24th Congress, 2nd Session, House Report no. 134, 20 January 1837
CONFLAGRATION -- POST OFFICE
January 20, 1837
Read, and laid upon the table.
Mr. Connor, from the Committee on the Post Office and Post Roads, to which the subject had been referred, made the following
The Committee on the Post Office and Post Roads report:
That, in obedience to the resolution of the 15th of December, instructing them to inquire into the causes of this morning's conflagration of the General Post Office building; and also to inquire what losses have been sustained by the Government, and whether any, and, if any, what legislation is rendered necessary by such conflagration;" "and that they be authorized to send for persons and papers in investigating the causes of the burning of the Post Office Building," the committee did, at an early date thereafter, proceed to the investigation. They summoned, and examined on oath, all persons whom they could learn or supposed any information could be obtained from on the subject. Among those were the Postmaster General, the City Postmaster, the Commissioner of Patents, the watchmen, messengers and several clerks, belonging to each office, together with citizens who were ascertained to have been on the ground early after the alarm of fire was given.
It appears, from the testimony, that the fire was discovered between the hours of three and four o'clock in the morning. As to the precise time, it will be seen that there is some difference in the statements of witnesses; and it is but reasonable there should be, in the hurry and bustle of getting out of bed at that hour, and hastening to the scene. Samuel Crown, a messenger who was sleeping in the City Post Office, and Joel C. Reynolds, a watchman in the General Post Office, seem to have been the first persons to discover the smoke, and give they alarm. Crown was awakened from sleep by smoke. He rose; finding the room filled with smoke, he examined the fire in his room; went into the passage; it was filled with smoke. He waked up Mr. Summers, the watchman, and Mr. Cox, a clerk, both of whom were sleeping in the City Office. He ran out at the east door, and found smoke issuing from the window beneath the platform, or steps, by which you enter the east end of the building. He passed round to the South side fronting on E street; broke in the shutters of the cellar windows. He felt the heat sensibly at the third window from the east corner, and at the fourth window it was quite hot. Mr. Cox, on rising, opened necessarily two doors connecting with the great letter room, and passed through one corner of that room in getting to the east door; his room adjoining, and the letter-room, were filled with smoke, but no light was to be seen. He heard the fire cracking beneath his feet as he passed out.
Mr. Kennedy, one of the clerks in the City Office, resides near the building; heard the alarm, and was on the ground shortly, and made several ineffectual efforts to enter the letter room, as did others. But such was the density of the smoke, when the first discovery was made, and very quickly afterwards of heat, that it is believed that an effort at any time after the discovery would have been unavailing. Very shortly after this, the fire was seen bursting through the floor in the letter room, as is supposed some fifteen or twenty or thirty feet from the east door of that room. The fire, increasing rapidly, very quickly appeared at the windows on the south side, and burst through the second window on the east side of the south delivery door. In the testimony of those who reached the ground early, there is scarcely any difference in relation to the smoke issuing from the cellar windows, which proves conclusively that the fire originated in the cellar, under the City Post Office. At the time that the fire burst from the cellar windows, and the window above on the east side of the delivery door, an engine had arrived and was in readiness, and commenced playing, first into the cellar window, and then in at the upper window, into the letter room. A momentary hope seems to have been entertained that the fire might be extinguished; but the water failed and the building was given up by all for lost. Other engine arrived, but too late to render any service. An engine belonging to the Post Office was, very soon after the discovery of the fire, brought out, but was ascertained to be out of repair, and useless. That, and some buckets also belonging to the Post Office Department, are the only means which seem to have been provided, at any time to meet such contingency. Not a ladder of any length could be obtained in the neighborhood of the building. Several witnesses express the opinion, that had there been engines and other means necessary at the building within a reasonable time after the discovery and alarm, the fire might have been extinguished.
The officers, clerks and messengers reside in different parts of the city, many of them at so great a distance from the office as not to have heard the alarm; others at so late an hour as not to have gotten to the ground until the building throughout was in flames. Those who were present seem to have exerted themselves in doing whatever could be done. The Postmaster General, residing within a few rods of the building, was, very shortly after the alarm was given, at the office, and, apprehending the consequences, went directly to his office, and commenced, with some two or three others there, the getting out of the books and papers belonging to the office of appointments. Those were in cases in the rooms and around the walls adjoining the Patent Office. Some books from the third story were saved; the greater part were lost. (See testimony of the Postmaster General and the Second Assistant Postmaster General.)
Your committee have examined thirty two persons, whose testimony they here present. That testimony, taken together, is conclusive to the minds of your committee, that the fire did originate in the cellar under the Post Office; but in which room in the cellar, they will not undertake to say certainly, and are unable to charge the fire with any sort of certainty to any particular cause. From the testimony of the messenger in the City Post Office and Patent Office, it appears that they were in the habit of depositing ashes in the cellar; a practice that your committee view as highly improper and dangerous. On the morning preceding the fire, the messenger attached to the Patent Office did deposit a small quantity of ashes in the third room from the east corner. They were taken up, he states, the morning before their deposit, and remained there that day and night in an iron vessel; and such were their precaution, that they never did deposit the ashes in the cellar on the day that they were taken up. Those ashes are represented as being placed in a pine box that would contain from fifteen to twenty bushels. In this room the Patent Office had their winter's wood stored. The box stood near a brick wall, and some four or five feet from the wood. Yet other boxes were near the one used as an ashes box.
It further appears from the testimony of several, that, a year or more ago, a box placed in the passage in the cellar from the purpose of depositing ashes in, did take fire, but was fortunately discovered in time and outed, before any injury was done. It is possible that the fire may have originated in this box, containing ashes, but from the evidence your committee are left in doubt and uncertainty. The box was placed near a brick wall, some four or five feet from the wood. Other boxes, dry, and of inflammable material, (pine,) were near and on the side that stood the ashes box, and, on being set fire to, would have produced a flame that would probably have been seen by those who first discovered the smoke. Yet those witnesses who were earliest on the ground saw no light in the cellar, but all agree in seeing smoke issuing from the windows, and most freely from those in the second and third rooms from the corner. That the fire originated in one or two rooms in the cellar, (the second and third room from the east corner), there is no difference of opinion with your committee; as to the particular room, some difference of opinion is entertained, the majority being unable to decide in which of the rooms it commenced.
The testimony of Mr. Cox, a clerk, and Mr. Crown, a messenger, both of whom slept in the office, as well as others, proves that all was safe in the office at about half pasts two o'clock that morning; a portion of the clerks are necessarily in the office every night until about that hour; that morning, about half after two the business was closed, and the clerks left the office for their homes; on their retiring, the fires in the hearths and stoves were examined by Mr. Cox and Mr. Crown, and so secured that there was believed to be no danger, before they went to bed. Mr. Summers, the watchman, whose duty it is also through the night to give out the mails, states in his testimony that about three o'clock that morning he was called up by the driver for the southern mail; that, after delivering it, he went out of the east door and over the platform or steps, under which smoke was afterwards discovered; at that time, all was calm and quiet, and there was no appearance or smell of smoke. It appears that charges to be careful about fire were almost daily given by the postmaster to those around him. In the Post Office Department, there were two watchmen employed, who took it by turns in watching through the night, one of whom was on duty until midnight, when the other was aroused to his duty, and continued until sunrise; they were required often through the night to be out, and look around not only to that part of the building occupied by the Post Office Department, but the whole building.
The diagrams marked A and B will exhibit the position of the rooms in the basement or cellar, and the first floor of the City Post Office. C exhibits the building after the fire, with the marks of fire and smoke. The old building was occupied entire by the General Post Office, and the new part, or east end, erected some ten or twelve years since, the first floor of which was occupied by the City Post Office, and the second and third stories were occupied by the Patent Office. The passage in the cellar, in connection with that in the old building, was continued quite through the new one, and on either side was divided into rooms which have been used for wood, coal, lumber, etc. The first floor in the southeast corner had in it pine wood and coal; the second, west was filled with oak and pine wood, both belonging to the City Post Office; the next or third was stowed with wood belonging to the Patent Office, and in which stood the ashes box before mentioned. On the north side, the first room had in it wood, the second was not occupied, the third occupied by the Patent Office, the fourth had in it coal belonging to the General Post Office; the windows in the rooms on the east and south sides had wooden shutters hung on the upper side, that fell to of themselves, and might be entered without any difficulty by any person who wished to pass into the first floor. The postmaster occupied the room in the southeast corner, and in which the messenger slept at night. The next and large room fronting south on E street, was the letter and newspaper room; the first room on the north side from the east corner, was used by Mr. Summers, the watchman, as a sleeping room, and had in it also portmanteaus, bags etc.; the second contained candles, oil, portmanteaus, old letter cases, paper, twine, etc.; in this room fire at no time was kept; the third was used by Mr. Cox; the fourth by Colonel Corcoran, assistant postmaster.
In relation to the losses sustained by the Government, your committee are unable to offer any opinion satisfactory to themselves, or that might be so to others. Much of that lost, none could fix a value on; the models, the drawings, the books, and all else connected with the Patent Office, are lost -- nothing saved. The letters, papers and mails that remained in the Post Office, with the furniture, were all destroyed, with the fuel belonging to the offices.
The necessity for the erection of a building for the accommodation of the Post Office Department must be obvious to all. The great object of the Government should be the safety and preservation of the records. Those can be secure only in buildings strictly fireproof. It was the practice in the Post Office building, and perhaps is the same in the other Departments, (necessarily so,) of stowing in the cellars of the buildings their fuel. The danger that the buildings are always liable to, of being fired accidentally or otherwise, can be prevented only by the erection of out-buildings for the stowing in of wood and coal; and for that purpose your committee have instructed me to report a bill.
Letter to Postmaster General, Postmaster of Washington City, and Commissioner of Patents.
House of Representatives
December 16, 1836
In obedience to the instructions of the Committee on the Post Office and Post Roads, I enclose you copies of two resolutions of the House, charging the committee with an inquiry into the causes of the late conflagration of the Post Office building. I am directed by the committee to ask of you a list of all the persons employed in the section of the building under your official charge, with a designation of the office or employment of each person; and further to say to you, that any information calculated to aid the committee in the performance of duties assigned them by the House will be received by the Committee.
The committee propose to commence their examination at ten o'clock tomorrow morning, and as early a reply as may be practicable, is desired.
I am sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant.
Ch. Com. Po. Offi. and Po. Rds.
Letter from Amos Kendall, Postmaster General, giving a list of employees in the Postmaster General's Office, etc.
City Post Office
Washington, D.C. December 16, 1836
I have the honor, in reply to yours of this day, to submit the following list of persons employed in the section of the building under my official charge, with a designation of the office or employment of each, viz:
Thomas Corcoran, assistant postmaster
Thomas L. Noyes, clerk
James A. Kennedy, clerk
Benjamin L. Bogan, clerk
Cornelius Cox, clerk
William B. Jones, clerk
Christopher Lansdale, clerk
George Venable, letter carrier
John Adams, letter carrier
James Boss, messenger
Samuel Crown, messenger
James Summer, door-keeper and watchman
Chew has been occasionally employed as a laborer.
I have reason to believe that the following persons will be able to furnish information, calculated to aid the committee in the performance of the duties assigned them, viz: Lambert Tree, John Suter, James Lawrenson, Alexander Davis, Thomas Donoho, S.F. Glenn, Robert S. Patterson, Jacob Gideon, jr., John C. Rives, John F. Callan, Major Stansbury, Charles F. Woods, and Hon. Wm. Ruggles, of the Senate.
Should I hear of other persons important to be examined, I will communicate the names to the committee.
I have the honor to be, with great respect, your obedient servant.
Wm. Jones, Postmaster
Hon. H. W. Connor, Chairman, etc., etc.
Washington, December 16, 1836
I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of yours of this date, enclosing two resolutions passed yesterday by the House of Representatives, in relation to the recent conflagration of the Post Office Buildings.
In obedience to the instruction of the Committee of the Post Office and Post Roads, I transmit herewith a list of all the persons employed in that section of the Post Office building assigned to the Patent Office, and under my official charge, with a designation of the employment of each. This section comprises the second and third stories of said building, immediately over the City Post Office.
In reply to the call for any information calculated to aid the committee in their investigation, I beg leave to state that I reached the scene of conflagration at a very early period, (about four o'clock a.m.,) and made every personal effort to enter the Patent Office, but in vain. The same cause which prevented those who slept directly under it, in the City Post Office, rendered it impossible for me to enter, or to save any portion of the public property under my charge.
I would respectfully refer to Dr. Thomas P. Jones, and to Mr. and Mrs. Steiger, as persons who, living directly opposite the Post Office buildings, and very early witnesses to the conflagration, may perhaps be able to communicate some useful information to the honorable committee in regard to it.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, sir, your obedient servant,
H. L. Ellsworth
Hon Henry W. Connor
Chairman Committee on Post Office and Post Roads, H.R.
