1882 Fire at the Insane Asylum at Yankton, South Dakota
From "The Dakota Herald" of 8 Apr 1882
BURNING OF THE INSANE ASYLUM
The Territorial Hospital for the Insane Destroyed by Fire Last Sunday Afternoon -
Five of the inmates perish and one escape from custody - Appalling Scenes
A shocking calamity occurred at this place last Sunday afternoon [2 April] in the burning of the Territorial insane asylum two miles north of the city. The alarm of fire was first given about 3:30 o'clock by L. Karr, who happened to see the flames issuing from the west wing of the building, and immediately hundreds started for the scene, on foot and by every possible conveyance, but the entire structure was leveled with the ground before parties from the city could reach the spot. The officers of the asylum are ignorant of the origin of the fire, nearly all hands being out of doors with the patients at the time, the afternoon being warm, and when discovered the flames were spreading with such fury in the loft of the west wing, or men's ward, that it was found utterly impossible to check them. The building was entirely of wood 140 feet long by 60 in width with a 40 foot wing, the whole being one story and a half in height.
When the fire was discovered Mr. Hoflen, one of the attendants rushed up the narrow stairway to the loft and was followed by a dozen excited lunatics who filled the passage and made the situation very dangerous as it was almost impossible to turn them back. Seeing that is was impossible to arrest the flames all hands went to work getting the unfortunate people out. It was a herculean task as the excited lunatics persisted in running back into the building and into their wards and although the utmost efforts were made to prevent it at least five of the creatures perished in the flames. A strong wind was blowing at the time and the fire spread with marvelous rapidity, the entire structure being in ruins within forty minutes from the time the fire was first discovered. During the time the fire was raging the scene presented was appalling. The lunatics rushed hither and thither screaming and whooping and some appeared determined to get into the burning building while others struck out over the prairies in great terror, going in all directions. One patient, said to have been Peter Peterson, of Cass county, was pulled out of the building once and rushed in a second time and was again dragged out but so badly burned that he died immediately. His clothing was all burned off and his head and shoulders were as black as a cinder. The other unfortunates who gave up their lives were in the men's ward and their bodies could not be rescued until the fire was all over. Their remains consisted of a few charred bones and they were subsequently all buried in the same coffin. It is believed that there were but three of these, though it is possible that one or two others may have met a like fate as they are still missing. The names of the burned are as follows:
Jas. Haverly, Deadwood
Orin Lynch, Elk Point
Peter Peterson, Cass county
Amon Iverson, Yankton
L. J. Prindle, Deadwood
A patient from Lawrence county named Frank Conlon is missing, but is supposed to have escaped and to be at large on the prairie. L. J. Prindle's body was found Wednesday. He is from Deadwood, but has a family living in Nebraska. Orin Lynch was an idiotic boy from Elk Point about fourteen years of age.
Many of the patients in the female ward were, like those of the male ward, outside the building on the lawn when the fire broke out. Dr. and Mrs. McGlumphy were looking over the new building several rods away when the fire was discovered and they hurried with all possible speed and gave their efforts to rescuing the patients of the female ward. They succeeded in getting all out in good order and also saved some of the bedding and other property. It was then discovered that a laundress named Amelia Derks was in a room over the office with the door locked and that portion of the building was being swiftly enveloped in flames. Marion Heflen, an attendant, heroicly [sic] rushed through the smoke and flames to this room and succeeded in getting the woman out upon the roof from which she was rescued by means of a ladder.
When the flames had so far done their work that nothing more could be rescued from the burning building the work of rounding up the lunatics and getting them into the new asylum building was commenced. This building was not yet ready for occupancy, but fortunately the wards were so far completed as to be available for use and the contractors at once went to work hanging the doors and otherwise preparing for the reception of the patients. Many of the unfortunates remained near the scene of the fire and were taken in without trouble, while others had struck out across the prairies and had to be run down by parties from town who by this time had arrived in large numbers. With the two exceptions mentioned above they were all found. Some of the lunatics became very noisy and violent during the excitement attendant upon the fire and had to be bound down and thus held in subjection. Others appeared to be totally unconscious of any unusual event and stood like pillars wherever they were placed.
The loss to the Territory by the destruction of the building and contents is estimated at $8,000 upon which there was an insurance of $2,800. Besides the main building there were destroyed the carpenter shop, ice house, wood and coal house, about six tons of coal and over one hundred cords of wood. The stables and granary were saved though they were in imminent danger during the whole progress of the fire, the burning wood being near them. The books of the office and a portion of Dr. McGlumphy's household goods were saved, though his loss was not small and both he and Mrs. McGlumphy were almost prostrated by their superhuman exertions during the progress of the fire. Dr. Potter was in the city at the time the fire broke out, but he and Mayor Sanborn were among the first to reach the scene and both worked with great energy throughout the afternoon and greater portion of the night in providing for the comfort of the patients in the new building. Messrs. Henry and Marion Heflen as well as the female attendants and all the employes [sic] of the asylum deserve great credit for their heroic conduct and well directed efforts in the trying ordeal through which they passed. Nearly all the bedding and all the provisions and cooking utensils were destroyed and these had to be supplied from the city during Sunday night.
It was a sickening sight to the hundreds who came out from town to behold the skeletons of the three unfortunate smoking in the ruins and the body of another black and charred lying upon the ground near by and the awful scene will not soon be forgotten. We hope never to see its like again.