Collapse From The McKinney Examiner. Thursday, Jan. 30, 1913, Vol. 27, No. 10 - much of the article reprinted from the Dallas News.

McKinney Shrouded in Sorrow



The Great Building Crumbles Instantly

Victims, Absolutely Without Warning Have No Time to Escape –

Fire Breaks Out, Adding to Horrible Scene.

Sobs of Anguish Stricken Women and Children Heard While Hundreds

of Men Work Frantically to Rescue Them.

Property Loss Estimated at One Hundred Thousand Dollars

McKinney, Texas, Jan 23. – The most appalling tragedy in the history of this city or county was enacted this afternoon in the collapse of two of the city’s largest brick buildings, both filled with customers at the time.

Until the ruins, which caught fire, are completely cleared from the fatal spot, the exact loss of life can not be ascertained, but it is believed tonight the death list will total eight as that number of bodies have been taken from the ruins and no others are thought to be in the wreckage. The list of injured is thirteen.


At 11 o’clock tonight rescue work was stopped by City Marshal J. S. MCKINNEY, after a conference with the Mayor and workers. It was decided that all bodies had been removed and efforts to find more were suspended for the night.
“I believe that all bodies are now out,” said the Mayor at 11 o’clock. “For a while it looked as though we would fine fifteen or twenty more bodies, but we are greatly relieved at finding many have escaped from the building and been reported safe.
“The tragedy is bad enough in all conscience, but the citizenship of McKinney is gratified to know that it was not so bad as it looked at first. This has been the greatest disaster in the history of the county, and there are many sad hearts, not only here, but all over the State.
“I never saw such work in my life. I did not think mortal man could remove so much debris in so short a time.
“The proffers of assistance from all over the State have been fully appreciated and go to show that when there is real trouble there are real people to offer real help.”


the entire city and all this section of the State was shocked to a point that was almost stupefaction. Recovering, willing hands by the hundreds tore apart the smoking bricks of the fallen buildings, hurling aside smoke-blackened and water-soaked timbers, and four hours after the collapse the mangled and crushed bodies of eight persons had been tenderly removed by 300 workers and the forms of thirteen injured persons carried to the four hospitals of the city or to private homes after emergency medical attention.
The collapsed stores were the three-story Odd Fellows building, occupied by the dry goods store of Cheeves Bros., crowded with women and children attending a white goods sale at the time, and the adjoining two-story implement store of T. J. TINGLE.


The dry goods store stood on the northeast corner of the public square, the other adjoining. The collapse of a wall in the implement house threw its weight of heavy implements against the corner building, and with a noise that jarred the town to its foundations both sank into ruins.
The collapse of the two buildings took place exactly at 3:40 o’clock. A sale of white goods was on in the great three-story department store, and men, women and children thronged its counters. The implement store adjoining was doing a thriving business.


Mrs. Marie Emerson Stiff

Miss Rosa Welch

Miss Katie Milligan

Miss Bessie Wade

Russell Hight

Miss Eva Searcy

Norman Presley

L. W. (Leslie) Bush


Miss Anna Curts

Mrs. Hugh Kistler

Mrs. Wick Graves

John Thomas

Mrs. Belle McWilliams

Little Anna Graves Kistler

Miss Lida Moreland

Miss Jennie Barnett

Miss Russell

Mrs. Mort Shirley

Miss Lula Search

Vernie Graves

Miss Cassie Seay

Colored Porter, in the store.