List of persons employed in the Patent Office
J.W. Hand, chief clerk, charged with the correspondence of the office, receipt of fees, etc., etc.
Charles M. Keller, examiner of applications for patents
Henry Stone, draughtsman
Thomas Johns has charge of files and records, preparation of official copies, recording of assignments, etc.
John J. Roane prepares and records all patents issued.
Hazard Knowles, machinist, had charge of models
Henry Bishop, messenger
Testimony of William T. Steiger, December 17, 1836
I, William T. Steiger, having been duly sworn, testify as follows, in relation to the burning of the Post Office building on the morning of the 15th of December, 1836:
I was notified, I should judge, at about fifteen minutes past three o'clock A.M. of the fire. I reside immediately opposite the City Post Office door in E street. The first intimation I had of an alarm was from a friend who slept in the front room of the house in which I slept, who awoke me out of a sound sleep, informing me that the Post Office was on fire. I immediately commenced dressing myself and went to the front room window, and, on looking out, I saw the smoke issuing from the basement story, of the City Post Office, particularly from the east end. I did not notice whether there was, or was not, a light in the City Post Office at that time. I continued to dress myself, and called my servant to get my axe in readiness. Having finished dressing, I went out at the front door with my axe, and saw no person at that time in front of the Post Office on the side that I was on. I proceeded in a straight line toward the east end of the building, and there met three or four, perhaps five, persons upon the pavement and descending the steps; I recognized no one of them. When I arrived at the foot of the steps, I heard one of the gentlemen say, that it was impossible to effect an entrance on account of the smoke, or words to that effect. To satisfy myself of the fact, I ascended the steps and tried, but found I could not enter on account of the dense smoke, issuing from the door, one leaf of which was open. I now speak of the door at the east end of the building. I then descended, and saw the smoke issuing from under the platform of the steps. It occurred to me that I could effect an entrance there, but I could not recollect whether there was an opening. I looked under attentively but could see nothing. I then went back and put my hand against the building, and concluded there was no opening; but since, on examining the ruins, I find there was a window. I then ran round to the south front of the building, to the City Post Office door, and endeavored to break the door with my axe, but did not succeed. While endeavoring to break the door, there was a gentleman at the foot of the steps who cried out, "Don't break the door, you will let the draught in." I still continued my efforts for a short time, when my attention was arrested by the cracking of the lights of glass in the upper sashes of the windows on each side of the door, particularly the east side. On perceiving this, I concluded that the conflagration had made such progress that it was impossible for the few who were present to arrest the fire. When I commenced attempting to break the door, I noticed light in both those windows. I immediately concluded that I might be best employed in endeavoring to spread the alarm. I went down into Pennsylvania avenue, and into Mrs. Peyton's boarding house, crying "Post Office on fire," as I went. At Mrs. Peyton's, I inquired for Mr. Ellsworth, Commissioner of Patents, and was informed that he had removed to his new house. I remained about five minutes for Mr. Gurley to dress, that he might go with me and show Mr. Ellsworth's house; but I concluded I could not wait until he was ready, and left before he had completed dressing. I went into C street and found Mr. Ellsworth's house, and ascertained that he had just been notified of the fire. After a delay of about five minutes, Mr. Ellsworth and myself, accompanied by his son, proceeded as fast as we could to the building. On our arrival we entered the General Post Office on E street, and proceeded to the passage in the second story of the General Post Office Department, with a view to effecting a passage, if possible, into the Patent Office, through the window at the end of the passage. We found the window raised, the smoke was ascending through the hatchway on the General Post Office side, and pouring through the window into the passage of the Patent Office in such quantities, that it was impossible for any one to enter the Patent Office. We endeavored to stop the rising of the smoke, by throwing a carpet over the hatchway. Mr. Kendall, the Postmaster General assisted us in taking up the carpet to be used for that purpose. I then left the passage and descended to the lower passage of the General Post Office, and found a volume of smoke issuing from the City Post Office, through an opening in a door between the City Post Office and General Post Office, directly under the window above, which separates the General Post Office and Patent Office. The opening I afterwards learned, was for the convenience of communicating between the General and City Post Offices. I placed an iron screen against the opening, to prevent the smoke coming through before I could obtain something to prop it. I held it some time with my hand, and found the door hot, but I could perceive no light. I next found Mr. Ellsworth, we went into E street together and called for a ladder, and were told there was none nearer than the Treasury Department. We proceeded around the east end of the building to the north side, and had great difficulty in getting into the yard, there was so much smoke. It was issuing in heavy volumes from the north windows of the City Post Office, particularly obscuring the windows of the commissioner's room, and of the two adjoining rooms west of it. There was no smoke issuing from the Post Office windows under the examiner's room, and we concluded if we had a ladder, we could probably save the files from the examiner's room. This encouraged us to make another effort to obtain a ladder. I passed up Seventh street to the foundation of the new Patent Office, found no ladder, and passed back to E street through Eighth street. When I arrived at the corner of the Post Office building, from the view I then had, I supposed the fire to be issuing from the windows and front door of the letter room of the City Post Office. This was the first fire I saw. I immediately returned to my house, and took a position directly opposite the building, where I remained almost constantly, applying water, and had a view of the fire throughout its whole progress. The Progress of the fire was upward from the City Post Office letter room, and eastward, toward the east end of the building. When it arrived at the third floor, and before the roof had fallen in, the fire appeared to pass over the division wall which separates the City Post Office and Patent Office from the General Post Office. The fire then descended on the General Post Office side of the division wall, until it reached the lower story and progressed westward. I do not remember to have seen any flames issue from the basement windows of the City Post Office during the fire.
I saw wood on fire in the cellar of the City Post Office after the floors had fallen in.
I judge of the time at which I was called up, by having been informed since by Mr. Ellsworth that it was four o'clock immediately after I left Mr. Ellsworth's house with him.
It was a clear calm, starlight night. The air carried the smoke eastwardly.
When I first arrived at the building, I saw no smoke issuing from above at the basement story, except that which issued from the east door as before mentioned.
December 19. Upon a subsequent examination of the window under the east door of the building, and of the passage in the basement story opposite thereto, I find that a line drawn from my eye from the place where I stood on the morning of the conflagration, when I looked under the platform of the outside steps would strike the floor of the passage at a point a few feet east of the eastern entrance of the Patent Office cellar, from the passage.
I now present the committee a view of the south front of the ruins of the Post Office building as it now appears, (Dec. 19th,) taken from my house, with the marks of the smoke on the walls as now exhibited. And also a plan of the basement story of the building, with the partition walls under the City Post Office, made from the best information I could obtain; which plan, (marked C,) is hereunto annexed.
William T. Steiger
Principal Clerk of the Survey, General Land Office
Testimony of William Jones, Esq., City Postmaster,
December 19, 1836 I, William Jones, having been duly sworn, testify as follows, in relation to the conflagration of the Post Office building on December 15, 1836.
I am the Postmaster of Washington. I reside near Fuller's Tavern, on 14th street. I heard a cry of fire, but did not arise instantly. I waited until there was a little more alarm; one of my family opened a front window, and inquired of someone who was passing where the fire was, and was answered that it was at the Post Office. I arose instantly, and at the same time Mrs. Jones directed my horse to be brought round. At the time I went out of the front door, my horse was ready. I rode with all possible dispatch to the office. The first point I aimed at was the east door; cried out in as audible voice as possible for the clerks, first naming Mr. Kennedy, and afterwards the others, as they came to my mind, and continued to call for them for some minutes. Someone asked what I wished of them? I replied we must save the contents of the office or part of them. I then dismounted from my horse, or attempted it, and was about to proceed to the office door, when some persons came up and entreated me to desist -- one of the persons I believe to be Mr. Gideon -- that to enter the office would be certainly fatal. The flames had not then burst from the front windows. About this time, Mr. Kennedy, one of the clerks, came up, and I appealed to him to know if nothing could be done? He answered that he had made every possible effort to enter the building and had failed, and that it could not be done; and entreated me not to distress myself, that nothing had been left undone that could be done under the circumstances, or something to that effect. About this time the flames issued from the front of the building, which convinced me that nothing could be saved from the City Post Office. I took no further steps except to rally the clerks and messengers, and ascertain all the particulars as speedily as possible. Before the fire had burst out, Mr. Joseph Bradley took my horse and went Capitol Hill after the engine. There was no engine at the fire when I arrived, that I recollect to have seen. I saw no fire when I arrived, but dense volumes of smoke were issuing from the east end of the building, although I kept my eye on that part of the building from the time I came in sight of it.
All the rooms on the first floor of the building, east of the General Post Office portion of it, were occupied by the City Post Office; and all that part of the building above the City Post Office was occupied by the Patent Office. The passage at the east end of the building was common to the City Post Office and the Patent Office. The stairway to the Patent Office led up to the right, as you entered the door. The first room on the left of the passage was occupied by me, in which nothing was kept except my private papers and a valuable medical library. There were two doors to this room, -- one communicating with the Post Office room and the other with the passage. The next room, west, was the large room occupied as the City Post Office, in which all the business connected with the distribution and assortment of the mail was transacted. This room extended west to the General Post Office. There were three rooms in the rear of it north; the one next to the General Post Office was occupied by my assistant, Thomas Corcoran, where all the accounts, transcripts, post bills, etc., were kept. The next room, east, was occupied by Cornelius Cox, a clerk in the City Post office, as his sleeping room, the door of which opened into the next room east, and the door from that opened into the letter room. The next room east to the one occupied by Mr. Cox was occupied as a store room for candles, twin, paper, oil and mail bags. The next room east was occupied by the door-keeper and watchman, and had in it a large quantity of mail bags, the greater part of which were canvas bags. There was no communication with this room except through the passage at the east end of the building. A bell was placed in the watchman's room, which rung from the east front door; and a bell was placed in Mr. Cox's room, which rung from the watchman's room. There was but one passage from the City Post Office to the cellar; which was under the stairs of the Patent Office, and was common to both offices. There was a door opening from the east passage into the back yard, common, also, to both offices. There was a door opening from the east passage into the back yard, common, also, to both offices. There was a large door at the end of the passage of the General Post Office. The intercourse between the offices was through that door. This door was invariably kept closed, except when opened for convenience of communication between the two offices. There was a small aperture, about six inches square, through this door, through which letters were passed. This aperture was closed by a spring door opening into the letter room. It was fastened by two bolts, and after the business of the office was over for the day, the instructions were, that this aperture, as well as the door should be fastened. The Post Office and Patent Office were separated from the General Post Office by a brick wall extending from the cellar to the top of the building.
The partition walls between all the rooms in the City Post Office were of brick. The floor, doors and furniture were all of wood. In the letter room was a circular lobby of framework, which was accessible from the front door of the City Post Office. On each side of this lobby, there was a door opening into the letter room. One of these doors was rarely, if ever used, and was always fastened; the other was used to pass into the lobby to shut the front door, and to take into the office the letters deposited in the night letter box, the aperture to which was through the front door. The south front door was a large door through which all persons wishing to deposit or receive letters, through the day, entered the above described lobby. This door was secured at night by a lock, an iron bolt, and a large bar of wood.
There was a passage extending through the center of the cellar from one end of the building to the other. Between the cellar under the General and City Post Offices, there was a door opening into the General Post Office cellar. I do not know whether this door was or was not kept fastened. This was the only entrance from the General Post Office cellar into the cellar under the City Post Office. The passage through the cellar was divided from the rooms by brick walls. On the south side of the passage under the City Post Office, were three rooms; the east room, being under the room occupied by myself, contained bituminous coal. The floor of this room was of plank, and was placed there by direction of the late postmaster general, Mr. Barry; the room being designed at the time for a shop for the department for the manufacture and repair of mail bags. The next room, west, was separated from this by a partition of wood, and contained as much oak and pine as could conveniently be placed in it. The next room west was separated from the one just mentioned by a brick partition, and I believe it was occupied by the Patent Office; it was not occupied by me. The two last mentioned rooms were under the letter room of the City Post Office. On the north side of the passage were four rooms, and the stairway passage, all separated from each other by brick walls. The east room nearest the stairway contained wood for the City Office. I am not able to state what the next room, west, contained, or either of the two remaining rooms, of my own knowledge, but have been informed that one of the two westerly rooms contained old mail bags and a few logs of old wood; and the other, coal for the General Post Office. From each of the foregoing described rooms, there were doorways into the long passage. The floor of the long passage was earth. There were windows in the basement story, both in rear and front, the entire length of the building, and at each end. Those under the City Post Office were closed by a plank shutter, hung at the top, and dropping down so as to cover the window. These windows were used for passing fuel into the cellar. There was no glass or iron grating to these windows. The shutter of the City Office letter room closed on the inside, and were shut every night. I cannot say whether they covered the entire window or not.
