was a cut over an inch long in his right eyebrow down to the bone, which required some stitches. He rested easily all night, but as usual in such cases, his bruises are more painful today. Unless something unforeseen occurs he is sure to recover.

Shepherd's Statement

J. W. Shepherd, one of the proprietors of the saloon at No. 826, said to a Constitution-Democrat reporter that a few minutes before the collapse Mr. Burrows called him out of the saloon and told him he wanted to show him something. "He took me into his grocery store," said Mr. Shepherd, "and leading me to the cellar under his store and then to the foundation between the two storerooms, showed me where the wall was cracking, and asked me what I thought about it. I told him that it was dangerous and the building might fall any minute, that he had better get his folks and goods out and I would go and tell the men in my place to get out. I lost no time in doing so and had just told the men to leave when the crack in the wall occurred followed almost immediately by the crash. I was just coming from behind the bar and the tall ice box at that place held the ceiling off of me until I was able to get out."

Junkins' Escape

Charles Junkins said to a reporter for the Constitution - Democrat: "I was in the saloon when the building went and my arm fell over Real's body, my feet hanging in the cellar. I was caught in the back. I pulled my arm out, hurting my wrist in doing so, but got loose and started to make my way out. Real and Young spoke to me and I told them to be quiet, we would get them out. Blinded and choked by the dust I made my way out between the icebox and the wall. If the falling timbers had not made a brace above us we would all been killed." Mr. Junkins is a cattle buyer and lives at No. 318 North Tenth Street.

Gilles' Experience

Robert Gilles who was in Real and Shepherd's place just before the crash told a reporter for this paper his experience. "I was sitting in the saloon," said Mr. Gilles, "and heard a kind of a crack over in the corner. I went over to see what it was and saw a part of the wall paper drawing by the other part. Just then Shepherd came in and told us to get out for the building was going and he and his partner started and I went after them." Mr. Gilles is employed on the government dry docks and has been in the city about three years. He boards near where he works.

It was just another summer evening in Keokuk, IA on June 14, 1893 when suddenly the calm turned into chaos and a three-story building at 824, 826, and 828 Main Street collapsed, taking four men down into the ruins. This is the third installment in a series of four describing the injuries and statements of the people involved.

The Pecuniary Loss

When Mr. Wiley bought the two buildings that belong to him he paid $9000 for them and they are now practically worthless. The flour he had stored in No. 824 was somewhat damaged. Real and Shepherd had but recently fitted up their place anew and their loss will reach $500. A. Hoagland lost his full set of carpenter's tools, which was unusually complete and estimates his loss at $350. Mr. Burrows' loss will reach over $3000, though many of his goods were saved. Mr. Burrows stated today that it was his intention to tear down his building and put up a new one. Mr. Wiley is in Chicago and his plans are not known. The buildings as they stand are worthless and will have to be torn down entirely before new ones can be built.

Must Come Down

The building commission of the city, consisting of Oswald Schmied, chairman 9 of the fire committee, W.H. Jones, city engineer, W.S. Sample, chief of the fire department, examined the three buildings this morning and met immediately afterward at the city engineer's office. The buildings were condemned and were ordered torn down. The owners and agents of the buildings will go to work at once.

Among The Debris

Photographers were at the scene today taking snap shots at the wreck. Rumors were flying about in the crowd that certain other men were in the ruins, but they all proved without foundation. Four little boys were seated on the back porch of the Burrows' building, but got out of the way before the crash came.

The back wall which remained standing was barricaded last night and a watchman put in charge to keep unwary persons away.

Young's condition showed considerable improvement this afternoon and his recovery is probable, though he is still in a critical condition.

A false fire alarm was turned in shortly after the accident for the purpose of drawing the crowd away so the work of rescue could proceed more advantageously. It did not work however. Mr. Brellon's little child, mentioned in the foregoing, was secured after the crash by Wm. Higham, who found the little one sitting in a rocking chair in the second story back room wearing a paper cap and rocking unconcernedly, unconscious of the danger just passed through.

George Charnier was passing through the alley when the crash came and ran around to the front of the building. On learning of the presence of the men in the ruins, he lifted the grating, kicked in the cellar window and quickly got to where pinioned men were. All praise should be given to the men who worked in the cellar at the probable risk of their lives, to secure the men from the ruins.

Among the active workers were Wm. Sinton, George Tryon, Isaac Stamper, Pat Mullen, J. W. Nichols, Wm. Shepherd, Frank Conroy, Wm. Stimpson, John Reynolds, W. S. Sample, C. Van Hesley, M. Berryhill, John McCormick, Dr. O. P. McDonald, E. W. Harrison, Dr. J. C. Hughes, Mayor Moorhead, and Sheriff Kerr, Marshal Hardin, and the police force did effective work in handling the crowd.

From Mary Alma Kay Collection
Researched and submitted by Brenda Anderson
Donnellson Library Family and History Dept
Donnellson, IA

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