The streets were thronged with citizens and people in town for their trading. Suddenly those in the buildings heard a groaning as of timbers in distress. A harsh cracking followed and clerks and customers alike broke for safety of the streets. Pressed outward by the weight of the heavy implements of the stock, the wall of the implement store swayed, sagged, and burst through into the department store, and in an instant hundreds of tone of merchandise and wrecked and shattered building material roared into a tremendous heap of debris on the site of the ruined department store, piling thirty-five feet in the air and settling in a cloud of dust that rose like a pall above the buried bodies, while jagged timbers thrust ugly heads from the mass.
After a moment of stunned amazement of paralyzed inactivity, hundreds of willing workers pitched into the ruins. Scarcely had they mounted the heap when tongues of flame burst through it and an alarm of fire added to the confusion. From all over the city came workers, hundreds of them, and as they came they were formed into relays by Mayor FINCH and those assisting him. As one shift became exhausted another took its place, and from a mound of debris the smoking, steaming ruins became a crater, bricks were hurled aside, timbers torn out, and cast into the streets and mangled and crushed forms were tenderly lifted from the twisted mass of wreckage and hurried to various hospitals in waiting wagons. The dead were carried to the undertaking establishment and the work continued with feverish energy.
R. N. PRESLEY was brought out alive, but died from his burns. While under the wreckage he told rescuers that Leslie BUSH was under the ruins, as he had just been waiting on him. The body of BUSH was taken out of the ruins about (:30 o’clock. Mr. BUSH who was about 55 years old, was one of the most prominent men in Collin county. He was a large landowner, and the brother of Walter BUSH the banker, of Greenville.

Electric Lights are Placed.

As darkness fell strings of electric lights were strung across the ruins and lighting up the gruesome spectacle, showed to the experienced eyes, such as those of Mayor Finch, that little or no hope could be entertained of finding living beings beneath so grim and stern a mass.
On one side rose a heap of brick and debris thrown and scratched aside by the workers. In the other hung in the glare of the lights the ruined floors of the implement building, literally dropping vehicles and implements into the sodden scene below. Bales of dry goods hung suspended from torn rafters, as before this scene stood on either side of the ruined corner a crowd that numbered thousands, standing on everything possible, and watching the fury of labor that they ached to join.
McKinney is a city whose people are not like those of many, and in McKinney relatives stick together more closely than elsewhere. A number of old and [noted] families have their homes here and from McKinney these families have sent scions to all parts of the State.

News Spreads Quickly.

The news of the disaster spreads like wildfire and relatives and friends of those wither in the buildings, or supposed to probably be in the buildings, soon begin arriving on every train. The telephone and telegraph wires were literally swamped and congested. A special train was run, in from Greenville with 400 people from that city, Farmersville and Princeton, and special cars were run on the interurban.
Every doctor in the county volunteered his services, and offers of every sort and description poured in. Finding medical help plentiful, many doctors [used] their hands tearing at the wreckage.
The scene was one of a sort to bring bad dreams. Greasy and tramped by thousands of feet, ruined fancy goods from a once well equipped store – slimy water from pipes strung by the weary fire workers stretched across the street like evil serpents, and buried themselves under the dripping shattered planking – shouting workers, silouetted [sic] against the light, tore planks, bricks and rubbish aside and cast them far away with warning cries and filling the square, stood the crowd, some weeping, and anxious; some dry-eyed and curious, absorbed in watching the ghastly work for it was evident early that no life could remain beneath that pile of wreckage.
There were many pitiful scenes – sobbing fathers, mothers and relatives sopped every one who might know to ask wildly for missing relatives. Many people, some old and gray, hung over telephones and sought information and from all over North Texas came wild demands for information, specified information, demanded by right of anxiety and suffering.

One of Pitiful Scenes.

One of the most pitiful scenes was that of the attempted rescue of Norman PRESLEY. Presley was a clerk in the department store and was pinned beneath timbers and fearfully burned. He met the firemen smilingly and told them casually that he was suffering badly and wished he had something to deaden the pain. He also told them that Mr. BUSH was beneath the ruins, as he had been waiting on him when the crash came. He died from his burns as he was being removed.
The KISTLER family had a remarkable escape or partial escape. The father, who is a merchant across the square from the scene, heard the crash and looking across saw a dust-clouded heap of ruins, where he knew his wife, his little daughter and his wife’s mother had been shopping. Almost crazed, he rushed across, mounted the quivering pile and began tearing away debris and as if by some miracle, worked straight into the heap to where his little daughter lay, almost unhurt. He carried the sobbing child, kissing her wildly, to relatives on the other side of the street and returned for feverish search for the others, and found that they had both been brought out.

Property Loss Estimates

The collapsed building was an old timer. It was rebuilt after a fire in 1874 and had another story, making it three stories, twenty-vive years later. It is variously estimated that the property loss will be from $75,000 to $100,000.