The clerks of the office were divided into two parties; they did night duty alternately; all remained until ten o'clock each night; half then went to their lodgings, the other half remained until all the mails received and dispatched were disposed of; this usually took until one, two, three or four in the morning. The part that left at ten returned and slept in a room adjoining the letter room; a messenger slept in my room, and a watchman in the watchroom. I gave particular directions not to have the office left without a strict attention to lights and fires. On the night of the fire, as was my constant custom, between seven and eight o'clock, when I left the office, I enforced this direction upon all the persons present in the office. The watchman was not paid for staying up all night; he was particularly employed to attend upon the doors on calls during the night. The watchman above mentioned received twenty dollars per month for his services, which were performed during the night only. About a year (or more) since, I was informed that a box of ashes was found on fire in the cellar of the City Post Office, which was placed there from the Patent Office. I then gave strict orders to the persons in my office against placing any ashes in the cellar, and they were enforced in the strongest manner. Since the fire, I have learned that my messengers have deposited ashes in the cellar this winter, and, on the day preceding the fire, a hod of ashes had been deposited there. There was no place appropriate for depositing ashes, and I supposed those from my office were thrown into the street, from witnessing a large pile directly opposite the east door. I have since been informed that they were principally coal ashes.
I know of no provision made about the building for extinguishing fire. There was an engine in a small building adjoining the Post Office building; but what its condition was, or in whose care it was, I do not know.
In the letter room there were three fires -- a grate used for coal in the west end of the room, the flue of which led directly into the chimney, and two box stoves in which wood was used; one of them near the door of Mr. Cox's room, the pipe of which passed through the wall and entered the flue in his room on the west side. This stove stood upon a sheet of zinc considerably larger than the stove. The other stove stood in the southeasterly part of the room, upon a brick hearth, the funnel of which passed across the room, and into the flue above the grate above mentioned.
Nothing was saved from the City Post Office. The loss of furniture was inconsiderable, but the loss in portmanteaus, mail bags, etc., was very considerable; it is impossible for me to specify any amount.
There was a door opening from the east end of the letter room into the passage; after it was closed for the night, it could be opened from the inside by a spring, and from the outside by a key, which key was always taken by one of the clerks, and never left in the keeping of a messenger or watchman.
Wm. Jones, Postmaster
Testimony of Samuel Crown, December 21, 1836
I, Samuel Crown, having been duly sworn, testify as follows, in relation to the conflagration of the Post Office building on December 15, 1836.
I am employed as a messenger in the City Post Office. I was in my room on the night of the fire. I slept in the postmaster's room. We finished the work of the office about 25 minutes before 3 o'clock A.M., on the morning of the 15th of December. After I had retired to my bed, I heard the clock strike three. I had, as it appeared to me, been asleep a very short time, when I was aroused by being almost suffocated by smoke. I immediately arose and went to the fire place, where I always kept a candle burning, and examined the fire-place, and ascertained there was no smoke proceeded from it. I then looked through the key-hole of the door that divided the room I was in from the City Post Office, and could see no light. In turning to the outside door, I found one leaf of it open. I then went into the watchman's (Mr. Summers's) room, and awoke him, and found nothing wrong in his room. We both went to the front door, that was open, and discovered smoke issuing from under the platform at that door. I went to the cellar windows on the east end of the building, and broke them in, and continued round to the south front door of the City Post Office, and broke in all the windows as I passed around. When I came to the third window from the southeast corner of the building, I felt the heat very sensibly, and at the fourth it was quite hot. I held up the window with my foot, (lying down upon the pavement), but could see no fire. The shutters were so hung that they would fall back so as to cover the window, if they were not held up. There was a window under the platform of the east steps, but I am of the impression there was no shutter to it. I returned and lighted a candle in Mr. Summers's room, and went to the cellar door, and upon opening it, the flare of the door extinguished it. I returned, and lighted it again, and went down two or three steps, and the density of the smoke extinguished the candle. I then went into Summers's room and rang the bell for Mr. Cox. Lest the bell should not wake him, I went out of the back door and to his window, and pounded upon it. I then returned and rang his bell a second time. I came out of Summers's room and into the passage and met Mr. Cox as he came out of the City Post Office into the passage. I then stepped into the City Post Office room and saw no fire, but there was a very thick smoke. I told him there was certainly fire in the cellar, as the smoke was coming from all the windows. I went a second time to the third and fourth windows, and satisfied myself there was a fire, as I heard the roaring of the flames. When I returned to the corner of the building, I heard Cox say, you had better go for Kennedy. From the first time I discovered heat, I cried fire continually. I went to Mr. Kennedy's in E street, a few rods east of the Post Office, crying fire on my way. I rapped at Mr. Kennedy's door and he immediately appeared. I returned to the office and put on my pantaloons, vest and other clothes. There was no person at the office when I returned except Cox; I had previously sent Summers to give the alarm. As I came out of the office, after putting on my clothes, I met Mr. Kennedy at the corner of the building. Kennedy asked where the fire was? I answered, here it is in the cellar. I again went to the third and fourth windows and could see no fire, but felt the heat increased. I returned to the east end of the building, met one of the watchmen of the General Post Office, who had the key of the engine house. We, with three or four others who had arrived, got out the engine. After we had got out the engine, someone said it was broken, and of no service. Mr. Callan was on the ground a little before Kennedy. I then went again to the east door of the Post Office, and saw the flames coming up through the floor of the city Post Office room, near the center of the room, perhaps nearer the lobby than the opposite side, the door from the passage into that room then being open. I then went out and got a fire bucket, filled it with water, and went back into the room where the fire was, and approached within fifteen or twenty feet of the fire; threw the water; the fire came into my face, burnt my hair and eyebrows. I turned and fell, and for an instant was unconscious where I was. I saw no other person in the building at that time. I immediately went out, and aided in getting out the hose from the engine house. After it was got out, it was found good for nothing. I then went to the pump and aided in filling the engine. I was at the pump on seventh street, north of the south front of the building, for half or three quarters of an hour, and did not see the fire when it broke out of the south side of the building. After I saw the fire in the room, I saw a person in the room, near the east door, that I took to be Mr. Kennedy. When I was aroused, I had no keys to either door, and had no means of getting into the City Post Office, until after Cox opened the door. When I first came into the passage. and found the east front door opened, Summers was in his bed. I never knew that door to be open before, after the person having charge of that door was in bed. The cellar door was usually fastened on the upper side by a bolt. When I went to it that night it was latched; but whether it was bolted or not, I cannot say. The cellar window, which was open under the platform, was large enough for a person to enter. The third window, above named, was in a room occupied by the City Post Office for wood; the fourth window, at which I felt the greatest heat, was in the room used by the Patent Office for wood. In the passage of the cellar, between the first and second doors, on the south side of the passage,against the brick wall, was about a barrel of ashes from the City Post Office. Those ashes were placed there by myself and the other messengers of the City Office. On the morning of the 14th December, I had placed upon that heap of ashes, about a peck and a half of ashes taken from Colonel Corcoran's fireplace in the City Post Office, which had been used on the thirteenth. There was no fire in the ashes I took up on the morning of the 14th. I took brands from the ashes with my hands, and they were cold. There was another pile of ashes against the same wall, between the third and fourth doors, opening into the rooms occupied by the Patent Office wood. I should think there were about two or three barrels of ashes in that heap. There were no doors to the first and second doorways of the passage, between which was the first heap of ashes. I think there were doors in the doorways of the rooms occupied by the Patent Office. I do not know whether there were wooden frames to the doors or not. I was first employed as a messenger in April last. When I first came to the office, I found the ashes deposited there, and have received no orders in relation to them since. The earth floor of the passage is usually wet, and immediately after a rain, the mud and water is sometimes over shoes. I should judge from the situation of the fire, as I saw it coming through the floor of the City Post Office letter-room, that it broke through over the third room of the cellar, on the south side of the passage. The coal ashes were thrown into the street. I should think it was ten minutes before I saw any person except Cox and Summers, after I was aroused. There are two messengers to the City Office, and we take turns in staying at the office. Dr. Jones often cautioned us about being careful of fires, but I know of no provisions of ladders, buckets, or water about the City Office for the extinguishment of fires. The east door, and the door into the City Office from the passage, continued open all the time after Cox came out, as I believe. About the time Mr. Kennedy came up to the building, a young man on the pavement at the east end of the building, whom I did not know, asked me why I did not go in a pull the things out. I answered, I could not get in, the smoke was so thick. He replied, I can get in. Said I, come on, go in with me. He turned away, and said to me "You do not want to get in; I believe it is a money concern." After the door of the City Post Office room was opened, I do not think the letters, letter bags, etc., could have been got out of that room, on account of the density of the smoke, in the first place, and on account of the heat, after the fire burst through the floor. After the fire burst through the floor, I think it might have been extinguished, if the engine and hose had been in order, and there had been men to work it.
Three persons only were required to sleep in the City Post Office, and they were all there when I was aroused. The principal stove in the City Office fell into the northeast corner of the third room of the south side of the cellar. I think the fire burst through the floor near that stove. That stove stood on a brick hearth, enclosed in a wooden frame. This hearth was somewhat larger than the frame.
Testimony of Cornelius Cox, December 21, 1836
I, Cornelius Cox, having been duly sworn, testify as follows, in relation to the conflagration of the General Post Office building, December 15, 1836.
I am a clerk in the City Post Office; and it has been my constant custom for the past six years, to sleep in a room of the City Post Office, adjoining the letter room. On the morning of the fire, we finished work in the office at twenty-five minutes after two, and the clerk left the office at half past two. After the clerks had left. I attended particularly, as was my custom, to the fires, looking at them, and examining the office carefully, to see that all was right. I looked into the principal stove and found that the wood was burnt out, and there were but few embers; I then placed a brick before the stove door, examined the coal fire, and saw that an iron screen was before it, and then retired to rest. Some time after I had gone to sleep, I was aroused by some noise, and upon arising, found the room filled with smoke, and it instantly occurred to me that the building was on fire. Upon opening the door of my room, I found the City Post Office full of smoke, but no light was to be seen. I went immediately to the east door of the City Post Office without my clothes, and heard the fire cracking beneath the floor as I went out; I opened it, and passed into Mr. Summers's room, where I found Mr. Crown and Mr. Summers. I asked, "What is the matter?" Mr. Crown said "I believe the building is on fire." I asked "Where?" He replied, he believed in the cellar, I asked him if he had been into the cellar: he said he had attempted to go down but the smoke was so dense he could not succeed. I told Mr. Crown to run to Mr. Kennedy's and awaken him. I then went out of the east door and upon the pavement, and saw the smoke issuing from beneath the platform of the east door; I then ran to the southeast corner of the building, so that I had a view of the south front, and saw no person and no fire, and no smoke issuing from the south front. I then ran back to get my clothes. The passage door is fastened with a spring lock, so that upon closing it, it fastens itself; when I first came out, I took the precaution to place something against it to prevent its being fastened. On passing back to my room, through the city letter- room, I heard the roaring and cracking of the fire in the cellar so distinctly as to be in fear of the floor falling through; and at the same time, I heard someone knocking at the door communicating with the General Post Office. There was at this time no fire to be seen in the office. I passed back into my room, put on my pantaloons, took my coat in my hand, and jumped out at the back window; being afraid, on account of the dense smoke, and the danger of the giving way of the floor, to attempt to return through the city office. I then passed on, entering the back door, and came to the front of the building, through the passage at the east end; I there met Mr. Crown, and asked him if he has been at Mr. Kennedy's. He then went to the windows of the basement story, and, when at the third window from the east, he exclaimed, "Here is the fire, Mr. Cox -- under here." About this time I observed Mr. Suter and four or five others. The next thing I recollect, I saw Mr. Kennedy; and we went to the east door of the city letter room together; he tried to force his way in, and was repulsed by the smoke; at this time there was no fire to be seen. We then both passed around to the window of my room, which I had left open. He advised me to get in and save some of my own property; I jumped in, threw out of the window such things as I could conveniently get hold of, having every moment to thrust my head out of the window to breath fresh air. Afterwards, I was employed in the General Post Office, aiding in saving the things from that department.
I would state that I had, for some nights previous to the fire, been particularly careful and anxious in regard to fires, when it was my night to attend them, (being every other night), in consequence of an application I had made about a week previous, to Dr. Jones, to be permitted to sleep out of the office. He then stated that he had the most perfect confidence in me, and he did not wish to put any other person in my place, as I had been accustomed to sleep on the office for so long a time; this conversation added to my desire to deserve the confidence thus expressed. Dr. Jones always manifested great caution in regard to fires, and was continually in the habit of reminding the officers of his department to be very careful of the fires and lights. The Patent Office might have been entered when I first came out, I should think; and also when Mr. Kennedy and myself went to the east door as above stated. On getting out of the window of my room the last time, I first saw the messenger of the Patent Office, and he said he had attempted to get into the Patent Office and could not succeed. I immediately after passed through the passage where the Patent Office stairs were, and, in my opinion, it would have been impossible to get into that office, the smoke was so dense.
After Dr. Jones came, and after I had been assisting in moving things from the General Post Office, I heard some person tell Dr. Jones that the clerks would not open the door. I told him (the man) it was not true, as the eastern door had been open all the time, and I had placed a stick against it to keep it open. He then replied, pointing to the south door, "I mean that door." I then told him no person could get across the office to open that door.
All the furniture belonging to the office, the eastern, western, and southern mails that arrived that night and had been assorted, and the Port Tobacco mail, the Warrenton, and Warrenton way mails, and the Winchester way mails, and the Georgetown mail, were destroyed, together with all the letters in the office for delivery. There was nothing saved from the office.
Testimony of Thomas Corcoran, December 22, 1836
(Assistant Postmaster of the City Post Office. He was not at the fire.)
I have always considered the postmaster of the city Dr. Jones, as cautious and careful in relation to fire, to an almost unreasonable extent; and his continued and repeated cautions to those engaged in the office might be construed by the clerks as almost implying a want of confidence.
(Rest of testimony omitted.)
Testimony of James H. Boss, December 22, 1836
(Messenger in the City Post Office. He was not on duty the night of the fire and reached there too late to give valuable testimony.)
There was a special order from Dr. Jones, never to go into the cellar with a light at any time; the fuel was therefore, always brought up in the day time. The passage was lighted from the open window under the east steps. (There was no shutter to the window under the platform of the east door.) Doctor Jones gave me strict charge to be careful in regard to fires and lights, and forbade smoking in the office.
(Rest of testimony omitted.)
Testimony of James A. Kennedy, December 23, 1836
I, James A. Kennedy, having been duly sworn, testify as follows, in relation to the burning of the General Post Office building, on the 15th December, 1836:
I have been employed near fourteen years in the City Post Office of Washington; more than seven years of that time as an assistant clerk and letter carrier, the remainder of the time as clerk.
On the morning of the 15th December instant, while lying in bed asleep, I heard indistinctly a cry of fire; but supposing it was a great distance off, I paid little or not attention to it. In a few minutes, Mr. Crown, the messenger of the City Post Office, knocked at my door rapidly. I think this was about four o'clock. ~ I had no watch, neither did I look at the clock; my wife tells me it was four o'clock -- she looked at the clock. I jumped up, went on my porch just over his (Crown's) head; he informed me that the office was on fire, the smoke was issuing from the cellar windows. I struck a light with a lucifer match and put on some clothes as quick as possible, and, while I was dressing, I determined in my mind what to do if I supposed there was danger. When I arrived near the office, I met Mr. Crown on the pavement, and I there discovered the smoke rushing through the windows of the cellar. I then determined to get all out of the office, if possible; first, my own desk which contained accounts etc., of the office, and all my private books and papers of the last twenty years, and of great value to me; and about 150 or 160 dollars, part mine and part Dr. Jones's; part gold and silver, part notes and checks; some of the gold and silver we have found among the ruins just under where my desk stood; secondly, all the mail or letters which had arrived during the night, and were assorted ready for delivery in the morning; and thirdly everything that I could get hold of. First, I made three attempts to enter the inner east door, that led directly in to the City Office, first without anything over my face; secondly with my pocket handkerchief which is silk over it; thirdly by creeping on the floor, (for I have read of persons being able to pass through smoke that way), but finding the smoke to be thicker near the floor, I was compelled to retreat. I saw no fire at this time. I then came into sight of Mr. Bishop, going up stairs to the Patent Office, and Mr. Cox, who informed me that his back window was open, where he had just got out, and perhaps we might effect an entrance to the office in that way. When we arrived at the window, I assisted Mr. Cox in getting in, and then attempted to get in myself; but, finding the smoke so great, we concluded it would be impossible to enter there. I then directed him to get out of his room everything of value. He was so much alarmed, he could not think of anything. I requested him to stand still one minute, and I called his recollection to his papers and clothing. These things, I believe, he partly saved. I left him for my mind was fixed on my desk. I made my way round to the west door that entered the City Post Office, and separated the General from the City Post Office. In that door was a small window for passing letters, etc. from the City to the General Post Office; with my fist I broke the bolt. While looking through a crack in the door, I saw the fire, as I believe for the first time, bursting through the floor from the cellar; it appeared to be from seven to ten feet from Dr. Jones's room. I opened the window to ascertain whether it would be practicable to enter the City Office. On pushing the window open, I had my eyebrows and lashes singed and my face well scorched; and, although my desk was not more than ten feet from me, I found it would be imprudent for me to enter the room. Within about a minute after the fire broke through the floor into the City Post Office, it was suddenly dark for a minute and then blazed up again. When I approached the door above mentioned, in the passage, I saw no person; but when I attempted to burst open the small door with my fist, I heard the voice of someone behind me.
While I was at the door, Mr. Jacob Gideon jr. came up, and I think proposed to open the door. I requested him to try the windows first; he did so, and concurred with me in trying to keep that door shut, to prevent the fire and smoke from passing into the General Post Office. In a minute or two, Mr. Kendall came, and they commenced taking the books, papers, etc. from the rooms. Mr. Ellsworth arrived, and I directed him the way upstairs, that he might find an entrance to the Patent Office. I remained at the door for some time, for the purpose of keeping it from being opened, and hoping that something might occur with the fire to give me an opportunity of getting my desk, etc., out of the room. After remaining there sometime, a clerk in the General Post Office, David Saunders, came up and asked if there was no way of getting into the office. I told him the east door was open; but for fear it might have got shut, I gave him the key out of my pocket, where I had it for the purpose of getting into the office early in the morning, preparatory to opening at 8 o'clock. It was my custom to take the key every other night at 10 o'clock -- we being divided into two classes, and myself at the head of class 1. In a short time he returned me the key, stating that he could get no person to enter the east door with him, finding the room too hot. I then, after giving up all hope for my desk, etc., went in front of the building, and several persons (among the rest Mr. Leonard Harbaugh) said the south door ought to be opened. I said they might force the door if they thought proper, but I gave it as my opinion that it would be imprudent to do so. Mr. Saunders and several others through with me; and, to convince Mr. Harbaugh, I took him to the door, and told him to put his hand in the place, where the letters were dropped into the office, and he had no sooner put his hand there than he was compelled to put it away, the heat was so great. My opinion was, and is yet, if the south or west doors had been opened, the flames would have got so far ahead that many of the valuable books and papers which were saved would have been lost. About the time I was in conversation with Mr. Harbaugh, Mr. Matthew St. Clair Clarke, my neighbor, came up and inquired why the door was not opened. Many voices said, "They will not let us open the door;" (no person had prevented it, that I know of.) He then sang out, at the top of his voice, "an axe -- an axe -- an axe." I stood behind him and placed my hand upon his shoulder, and said "Mr. Clarke, hear me one moment." "Well, Mr. Kennedy, go on." I then briefly related to him what I had done, and tried to do, and gave him my opinion about opening the door. He gave in and said my views were correct and it had not occurred to him. Mr. Clarke saw me after the building was down, and then again said my course was a proper one, and again gave it as his opinion that it was proper to keep the south door shut, for the benefit of those at work moving the effects of the General Post Office. At the time I had the conversation with Mr. Clarke, at the door, the fire had not made its way out of the building; and about this time Dr. Jones arrived, on his horse, as Mr. Cox informed me; I was then in the General Post Office, having left Mr. Clarke at the door. He (Dr. Jones) was more like a deranged man than anything else I can compare him to. The first words I heard him utter were, "Where are my clerks? I can see none of them." I answered loudly, "Doctor, I am here." He recognized my voice, and asked me several questions about the fire, which I answered hastily. One was, if anything had been got out of the office? I answered, "Not a thing -- all gone." He said he could get them out, and sprang off his horse, and attempted to go into the office. I took hold of him and told him he should not go into the office, but must be as cool and calm as possible -- all that could be done was done by us. About this time the fire broke through the third window from the east end of the City Post Office. During the time they were making a noise about the door being shut, I saw no water ready for use in the extinguishment of the fire.
Dr. Jones gave repeated orders to be careful about lights and fires. He was so constantly in the habit of giving orders of that kind when he left each night, that the clerks called it his farewell.
I know of no provision about he City Office to extinguish fires, previous to the fire.
I saw nothing done to extinguish the fire; my attention was directed to the saving of property.
There was a lamp always kept burning in the eastern passage, in the night.
There were shutters to all the windows of the rooms occupied by the City Post Office in the basement story. I had them placed there, with bolts upon them as fastenings; it was the duty of the messengers to keep them shut, but I know they were often left open at nights. I do not know their condition on the night of the fire. I do not certainly know whether there was a shutter under the east door platform on the night of the fire.
When I first arrived at the building, I saw no person except Mr. Crown.
I herewith present a plan, (marked B.) with remarks on the same in my hand-writing, which is to be taken as part of my testimony. In addition to the materials specified on the plan as being in the rooms, there were under the tables in the letter- room, wooden boxes containing packages and papers, (the tables and boxes all being made of pine;) also in other parts of the room, bags of paper; and the floor must have been mostly covered with papers thrown there in assorting the mails of that night.
When I was endeavoring to enter the east inner door, as before mentioned, had there been any fire in the room, I think I must have seen it.
J. A. Kennedy
Washington City, December 26, 1836
While before the committee this morning, I neglected to state, that, in compliance with their request, I had examined the cellar just under the east room, occupied by the postmaster, and to have ascertained that the coal, (between 200 and 300 bushels), and the floor under the coal, are still there, but that part of the floor not covered with the coal is burnt.
This may, if you think proper, be annexed as part of my evidence; or, if otherwise, and considered of importance, I will come before the committee again.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant
J. A. Kennedy
Hon. Henry W. Connor
Chairman of the Committee on the Post Office, etc.
Testimony of Henry Bishop, December 23, 1836
I, Henry Bishop, having been duly sworn, testify as follows in relation to the conflagration of the General Post Office building, on the 15th December, 1836:
I am the messenger of the Patent Office. The rooms occupied by the Patent Office were all the rooms directly over the City Post Office. The rooms occupied by the Patent office in the cellar, were the large west room on the south side of the passage under the City Post Office, and the second room from the west end of the cellar, on the north side of the passage. In the latter room was old lumber, consisting of old models, cast iron articles, and boards. In the large room were oak wood and some wooden boxes, in which models had been brought; and we kept our ashes in that room, in a wooden box, just after you entered the door near the northeast corner of the room. The box would hold several bushels, and was nearly full. Ashes were deposited there in the morning previous to the fire. There were six fire places in the Patent Office, and the ashes fro all these, from time to time, were placed in the box above mentioned. The wooden boxes were at the east end of the room. There were thirty cords of wood put in the room early in the fall. I should judge that about four or five cords had been burnt. The ashes were taken from the fire places every morning, and were left in the iron hod they were taken up in, (which would hold over a bushel), until the next morning and sometimes longer, before it was placed in the cellar. We had two hods. When I was first appointed messenger, six or seven years since, I used to throw away all the ashes. The then superintendent, Dr. Craig, told me I had better save them, and from that time they have been deposited in the cellar. I have received no orders about them from that time. The morning before the fire, I passed them down through the hatchway, by the tackle and fall, into the cellar, and my son placed them in the box. There were two wooden doors to the large room in the cellar occupied by us. The east door was usually kept locked, and was locked on the night of the fire; the other was locked when shut, but was sometimes (and I think on the night of the fire), left open. Wood was used in the fire-places of the Patent Office. There was no coal in the cellar room above mentioned. The hod above mentioned was emptied on Saturday before the fire, and no ashes had been deposited in the cellar between Saturday and Wednesday. The ashes were taken up on Monday, and there had been no fire in the fireplaces since Saturday. Whether there were any taken up on Tuesday morning, I cannot positively say: I am certain none were taken up on Wednesday morning. It has always been my practice not to carry the ashes into the cellar until the second day after they were taken up. It was not my practice to cover up the fires at night; but I collected the brands together in the center of the fireplaces, and placed a large iron screen before each, and left the fires to burn out; so that there was never any fire to be found on the succeeding morning, and I lighted a candle with a match to kindle the fires. A year or more since, there was a fire found in a box of ashes in the cellar, deposited from the Patent Office. I always took the ashes from the fire-places myself.