S. C. Banks, Who Was in McKinney Tells of Scenes Following Accident

S. G. Banks of 3400 Cole avenue, Dallas, a traveling salesman, was in McKinney yesterday afternoon and remained there for more than an hour after the collapse of the buildings. He said:
“Not more than five minutes before the tragedy, I passed by the Mississippi Store, on the northeast corner of the public square, on Tennessee and Virginia streets. I had walked in no great hurry to the southeast corner of the square on Tennessee and Louisiana streets, when I heard a great rumble, and looked around in time to see the wreckage still falling. I hurried to the place, as hundreds of others did, and we could hear the groans of those imprisoned. Marshal Johnny McKinney organized a relief corps promptly and got the men to work, and when I left the city at 5:10 o’clock, an hour and forty minutes after the fall of the structures, eight had been rescued from the building, injured more or less severely, and about the same number had been taken out dead. Both the three-story Odd Fellows’ Building at the corner and the two story house on the square adjoining collapsed. It was thirty minutes before any were removed.
“The two-story house was occupied by a buggy and implement concern. The three-story had the first two floors used by the Mississippi Store, Cheeves Bros., proprietors; the third story by the Odd Fellows. I was informed that there had been no intimation of any weakness to the buildings.
“A little after the fall, a fire brok out in the wreckage from a heating stove in the store. There was good water pressure and the firemen soon had the blaze under control... Teams were at work hauling away the debris. All business was suspended immediately and every one assisted in the rescue work. Cots were prepared and doctors summoned, and the injured were taken to the sanitariums. The dead were conveyed to the Crouch-Hartzog company’s place on the opposite of the square. The scenes attending the rescue work were pathetic beyond anything I had ever witnessed. Many persons knew that members of their families had been in the store for there was a sale on. The tense waiting for news, the joy at finding loved ones safe, the anguish when dear ones were brought out badly injured and the grief when dead faces were revealed, was too much for an ordinary man.”


R. E. Best Says Excitement and Insatiable Anxiety Prevailed After Castrophe.

R. E. Best, Sr., a traveling salesman of Dallas, who was in McKinney yesterday said last night: “From the South side of the square as I stood and talked to Jim ANDREWS, a grocer, I saw the collapse of the building, which fell westward and upon the two story house adjoining. After the noise, the appearance of the place was like that of a volcano; the dust rising like a mighty smoke. The place was leveled as if by an earthquake.
“With many others, I ran over to the place. Everything was pandemonium and everyone was wildly excited. I never expect to see anywhere such insatiate anxiety and such eagerness to get information about loved ones or friends. A sale was on and in the morning the place was crowded. In the afternoon there was a relative lull and comparatively few were in the place besides the employees.
“Hugh KISTLER’s wife and child had left his store just a few minutes before to go to the place. The child was taken out unharmed, the wife internally injured, possibly seriously. Fire spread in the wreckage about twenty minutes after the collapse, just smoke, no flames. The firemen fought hard and well and quenched the burning. A platform under the stairway, about half way back, seems to have been what saved some of the persons in the store. It was an awful affair.
“Four doctors from Plano and some from Greenville and other places were in the great number of persons who went promptly to McKinney.

No Classes Until First of Week Because of Disaster.

By order of the City School Board all schools in the city will be suspended until next Monday.