I reside on the corner of F and Eighth streets, near the Post Office Building. I was alarmed on the morning of the fire by some one rapping at my neighbor's door. I arose, looked at my watch, and it was half past four. My watch is generally too fast. I went immediately to the Post Office, ascended to the steps of the south door of the City Post Office, looked through the window next east of the door, and saw the fire in the room. It seemed to be full of thick black smoke, and apparently a flame near the center of the room in a northeasterly direction from where I stood. In my opinion, there was no shutter over that window to obstruct my sight. I saw no person in the room. There was no fire at this time to be seen outside of the building. It was half an hour or more before the fire broke out. Several persons at that time had gathered around the building. I cannot name anyone, except my son Henry, who was with me. I had with me the keys of the Patent Office, and immediately went round to the east door, with a view of getting into the Patent Office; but for some reason I could not enter. I cannot tell why. Whether the door was shut, or whether smoke prevented me, I cannot tell; for I was so confused that it has escaped from my memory. I then returned into E street, and entered the General Post Office door on that street, passed through it into the back yard, and to the back door of the east passage of the City Post Office and Patent Office, entered at that door, and ascended the steps of the Patent Office, about half way to the first landing; but, on account of the smoke, I could proceed no farther. I made the attempt several times, but for this reason failed each time. The smoke appeared to come from the east door of the City Post Office letter room. I then, with another person whom I do not know, looked through the windows of the basement story on the north side of the building, into the cellar and could see no fire. The shutters were not fastened, and we raised them so as to look in. I then returned to the south side of the building, and went into the cellar through the window west of the City Post Office south door, on to the floor of the cellar, held the window up with my hand, looked about and saw nothing. Had there been any light in the cellar, I must have seen it. Between me and the ashes box, the wood was piled nearly to the floor above. From where I stood to the west door of the cellar, there was a free passage. Though a portion of the wood had been taken from the west door, there still l remained so much that there was no passage way from that to the east door. I cannot recollect whether there was any smoke, as I had before been so much in the smoke; but I felt no heat; the doors in the room were opposite the windows, and the wood was piled when placed in the room, and in the space between the windows and the doors, nearly, if not quite to the floor, leaving a passage on each side from the door to the window opposite. I did not leave the window beyond the reach of my arm, but continued to hold the shutter up with my hand. I remained in the room only long enough to look around -- say a minute. When I went into the cellar, the fire had not broken out of the windows of the City Post Office, but the people were rapidly collecting. I went into the cellar while my son was gone to call Mr. Ellsworth. After the fire had broken out of the windows, my son told me that he had heard Dr. Jones speak of my ashes in the cellar. I then saw Dr. Jones and Mr. Ellsworth together, told them I had been in the cellar, and offered to go in again in their presence, to convince them there was no fire there. They both replied, it was not worth while. We were then in E street, in front of the building. It was the custom to keep the windows of the cellar fastened; but on the night of the fire, the left window where I entered was left unfastened. The east window had been open within the week previous to the fire to air the cellar; I closed it myself and fastened it, and was not at it afterwards. I know of no preparations to extinguish fires made by the Patent Office, previous to the fire.
Testimony of John Hoover, December 23, 1836
(A citizen of Washington, a butcher. Nothing new in testimony. Omitted here.)
Testimony of John F. Callan, December 23, 1836
I, John F. Callan, having been duly sworn, testify as follows, in relation to the burning of the Post Office building:
I am a citizen of Washington, a druggist by profession. My residence is on the east side of seventh street, about three doors north of the east end of the City Post Office. About half past three, on the morning of December 15th, I heard the cry of fire. As soon as I could partly dress, I went to the City Post Office; upon arriving there I found the smoke issuing in dense volumes from beneath the platform of the east door. I looked into the windows under the platform, but could discover no fire. I then entered the building through the east door, and found the passage and watchman's room full of smoke, but could discover no heat or flame. I then passed out of the building and went around to the south front of it in E street, and examined all the windows, and discovered neither smoke nor fire on that side, or on the east end except that issuing from under the platform of the door of the east end. While looking into the window under the platform, I distinctly heard the roaring of fire, like the noise of burning pine. I saw no fire. The window above mentioned was always opened. My shop is directly opposite and I have often seen boys pass under the platform and into the cellar, through the window. I then went into the engine house on fourteenth street, passing up E street and crying fire. I could not find where the key of the engine-house was kept, or arouse anybody anywhere. I then returned to the Post Office building; there was still no smoke issuing from the south front; but it was still issuing from the east end. I saw no fire. There were at this time not more than a dozen people collected. At the solicitation of Mr. Seaton, I returned to the engine house on Fourteenth street, and took with me a number of boys who cried fire. After much difficulty and delay, and many attempts to break open the door of the engine house, some one came with the key. We then got out the hose cart and sent it to the Post Office building. I left a gentleman to start the engine as soon as sufficient help could be obtained, and returned myself to the Post Office. I then found the smoke issuing from the third window from the east end, upon the south side of the City Post Office. The flames immediately burst forth, and I went to my own store.
I made no effort to get out the engine at the Post Office, as I knew the condition of it was such that it would have been entirely useless. I know of applications having been made to Major Barry, while he was Postmaster General, by a fire company, to put this engine in repair; but he replied to them, he had no funds at his disposal for the purpose. The fire company dissolved on that account.
In my opinion, if there had been a good engine, and an efficient company, the fire might have been extinguished at any time within half hour after I was alarmed.
There was no organized fire company belonging to Washington, on the ground. But there was a company arrived at a late hour from Georgetown, and I believe there was an engine from Capitol hill.
There were no persons present when I first arrived at the building, except Mr. Crown and Mr. Summers. Crown was in his shirt and drawers, with a handkerchief around his head.
I saw no light at any of the windows upon the south front when I first arrived, though I went round for the particular purpose of examining. Nor did I see any until after I returned the second time from Fourteenth street. Had there been any light, I could have seen it in the arches of the windows on each side of the south door of the City Office.
Testimony of Henry Bishop, jr., December 26, 1836
I, Henry Bishop, jr., having been duly sworn, testify as follows, in relation to the burning of the Post Office building, on December 15, 1836.
I am in the twenty-third year of my age, and am the son of Henry Bishop, the messenger of the Patent Office. I am occasionally employed by my father to aid him in the Patent Office. I reside with my father. I arrived at the building at an early hour; no fire was visible. I met my father at the corner, and went immediately after Mr. Ellsworth. The smoke was issuing from the east end of the building. I saw no light at any of the windows of the City Post Office, until after my return from Mr. Ellsworth's, and then not until the flames burst from the windows of the City Post Office. On the morning before the fire, at about nine o'clock, I deposited a hodful of ashes in the box, in the cellar occupied by the Patent Office. I should think this box would hold nearly twenty bushels. It was nearly full, and I turned in about half a bushel. I had placed ashes there before. The box was a little to the left hand of the east door of the cellar, as you entered. There was wood piled in the cellar to the floor. The box containing ashes was within four or five feet of the wood. There were wooden boxes piled against the wall, on the left side of the door -- perhaps half a dozen; there might have been more.
In the fall, the cellar was filled with wood, with the exception of a passage across the east end, from the door to the basement window. The wood used was taken from the west door, and has been removed across the cellar and on the left side of the door as you enter, nearly to the other door.
I have been employed to aid my father in depositing ashes in the cellar for several winters past. Never saw any fire in the ashes. It has not been usual, for the past twelve months, to shut the door of the passage in the cellar, between the General and City Post Office.
Henry Bishop, Jr.
Testimony of Leonard Harbaugh, December 26, 1836
I, Leonard Harbaugh, having been duly sworn, testify as follows, in relation to the burning of the Post Office building, on the 15th of December, 1836:
I am a citizen of Washington, a merchant by profession, and reside in Seventh street, near the Post Office building. On the morning of the fire I was awakened by the alarm, went to the front door, and inquired where the fire was, and was informed it was at the Post Office. I immediately dressed and went to the Post Office, and found fifteen or twenty individuals standing on the pavement; some one inquired where the fire was. After standing five or ten minutes, seeing no appearance of fire or smoke, I went into the east door of the building, and found smoke in the passage. I then went around and entered the General Post Office. On my way round I saw smoke issuing from the third window of the basement story of the City Post Office. After entering the General Post Office at the south door, I went into the east end of the passage, next to the City Post Office. I found two or three individuals there, and among them Mr. Kennedy. I addressed myself to Mr. Kennedy. I addressed myself to Mr. Kennedy, and asked if there was no possibility of getting into the City Post Office. He said it was useless to attempt it, for he had tried to get to his desk and could not. I then urged him to go round with me and make an effort. We got as far as the south door of the City Post Office, and I proposed breaking that door; but Mr. Kennedy remonstrated against it, saying it would increase the draught. Mr. Kennedy asked me to put my hand through the hole in the door used to put letters in; I did, and felt the heat. I did not keep my hand in long enough to test the degree of heat. About this time, Mr. M. St.C. Clarke came up, and asked why the door was not broken open; he heard Mr. Kennedy's reasons given to me, said "is that all? and called for an axe. I then left the building, and turned my attention to the saving of private property in the vicinity. The refusal to have the door burst open created an apathy among the people, and no exertion was made to extinguish the fire at that time, that I saw. While I was in the east passage, I saw no person in the passage; the smoke was not thick enough to prevent a person from entering. There was no lamp in the passage that I recollect. I cannot say whether the inner east door was, or was not, open. It is my impression, that if the City Post Office had been open, when I arrived, much might have been saved from that office. I think, had there been an efficient company on the spot, with an engine and water, the fire could have been extinguished when I arrived. When I was in the passage of the General Post Office, I saw smoke issuing from the door in the passage between the City and General Post Office; but saw no fire. After the fire burst out of the window, I saw an engine playing into the window, and the fire was suppressed for a time; but the water was exhausted, and the fire blazed up again.
Testimony of Joel C. Reynolds, December 26, 1836
I, Joel C. Reynolds, testify as follows, in relation to the burning of the Post Office building, on the morning of December 15, 1836:
I am one of the watchmen of the General Post Office. I discovered the smoke about 3 o'clock on the morning of the fire, as near as I can judge. It was my turn to be on the watch from 12 o'clock midnight to sunrise, and I was up and in the passage, about the center of the General Post Office building. Upon discovering smoke, I went into all the rooms on the first floor of the General Post Office, commencing with the Postmaster General's room, he having remained in the office latest, and found everything secure. I then took a light and went to descend into the basement at the west end of the building, there being two rooms there occupied as the dead letter office. On descending the steps about half way, the draught and smoke extinguished my light. I then returned to the passage and went to the door between the City and General Post Offices, and knocked against it. Not hearing anyone, after waiting a moment, I knocked again. After knocking the second time, I heard a door open in the City Post Office. I then ran out of the south door of the General Post Office, and round to the east end of the building on seventh street, and there I mete one person coming down the steps with nothing on but his shirt and drawers, as I believe. The smoke was issuing in a large body from beneath the platform of the east door. I then ran down Seventh street, crying fire, as far as the Intelligencer Office. I then returned to the department, and called my colleague, Mr. Dodds, who was in bed in the second story, and then I crossed Eighth street and called Mr. Lawrenson, a clerk in the department. He came immediately to the office, and I then ran and called Mr. Kendall. In fifteen or twenty minutes after I discovered the smoke, as near as I can judge, Mr. Kendall was in the department. We then all commenced getting out and securing the books, papers and furniture of the department. It is a rule of the General Post Office Department that one of the watchmen shall be awake at all times of the night. On the night of the fire, upon coming on watch, at 12 o'clock, I went all round the building, and, finding everything secure, I think I did not go out again until I discovered smoke. I went into the basement story of the General Post Office to deliver out the fire buckets before I had heard of or seen the fire bursting out above, and saw the flames in the passage of the cellar, under the City Post Office -- the door in the passage between the two cellars being open, if there was any hung in the doorway. I am satisfied, from a critical examination, made at the time, that the fire did not originate in the General Post Office portion of the building; but from all that I could see, I have no doubt it originated in the cellar under the City Post Office.
Joel C. Reynolds
Testimony of James Dodd, December 27, 1836
I am one of the watchmen of the Post Office Department. The two watchmen come to the department at sundown; one takes charge of the building immediately after the messengers leave. On the evening preceding the fire, my turn was first, and I took charge until twelve o'clock at night, Mr. Reynolds (the other watchman) being in bed in the building at the time. At twelve o'clock I called him and went to bed myself; the bed was in the passage in the second story. I was in a sound sleep, when he called me very hastily to get up, as there was smoke in the building, and he had examined every room and could not find from whence it came. I immediately went down; found the smoke in the passage, near the City Post Office door. I ran immediately to that door and gave three or four very heavy knocks upon it. I returned half way up the passage, and went back and gave about the same number of knocks. I heard no noise, and nothing from the City Post Office. I then ran to Mr. Kyle's, who lives nearly opposite on Eighth street, and who is the superintendent of the building, and called him, and he gave me the key of the engine-house; I went round the building to the engine house at the east end, and unlocked and opened the door. I then passed back to the General Post Office Department, and lighted candles and placed them in the passages. About the time I had got the candles lighted, I saw the light of the fire in the City Post Office through the arch of the windows over the door in the passage between the City and General Post Offices. A good many people had then collected. I assisted in removing the property from the General Post Office. After the clerks leave, it is our custom to spend the time in going about the building and looking at the fires, and in passing out of the different doors and examining the outside of the building. On the night of the fire, I was outside of the building, I should think, seven or eight times after the clerks left, and before twelve o'clock. There was no provision made in the General Post Office to extinguish fires, except that there were some fire- proof buckets in the passage of the basement story; none of the buckets were got out, to my knowledge, and I have seen none since. There was formerly a ladder at the back part of the building, 15 or 18 feet long; I do not recollect when I saw it last. When I went round the building to the engine-house, I saw no smoke out the outside of the building; but I was so much excited that I took no particular notice. I considered that the watchmen of the General Post Office had charge of the whole outside of the building; but they rarely went round to the east end, and the City Post Office was generally open during the night, and the officers of that department were receiving and dispatching mails.
Testimony of M. St. Clair Clarke, December 28, 1836
I, Matthew St. Clair Clarke, having been duly sworn, testify as follows, in relation to the burning of the Post Office building on December 15, 1836:
I am a citizen of Washington, and reside on E street, about 150 yards from the Post Office building east. On the morning of the fire I was awakened by my servant, who informed me that Mr. Kennedy, a clerk in he City Post Office, who lived next door to me, had been aroused by a violent knocking at his door. I went to the front room of my house, and threw up the window; there was a strong smell of smoke, offensive both to the lungs and eyes, came in; and I closed the window, and dressed hastily, and ran toward the fire to Mr. Callan's shop, opposite the Post Office. There were six or eight persons standing at Mr. Callan's shop at the time. I inquired if it was true that the building was on fire? They answered that it was. I asked them why they did not try to put it out? what were they standing there for? They told me they could not get in. (I knew none of these persons.) I then ran across the street to the south door of the City Post Office. At that time there was a great deal of smoke issuing from the east part of the building; I believe it came from the east door. I saw no fire or smoke on the south side coming from the basement. I did not observe the basement on the east. There was smoke then issuing from the upper part of the City Post Office, on the south side, very slightly. When I arrived at the City Post Office door, I suppose there were twenty persons standing on the pavement and in the edge of the street. In inquired of them, in a loud voice, why they did not enter the building, see where the fire was, and attempt to put it out? Several said they could not get in. I ran up the steps to the door, and tried to force the door open. When I got on the platform of the door, there were two or three persons on the platform. There was still no light to be seen, but the smell of the smoke was very offensive. Finding I could not force open the door, I called for an axe. Some person exclaimed, "Don't break open the door." I was irritated at the exclamation, threw my cloak over the banisters, and again called for an axe, and asked someone to go to my door and get one, if one could not be procured on the spot. I said I would not stand there and see the records of the country burning, without an effort to put them out. At that time several of the crowd recognized my voice, and called me by name and said, "Get the door open, and we will follow you." At that moment Mr. Kennedy, a clerk in the City Post Office, turned to me and said, "I think you had better not break open the door; if you do you will be smothered with smoke." I said to him, "smoke or no smoke, Mr. Kennedy, I will be into the building and see where the fire is." He then said, "you had better wait until the hose comes." I thought there was some propriety in this request, and asked where the hose was? He answered, "In Fourteenth street, but there are not men enough there to bring them up." I took off my cap and swung it around, and asked, "who will go with me to bring the hose from Fourteenth street?" The crowd generally exclaimed, "We will go with you." The crowd then ran toward Fourteenth street, and as soon as I could throw on my cloak, I followed. When I got to Thirteenth street, I met a gentleman who informed me that there were enough at the engine house in Fourteenth street to bring up the hose. I immediately returned to the Post Office building. When I arrived at about the middle of the square next to the General Post Office, returning, I met Colonel Force, and some other gentlemen, carrying a large box of papers. I learned from him that they were carrying these papers out of the west door. While this conversation was taking place, the fire burst out of the upper part of the third window from the east end of the building of the City Office. I ran immediately to the south door of the City Office, stood there a moment, and then crossed to the pavement opposite, in front of Mr. Seaton's. I stopped there two or three minutes, endeavoring to persuade the crowd to rush into the General Post Office and save the papers, assuring them there was such a partition between the City and General Post Office that it could be done. At that moment the fire burst out of the pediment over the south door of the City Post Office. There was no effort and no means of making an effort to stop the progress of the flames, and I gave up the building as lost.
At no time while I was at the south door did I hear anyone say that the east door was open and an entrance might be effected through it. And it did not occur to me that the door might be open.
M. St. Clair Clarke
Testimony of Jacob Gideon, jr. December 28, 1836
I, Jacob Gideon, jr., having been duly sworn, testify as follows in relation to the burning of the Post Office building, on December 15, 1836:
I am a citizen of Washington, and by profession a printer. I reside in Seventh street, the fourth door north of Mr. Kendall's, on the east side of the street. On the morning of the fire, about 4 o'clock, we were alarmed by a single voice, supposed to be the voice of the watchman of the Post Office. My son slept in the front room; heard the first alarm; awoke me, and I dressed as soon as possible and went to the Post Office building. The smoke had the appearance of issuing in large volumes from the east door, when I first looked at it from the window of my own house. When I reached the building, I saw fire in the cellar, by looking under the platform of the east door through an open window. The fire seemed to be a considerable distance from the window; and appeared, if I may express it, like fire enveloped in smoke. Smoke was at the same time issuing in dense volumes from the east door of the building, which was then open. I then made an attempt to enter the building at the east door, but on account of the smoke, I found it impossible to enter. I, with others, passed around to the south door. One had an axe; he attempted to force open the door with it, but could not. Some one then observed, if the door was open, it would create such a draught as to destroy the building immediately. There was then no fire to be observed in the City Post Office. It was then proposed by some of us to enter the General Post Office, and attempt an entrance to the City Office through the door in the passage that separates the two offices. We went to that door and found the smoke issuing from the City Office through the aperture in that door used to pass letters through from one office to the other. We did not attempt to open that door, but Mr. Kennedy offered us the key to enter, if we possibly could, which he seemed very anxious to do; but we found, in consequence of the dense smoke, that it could not be done, and that it would be dangerous to attempt it. While we were standing in the passage, one of the persons present observed, "Look here." We looked down, and saw the fire in the cellar through a crack in the floor, immediately under our feet. Up to this time I saw no fire in the letter-room of the City Post Office. The door in the passage of the cellar was immediately under the one at which we were standing. I then turned my attention to the saving of property and papers of the General Post Office. The next time I saw the fire, it was bursting from the third window from the southeast corner of the building -- either the cellar window, or the window of the City Post Office, I cannot be positive which. I saw no means used to extinguish the fire, there being no apparatus for that purpose. There was great anxiety manifested by the clerks of the City Office to get at the fire to extinguish it. Doctor Jones when he arrived, was in a high state of excitement, and if he had not been prevented, I think he would have rushed into the building and endangered his life. Mr. Kennedy and myself caught hold of him, and prevented him from doing so.
If the fire had originated in the City Office letter room, it must instantly have been seen through the arches of the windows on each side of the south door, which were not covered.
When I first arrived at the building, I found Mr. Kennedy, a clerk in the City Post Office, and six or seven other persons.
J. Gideon, Jr.
Testimony of Jacob A. Bender, December 28, 1836
I, Jacob A. Bender, having been duly sworn, testify as follows:
I am a citizen of Washington, reside on Ninth street, near the corner of E street, and am a bricklayer by occupation. I first heard the alarm of fire, I should judge, before four o'clock, on the morning of the 15th instant; I heard one or two voices cry fire, and heard the bell. I looked out of the windows, both east and west, and saw no fire; the bell had stopped ringing and I was about going to bed again, when I heard again the cry of fire. I then dressed and went to my back gate in the yard, but I could see no fire. I then went out of the front of my house, on Ninth street, and looked about, and, from ten to twenty minutes after I came down stairs, I heard the cry "Post Office." I then went to the Post Office Building, and immediately discovered smoke issuing from the third basement window of the City Post Office from the southeast corner; the shutter was shut, and the smoke issuing around it. There were fire buckets lying on the pavement; I picked up as many as I could in both hands, and begged of those present to form a line to the pump. I rant to the pump near Mr. Kendall's door, on Seventh street, and many of the people fell into line. Upon running back, I found the line not formed the whole distance; I then exclaimed "fall to and form a line, and save the building if it is a public building." Several who stood by idle, then exclaimed "we would have put out the fire before you came, had it not been for some damned rascals who would not let us into the building." I then said "get axes; follow me; I will go in." I then got an axe from Mr. Hendley's opposite, went back and cut away the fence in front of the basement windows. At this time I saw fire through the third basement window above mentioned, and within a minute the fire burst from the window of the City Office letter room, immediately over the basement window where I saw the fire.
I have been a fireman for about thirty years, and since I have resided in Washington (for the past twenty years) I have been at all the fires of any importance that have occurred in the city. From the appearance of the fire while it was present, I have no doubt it originated in the basement story of the City Post Office. From my experience, I should think, if the fire caught in the letter room of the City Post Office, it would have passed up through the floor of the Patent Office before it would have burnt through into the cellar. When I saw the fire in the basement of the City Post Office, it appeared like wood on fire that had been burning for some time. Had the fire originated in the next room, west, to the one in which I saw the fire, and had the rooms been separated by a brick wall, I am of opinion the fire could not have appeared as I first discovered it, but would have first issued from the City Office window west of the one where it burst out.
While R.J. Meigs was Postmaster General, there were purchased by the department a first rate fire engine, an hydraulion, and 1200 feet of hose; a good company was then formed, of which I was one, and attached to the engine; I was captain of the hose and hydraulion for about eight years, and kept them constantly in repair. I was afterwards elected president of the company, and continued so two or three years; the hose became old and rotten, and we asked Major Barry, the Postmaster General, for $500 to purchase some new double-riveted hose to attach to the engine; he did not comply with our request; I immediately resigned, and have not belonged to the company since. I had, previous to our asking Major Barry for funds, expended $50 of my own money, at different times, in repairing the hose, etc. The company continued for a year or two after I left, and was then broken up; it has been reorganized since, but remained but a few months, and at the time of the fire, there was no organization of it, to my knowledge. When I first arrived at the fire, there were forty or fifty people present, I should think.
Jacob A. Bender
Testimony of Theodore Harbaugh, December 28, 1836
I, Theodore Harbaugh, having been duly sworn, testify as follows:
I am a citizen of Washington, and reside on Seventh street, near the Post Office. I am a merchant by profession. When I arrived at the fire, there were fifteen or twenty persons present. I do not know the hour. I first saw the fire through the third basement story window from the southeast corner of the building; I had the hose pipe in my hand, and someone broke in the wooden shutter of that window, and I immediately introduced the pipe; the fire then appeared to me to be on the top of the wood piled in that cellar. The engine commenced playing and the fire was deadened. About the time the basement window was burst open, the flames burst from the window directly over it. I then threw the water into that window, which darkened the fire very much. The water was soon exhausted and the engine stopped. The flames then blazed out again. I saw a red light in the arch of the window on the east side of the south door of the City Post Office before the fire burst from the window of that room.
Testimony of Alexander Kyle
I, Alexander Kyle, having been duly sworn, testify as follows:
I was the superintendent of that part of the burnt building occupied as the General Post Office. I was alarmed, as I believe, between half past three and 4 o'clock, on the morning of the fire, by one of the watchmen. I went immediately to the building, entered the basement story where my room was, with a lantern, and when in the passage of the basement I saw fire on the floor of the passage under the City Post Office. I went toward it and into the passage, and I should think about half way through it, under the City Post Office. There were pieces of straw and paper scattered about the floor of that passage on fire. I thought I could extinguish them with my feet, but at that instant a rush of wind through the window at the east end of the cellar, drove the smoke toward me so think that I was forced to return. I then went into my own room and took the drawer from my table, and carried it to my house; then returned and took from my room a quantity of cartridges which had been there since the disturbances the summer before last, carried them and buried them in the sand at the new Patent Office foundation.
While I was in the City Post Office cellar, I thought I heard the sound of fire in the room above, and at the same time, I think I heard the engine on the street, and the people making a noise.
I did not look into the rooms of the cellar, that I recollect, and saw no fire except on the floor. The fire that I saw would not do any damage for a long time, as the floor of the passage was brick. I cannot say whether the doors in the cellar were or were not shut.
I do not know that any ashes from the General Post Office have been deposited in the cellar this winter.
There was a passage into the basement of the General Post Office under the platform of the steps at the west end. This passage was closed by a slat door, which was fastened, and a glass door inside of it, which was locked. I unfastened both these doors myself, on the night of the fire, to throw out the buckets. There was no outside door at the western end of the building into the basement, except the one above described. On the south side of the building was a door entering my room from without, which was in the basement story. This door was always fastened by a bolt on the inside, and the door of my room leading into the passage was always locked on the outside, when I left it.
There were two flights of stairs on the north side of the building entering the basement.
There were no doors on the north side of the building entering the basement story.
All the basement windows on the General Post Office, on the south side, had wooden shutters, which were shut and fastened each night. The door in the passage between the General and City Post Office cellars was always kept open. Three of the cellar rooms on the north side of the passage of the General Post Office were filled with wood. They had doorways, but no doors. In my opinion, a person could have entered the windows of those rooms on the north side of the buildings, as there were no fastenings to those windows. There were two other rooms on the north side of the cellar fitted up for business rooms. These rooms had glass windows opening to the north, but no shutters.
I have been superintendent of the General Post Office building since July, 1835. I was appointed by Mr. Kendall. My duties were to purchase paper and deliver it out, to purchase fuel, lights, stationery, furniture, and other things, when ordered by the head of the division where wanted. I had charge of the watchmen, and directed their duties. I have great confidence in my present watchmen, Mr. Reynolds and Mr. Dodd. I never had any written instructions, in relation to my duties as superintendent, from the Postmaster General.
The engine attached to the department was under my charge. I had the hose put in order a year ago last summer, by a person whose name I do not recollect. I never examined the engine and hose myself, and am not qualified to judge whether it was or was not in order, if I had. I had been in employ in the General Post Office as agent of the paper room, from December 1832, and my appointment as superintendent was in addition to my other duty. My age is sixty-three. When I was appointed superintendent by Mr. Kendall, he gave me to understand what the duties of the office would be.
Testimony of Amos Kendall, Postmaster General, December 29, 1836
I, Amos Kendall, having been duly sworn, testify as follows:
I left the department on the evening preceding the fire, at about 7 o'clock. I heard the alarm of fire between 3 and 4 o'clock on the morning of the 15th instant; I did not arise at the first alarm, Mrs. Kendall having looked out at the windows, and having seen no appearance of fire. After the first alarm, some one knocked at my door, (it proved to be Mr. Lawrenson,) who came into my chamber. Before he came into my chamber, however, I had been to a room where I could see the east end of the Post Office building, and observed that the east door was open, but saw no signs of fire. I dressed myself as quick as possible; and on entering the street, observed a light smoke issuing from the east door of the City Post Office, but saw no fire, and observed no light in the east passage. I passed around to the front of the building, and saw the smoke issuing from the cracks of the windows in the principal room of the City Post Office, and a light in the arch of the window over the front door; but observed none in the arches of the windows on each side of the door. My observation was very brief, as I passed along from my house to the west door of the department, at which I entered; as I entered, I saw a light in the arch of the door in the passage which separates the City from the General Post Office. The watchman, Mr. Reynolds, and Mr. Baldwin, a clerk in the General Post Office, were the only persons I recollect to have seen when I entered; Mr. Reynolds was in the passage, and Mr. Baldwin in his room. I went to that door and examined it, and observed the smoke issuing through the cracks. I immediately directed the watchman to light as many candles as he could find, and turned my attention to the securing of the books of the General Post Office Department. I turned into the first room on the south side of the building adjoining the City Post Office, it being one room of the contract office, and went, successively, through every room on the lower floor, and saw all the books taken from them, except one of the last rooms, where most of the books had been taken out when I reached it. Twice, while engaged in this business, I saw a crowd of persons at the passage door, apparently endeavoring to get it open; I requested them not to open it, as the smoke would prevent our saving the books from the General Post Office. On their observing that they thought the fire could be extinguished, I told them to go round to the front and east door where it was much more accessible. It was replied, that those doors were fast; and they asked me if they should break them open. I told them to do so and they left the passage. At this time, upon looking at the door, I observed no light over it, though the smoke increased. This conversation happened the first time I saw them at the door; the second time, very little was said: I told them peremptorily, not to open the door. After the books were removed from that story, I went up into the rooms occupied as the appointment office, in the second story, adjoining the Patent Office, and saw the books removed from them. While there, I saw Mr. Ellsworth, Commissioner of Patents, endeavoring to force his way into the Patent Office through a window or door, (I do not recollect which it was) that had been closed up at the end of the passage in the second story of the General Post Office. In turning from Mr. Ellsworth, I met Mr. Elliot, chief examiner in the auditor's office; he stated that the rooms in the third story were locked, and the messenger, who had the keys could not be found. He asked what he should do; I told him to break them open. I followed him into the third story, and saw him and one of the clerks breaking open the doors. Before I went into the third story, I observed a brilliant light in the street upon the south front of the building. Considering my own house in danger, as it was nearly opposite the east end of the building, and not more than six or eight rods distant, on Seventh street, I made but a moment's stay in the third story of the department, and then went home, where I gave some directions to my family. I then returned to the department, and again entered the west door, returning through F and Eighth streets, having found that the heat was very intense on the south side of the building, and again went into the third story, but found the smoke so intense that I could not remain. At this time, the flame was in the east end of the passage of the General Post Office; the fire communicated chiefly to the roof of the General Post Office before it did other parts of it, and worked down. Having seen all the books saved that could be saved, I gave directions that everything that could be got out should be, and returned again to my house; and, upon finding all safe there, the wind having changed, I returned again to the Post Office building, and turned my attention to the securing of the books and papers that had been taken out. I directed the books and papers lying in the streets and lots to be taken to my house; which was done.
The books of the Postmaster General, and papers, I believe to have been preserved. The books of the contract office, including all the contracts, are also preserved, together with the files of that office; in relation to the files, as they have not yet been rearranged, there may be some loss. The books of the inspection office are all preserved; and, it is believed, the files also. All the foregoing books and papers were on the lower floor. The books of the appointment office are believed to have been all preserved; but the files have been all destroyed, except such as happened to be on the tables of the Postmaster General, the Second Assistant and his clerks, which were small in quantity. These files embraced all correspondence relative to the establishment of Post Office, appointment of postmasters, postmaster's bonds, except the bonds of ex-postmasters, and all the matters appertaining to those subjects. These files were in the rooms on the second floor, adjoining the Patent Office, and were in large cases extending along the sides of the walls. These were the first rooms of the second story to which I directed my attention, and found it difficult to get the books from them, for the want of lights and aid; none of the clerks were present, and the persons aiding me were strangers. My first object was to save all the books of the department. The bonds of ex-postmasters, being filed in the Solicitor's room of the Auditor's office, which was farther west, were saved. It is believed that all the account books and papers, in the large room of the Auditor's office, which was the largest room of the building, immediately west of the appointment office, were saved, as well as those in the other rooms in the second story occupied by him.
The rooms in the third story, except the one or two occupied by the topographer, were occupied by the auditor's office, in some of which were stowed the old accounts from the commencement of the department down, which were seldom, if ever referred to, and were of no value. In the others were the examiners, and in their possession were the current accounts of the last quarter; all the foregoing were destroyed, together with the contents of the topographer's room. Some of the books which were in the third story of the building are believed to have been saved; but to what extent, has not yet been ascertained. These books were records of errors in Postmaster's accounts, and balances of items extracted from them, as a guide in the settlement of subsequent accounts, and registers of accounts as settled. These books are comparatively of little importance, as, with the exception of the records of errors, they can be replaced. In the basement rooms occupied as the dead letter office, most of the contents, including the books, are believed to have been saved. A room in the basement contained paper to the value of three or four thousand dollars, most of which was destroyed. The separation of the books and papers has not yet been completed, so that no account, perfectly accurate, can be given at present; but as soon as the separation is made, a definite statement of what was saved, and what destroyed, as far as practicable, will be made. The furniture of the lower story, except the large cases, which contained the files of papers, was got out, and also was the furniture of so much of the second story as was occupied by the Auditor's office. The furniture of the appointment office, and that contained in the third story of the building, was mostly, if not all, destroyed. Much of the furniture got out was injured; and some, known to have been got out, was stolen.
When I first entered the second story, I passed through the large room occupied by the book-keepers and pay clerks of the Auditor's office, where I found Mr. Suter, principal pay clerk, with several others busily engaged in carrying out the books, a large portion of which had already been removed.
The policy of the General Post office was two watchmen. When I first came into the department, I ascertained that it was the practice of the watchmen to retire to rest as soon as the city became still. I directed that one of them should be at all times of the night awake, and that they should pass out and around the building, occasionally during the night; and to enable them to see what was around the building, and for the purpose of making the entire rear of the building visible, I caused a lamp to be placed in the back yard. The general duty of the superintendent of the building, was to look after the security of the building, the property contained in it, other than books and papers; to see that the watchmen, messengers, and laborers performed their duties, and to make all purchases and sales connected with the contingent appropriation of the department. Directions were given to him to visit the department, occasionally in the night, to see that the watchmen performed their duty, which he reported that he had done. The lamp above mentioned, was placed in the back yard at his suggestion.
Testimony of H.L. Ellsworth, Commissioner of Patents,
December 29, 1836
I, Henry L. Ellsworth, having been duly sworn, testify as follows:
I reside in C street, about one third of a mile from the Post Office building. I was called up by Mr. Steiger on the morning of the fire, and arrived at the building a few minutes after four. On my arrival at the building, I endeavored to ascertained where the fire was, in order to extinguish it. I found so much smoke at the east door, which is the Patent Office door, that I could not get in. I could see no fire in the building, but saw a light in the arch of the south door of the City Post Office. I did not observe light in the arches of the windows on each side of the door. After attempting to enter at the east door, I passed entirely around the building, and examined the windows to see if any fire could be discerned, but could see none. I did not get over the railing on the south front of the building, and could not tell whether the shutters of the basement windows were or were not open. While passing round the building, I met Mr. Kyle at the southwest corner, and he informed me he had been into the cellar under the City Post Office, and that the fire was dropping down from the floor above on to the floor of the passage way. I then went into the passage of the second story of the General Post Office, and to the east end of it, to attempt getting into the Patent Office that way. I found the smoke coming up through the hatchway at that place, and passing up through the opening above; and with the aid of Mr. Steiger and Mr. Bishop, took up the carpet in Mr. Johnston's room, and placed it over the hatchway. The heat and smoke ascended so fast, that we found it utterly impossible to effect an entrance, although we succeeded in getting the door open. My next effort was to obtain a ladder, to get in upon the outside of the building on the north side, but I could hear of no ladder nearer than the Treasury building. Every thing in the Patent Office was destroyed, consisting of articles as in a list hereunto annexed specified.
There were about twenty five cords of wood in the cellar occupied by the Patent Office.
I had been at the building about fifteen minutes, when Dr. Jones, the city postmaster arrived; and about twenty-five minutes, when the fire burst from the window of the City Post Office.
Henry L. Ellsworth
Statement of the loss in the Patent Office
9,000 drawings of models
168 rolls of records
230 volumes of books in library
In addition to these, all the model cases, fuel, stationery, and furniture of every kind. Many models cost over $100, and some as high as $500 each. Several of the drawings cost over $100, and few less than $5. The office had just been supplied under the new organization. Nothing was saved.
Henry L. Ellsworth
December 28, 1836
Testimony of James Summers, December 30, 1836
I, James Summers, having been duly sworn, testify as follows:
I am a watchman in the City Post Office. My duties are to receive and deliver the mails in the night. My duties commenced at about 8 o'clock in the evening, and continued through the night. In the intervals between the times of delivering and receiving mails, before the closing of the office, I assisted in packing letters in the letter room in the City Post Office. I was no employed to sit up all night, but retired to my room, which was the first room on the right of the east passage as you entered the outside door, and slept; and whenever mails arrived or were called for, I arose and delivered or received them. I also received the newspapers and letters which were delivered in the night. The outside east door, of which I had charge, was usually closed at 10 o'clock, and locked, and was only opened for the clerks to pass out when they were through with the duties of the office, or to receive or despatch newspapers and letters. For about six months my duties have been changed. I was directed by Dr. Jones not to assist in tying up packages, but to stay in my room, and attend to those who might enter or pass out of the office. On the night of the fire, I went to bed about 12 o'clock, and some time before the clerks left the office. There was always a lamp kept burning in a lantern in the east passage, in the night; and one on the outside of the door, except on moonlight nights. It was also my duty to see that those lamps were lighted. At about three o'clock in the morning of the fire, the driver who carries the mail from the office to the steamboat called for the southern mail and it was delivered. Upon his leaving, I went out of the east door; all was then calm and quiet, and there was no appearance nor smell of smoke, although I passed over the platform of the door from which the smoke was first discovered issuing afterward. From my position, I think, had there been any smoke issuing there, I must have seen it. There was no appearance of smoke in the building. I saw no person at that time, except the driver. I then returned, closed the door and locked it, leaving the key in the door, as was always my custom. At this time, all the clerks had left and all was still. I returned to my bed. The lamp was then burning in the passage. As near as I can judge of the time, I was awakened about 4 o'clock by Mr. Crown, the messenger, who slept in the postmaster's room that night, who, with a voice indicating much alarm, exclaimed, "Good God, Mr. Summers, where does all this smoke come from?" I sprang out of bed, and discovered that my room was filled with a dense smoke, which smelt as though it were produced by the burning of pine wood. Being in the practice of kindling our coal with pine, I thought it might have been about my fire place, but, upon examination, I found it was not. I then passed through the passage into the postmaster's room, but discovered no fire there. The lamp in the passage was at that time burning. The smoke in the passage and in Dr. Jones's room was more dense than in mine. I then went out at the east door, and found the smoke issuing from beneath the platform. I then went on the pavement, and looked under, but could see no fire. The volume of smoke which was passing rapidly out, appeared to pass obliquely to the north. About this time, Mr. Crown mentioned the name of Mr. Cox, a clerk who slept in the office. There was a bell in his room, which rang by a pull in mine; I went to my room and rang the bell violently, and in a few minutes Cox appeared at the door of the City Post Office leading into the east passage, in his night clothes. Seeing him out of danger, I returned to the door, to make further observations as to the fire. I went under the platform, but still could discover no fire, but distinctly heard the roaring of flames in the cellar. There was a strong smell of pine wood burning. As Cox opened the door of the letter room when he came out, I cast my eye into that room and saw that it was full of smoke. I stood near the door, waiting for him to come out. I recollect the dark appearance of the room, in which there was no light. After I arose, I saw Mr. Crown make an attempt to go into the cellar, and the candle he had was put out by the smoke. When I arose, I found the east front door, which I had locked, open. Mr. Crown asked me if I had left the door open when I delivered the southern mail; I told him I did not. We cried fire from the first discovery of the smoke issuing from beneath the platform. I then ran along Seventh street, on the east side, and gave the alarm of fire; there was then no person to be seen. I rapped at the door of Callan's shop, directly opposite the Post Office. I then returned to the Post Office, and ran round to the south side of the building, crying fire. I examined the windows of the basement story as I passed along the south side of the building, and saw no smoke or light in any of the windows, although I looked carefully to see if I could discover any. My impression is that I passed about half way along the south front of the building; that I then returned to the east end then went to the west end -- crying fire all the time. There I saw someone standing within the door of the passage, at the west end of the General Post Office, who asked me what was the matter? I replied, "the Post Office is on fire." I then ran back to the east end, and down Seventh street, giving the alarm. I passed up the avenue as far as Tenth street, to the General Post Office, still crying fire. When I got back, I could see no light of the fire through the blinds of the windows of the City Post Office. There were then, I should think, thirty or forty people present. Up to the time that I left Pennsylvania avenue, I had seen no person except Crown, Cox, and the person in the west door of the General Post Office. Upon returning the last time, I went into the General Post Office. Upon returning the last time, I went into the General Post Office, and assisted in saving the property. When I arrived at the office, as above stated, some one was endeavoring to break in the south door of the City Office with an axe.
Testimony of the Hon. John Ruggles, Senator in Congress,
December 30, 1836
I, John Ruggles, having been duly sworn, testify as follows:
I board at Mrs. Carlisle's, at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Seventh street, and was awakened by the cry of "fire at the Post Office." I went as soon as possible to that building, and found, perhaps, half a dozen persons standing about it. Observing the eastern door open, I entered it, and attempted to enter the letter-room of the City Post Office, one leaf of the inner door being open about eight inches. In opening it, and attempting to enter, I found the heat so intense that I could not, and my hair and eyebrows were scorched. Standing at the door, and stooping so as to look under the smoke, I saw the fire burning about twenty feet from me, (it might have been more) in an oblique direction to my left. There was a hole through the floor about the size of a small center table. I saw it burning round the edges of the hole distinctly, and some fire blazing up through the hole. I noticed no object about the fire. It is my impression that I met a person at the door passing out from the letter room with a bucket; and while in the door, I had an impression that water had been thrown toward the fire, but did not reach it, and from the distance, that it would be impossible to reach it without an engine. I made several ineffectual attempts to close the door, to smother the fire until an engine could be procured, but could not, by reason of some obstacle which I could not then perceive. I went out, and made inquiry where water could be found, and was told there was a pump across the street a little above. I made some attempt to form a line from the pump to the office; there were, however, but few persons present, (perhaps ten or a dozen) but I supposed the number would be increasing rapidly. I then directed my attention to the procuring of an engine. Two or three persons were endeavoring to get the engine near by, from the engine house into the street. I assisted in drawing it to the pump. Two or three persons employed themselves in endeavoring to put it into working order, and in unwinding and drawing out the hose. After some time, it was announced that it was not in a condition to be used. I then passed to the south front door of the City Post Office, and found some person endeavoring to force it with an axe. This was ten or fifteen minutes after I arrived at the building, and the dense smoke was issuing through the letter hole in that door. I earnestly entreated them not to break the door down until water could be procured, as it would serve to feed the flame, and increase the rapidity of its progress. They very reluctantly desisted. Some time after, an engine was brought in front of the City Post Office, about which time a window of the City Post Office (I believe the second east of the door) was broken in; a volume of dense smoke issued, and instantly afterward a very brilliant flame. After the flame had been issuing a short time, an engine played into the window, and the flames which issued from the window were extinguished instantly; but the water was soon exhausted, the hose having become separated which connected with the hydraulion at the pump which supplied the engine before the building. The flames soon after burst out anew. After some time, the hose was again connected, but there appeared to be a scanty supply of water, and the action of the engine was too feeble to throw the water with any effective power into the building.
After the fire, a clerk in the City Post Office, described to me the location of the large stove in the letter room, which corresponded very nearly with the location of the fire, as I saw it.
At any time within fifteen or twenty minutes after I arrived at the building, an engine in order, with an efficient company and a supply of water, would, in my opinion, have extinguished the fire with but little difficulty. I did not notice any smoke issuing from under the platform of the east door when I first arrived at the building; there might have been, without my perceiving it. Some ten minutes after I arrived, I looked along the basement windows in front of the building, as far as the City Post Office door, and along the eastern end on Seventh street, and under the platform of the east door, in order to see if there was any fire in the cellar. I saw none, and did not notice smoke at any of them. I looked at the windows at a little distance, and it was so dark that I was unable to see whether the windows were, or were not, closed by shutters.
Testimony of Thomas McCarty, January 3, 1837
(Watchman at the office of the National Intelligencer. He cried fire and later helped to carry out papers from General Post Office. Testimony omitted here.)
Testimony of William Riordan, January 6, 1837
(Carrier for the National Intelligencer. He peddled his papers and did not go to the fire. Testimony omitted here.)
Testimony of George S. Gideon, January 6, 1837
I, George S. Gideon, being duly sworn, testify as follows:
I arrived at the General Post Office building on the morning of the fire, as I judged, about twenty minutes of four. When I arrived, I saw but two persons, Messrs. Cox and Crown. In about a minute, Mr. Kennedy came up. With him, I entered the east door, and went to the inner door leading into the letter room of the City Post Office. Mr. Kennedy entered the room a few steps. I stood at the door. I looked for fire, and saw none; but there was a very dense smoke, so that it was impossible for one to remain there but for a very short time. I then came out and went to the third basement window on the south side of the building; opened the window and looked in; saw no fire, but a very dense smoke issued. I then ran down Seventh street to Pennsylvania Avenue, round through Ninth street, and back to the building, crying fire as I passed along. When I returned, I entered the General Post office Department and went to the door in the passage which separates it from the City Post Office. I looked through the opening in that door into the letter room, but could see no fire. While standing there, I looked through a crack in the floor, and distinctly saw fire in the passage below. I called the attention of others to this. After this, I again looked through the opening in the door, and saw fire in the City Post Office. I was in the passage, I should think, fifteen minutes. I then passed upstairs, and aided in carrying out books and papers. When I first arrived at the Post Office building, I saw no light, except a candle in the messenger's room on the right of the east passage. Upon coming out of the building the first time, I examined particularly the east end and south front, to see if I could see any fire, and saw neither fire nor light. And I saw no smoke on the south side, except that issuing from the window on the south side, which I opened.
George S. Gideon
Testimony of Robert Johnson, Assistant Postmaster General, January 7, 1837
(He arrived at the building late when it was entirely enveloped in flames. Testimony omitted.)
Testimony of Ebenezer L. Childs, January 7, 1837
I, Ebenezer Childs, having been duly sworn, testify as follows:
I am principal clerk in the office of appointments of the General Post Office. I reside in Eighth street, between G and H streets, about one-eighth of a mile from the General Post Office. I arrived at the fire about half past four. As I was approaching the building, the fire burst from the windows of the Patent Office, on the north side of the building. The first alarm I heard on that morning, appeared to be the noise of persons quarreling in the neighborhood. I arose and went to the window, and then retired. Upon hearing the bell, I again arose, and commenced dressing, but the bell stopped, and, seeing no fire or smoke, I supposed it was a false alarm; and again retired. The bell soon recommenced, and the alarm continued; and I repaired, as soon as possible, to the Post Office building; having ascertained soon after leaving my door, that the fire was there. When I arrived, I made several attempts to approach my own room by the east flight of steps adjoining the Patent Office, but was driven back by the dense smoke. I then passed through the passage to the west flight of steps, and attempted to approach my room through the large room of the Auditor's office, but the smoke was more dense there than where I made the first attempt. The books in current use in my room, were all saved, except a small record book, which was in my desk, but which has since been supplied from other records. The bonds of postmasters, there oaths, and the oaths of their assistants, were in cases in my rooms, and were all destroyed. The record of the bonds and sureties, and dates of their execution, were saved. The records of all letters sent from the appointment office were saved. The letters received were not recorded, but kept on file, and were all destroyed.
E. L. Childs
Testimony of F. L. Brammmer, January 7, 1837
(Clerk in appointment office of General Post Office. Arrived at fire late. Testimony omitted here.)
Testimony of Allan Macrae, January 9, 1837
(Clerk in the appointment office of the General Post Office. Arrived late. Testimony omitted here.)
Testimony of Frederick Golding, jr., January 10, 1837
I, Frederick Golding, having been duly sworn, testify as follows:
I am a citizen of Washington, and reside on Ninth street. I passed the Post Office building between one and two o'clock on the morning of the 15th December, 1836, in company with two gentlemen, Mr. Holmead and Mr. Worley. Mr. Worley said, "I wonder what they are doing with a light in the cellar of the Post Office at this time of night." I looked and saw a light in the window of the cellar, through cracks round the shutter; I think the window nearest the southeast corner on the south side of the building; but I cannot be certain that it was that window; but am certain it was one of the three windows next the corner. I remarked, I thought it likely that they were in the cellar after wood, as the clerks or messengers were always there during the night. This fact I knew, as I had been in the habit of aiding in delivering and receiving the Baltimore mails for some months previous. After hearing the alarm of fire, as I think about four o'clock, I started for the Capitol hill, and aided in dragging it to the Post Office. When I arrived, the flames were burning from the windows of the Patent Office.
I took no notice of any light in any other part of the City Post Office at the time I saw the light in the cellar. There might have been one, but I did not observe it.
Frederick Golding, Jr.
Testimony of Henry Holmead
I, Henry Holmead, having been duly sworn, testify as follows:
I board at Mr. Golding's, on Ninth street, where I have boarded for three years past. In company with Mr. Golding and a Mr. Worley, of Washington county, Maryland, I passed the Post Office building, between one and two o'clock, on the morning of December 15, 1836. I was a short distance ahead of the other two, and heard Mr. Worley say he saw a light in the Post Office, and he wondered if they were putting up mails at that time of night. I made no stop, and did not turn my head. They stopped a moment, and I spoke to them to come along. I saw no light.
The South Door (Delivery) was locked, bolted, barred, and lined on the inside with sheet iron, only one way to get to it through the Office, and that was through the small door on the east side of the lobby.
The three shaded circles represent the 3 columns which supported the Patent Office.
This end of the building was built in the years 1828 and 29 and built in great haste, and a great part of the wood materials were not seasoned, the floors particularly; the floor of the City Post Office was very open.
The 2 windows, 1 on each side of the south (delivery) door and the south door had circular heads, and light at any time in the office could be seen through them, there being no shutters on the circular parts, only bars of iron.
82 feet long by 60 deep
Scale 1/8 of an inch to one foot (on original)
Go to top page of Patent History materials