No More Bodies Found in Wreck



Business Suspended for Day While Preparations are Made for the Funerals

It is now established with a reasonable degree of certainty that the list of dead and injured growing out of yesterday’s collapse of two brick business buildings will stand fixed at eight persons dead and fifteen injured.
The mammoth pile of shattered brick, splintered timber and ruined merchandise has been shifted from the site, except for an unapproachable heap beneath the shaking floors of the ruined implement building from which vehicles and merchandise are being moved with the care and delicacy of touch of an expert playing at jack-screws, and for a similar heap of rubbish on the opposite side of the collapsed department store, considered by the searchers to be beyond the zone of possible bodies.
The morning following the tragedy broke cold and cheerless. Hundreds of persons were astir early, but no organized attempt was made for a search until the morning was well advanced. City Marshal and Fire Chief John McKINNEY then began a systematic clearing of the wreckage. Wagons were backed up and a hundred or more persons began clearing the site of encumbering merchandise, all damaged, trodden, torn or broken. Odd Fellows regalia was mingled with bolts of ribbon; gilded spears and metal helmets were jumbled in the wagons with battered hats and sodden clothing, but the fury of desperate search for human forms was absent.
Boys, their whistling suppressed for once, and their skylarking ended for the time, soberly patrolled the town, distributing cards with deep black borders, announcing funeral arrangements.
People passed certain homes of the city with a quick glance at the drawn shades and an unconscious softening of noisy treads.
Before the ruins stood hundreds - not the thousands of the night before, mostly held back by ropes and most of them either curiosity seekers, or people who had journeyed to McKinney in the fear that some friend or relative had been in the store, for the town was crowded all day, and each arriving car and train brought more.
Condition of Injured.

Careful investigation of the condition and injuries of those hurt in the fall of the buildings shows the following: John Thomas, clerk — Slight injuries from falling materials, on head, hands and limbs. Not serious.
Miss Annie Curts, clerk — Bruises about head, arms and feet; serious shock not regarded as fatal.
Mrs. Hugh Kistler — Collar bone broken; four ribs on left side broken; probably internal injuries; many bruises. Serious.
Anna Graves Kistler — 4 year old child - scratched and slightly bruised.
Mrs. Wick Graves — Mother of Mrs. Kistler — left side of face cut and bruised; left arm injured; cut across left eye, exposing the ball, lacerating eye muscles and partially forcing organ from socket; bruises on body and lower limbs.
Mrs. Belle McWilliams, clerk — No bones broken, but severely bruised; head cut and lacerated; limbs bruised. Regarded as very serious.
Miss Lyda Moreland — Slightly cut about face and hands and bruised by falling materials. She was taken from beneath wreckage, between two unbroken glass showcases. Was able to go unassisted.
Miss Stella Russell — Sister-in-law of R. L. Hight. Bruised all over, but not seriously hurt.
Mrs. Jennie M. Barnett — Bruises all over. Thought to be without internal injury. No bones broken.
Mrs. W. M. Shirley — Hands and feet crushed. Cut over right eye; bruised.
Miss Lula Searcy, Clerk — Feet crushed; bruised all over. Cut on left of scalp. Severe shock.
Jim Thomas — Right hand painfully cut after accident while trying to rescue his brother, John Thomas.
Vernie Graves — Injuries not serious.
Miss Cassie Seay — Slight [injuries].
Two unidentified women from rural districts — Slight [injuries].

Those Killed Well Known.

Those who lost their lives in the avalanche of weighty wreckage were all more or less well known in the town:
Mrs. Mary Emerson Stiff, aged 27, was the daughter of Mrs. T. H. Emerson. She leaves two small sons, T. H. and Edwin, aged seven and five years. One of her brothers, Frank Emerson, lives in McKinney, and Henry, another, in Fort Worth, while a third, Walter, lives in Dallas. A sister, Mrs. Roy Anderson resides in Georgia. Her father, now deceased, was one of the founders of the First National Bank of McKinney and one of its leading Citizens.
Miss Eva Searcy, aged 21, was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Dick Searcy, old residents of McKinney. She was one of five sisters, one of whom, her elder, was hurt in the wreck.
Miss Kate Milligan, aged 18, was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Jack Milligan. She was born and raised in McKinney, where she had a large circle of friends. Two brothers live in McKinney.
Miss Rosa Welch, aged 28, the daughter of John Welch, a pioneer of McKinney, leaves three brothers. She was a member of the First Baptist church of McKinney.
Miss Bessie Wade, age 20, was with Miss Welch, and the two girl friends were found with their arms about each other. She was an extra telephone operator at the McKinney exchange, and came here from Yantis, Tex., where her parents live, about a year ago.
Russell Hight, aged 4, was the son of R. L. Hight. The child was in the building with his aunt, Miss Stella Russell, of Farmersville, who was the first of the injured to be taken from the building.
R. N. Presley, aged 35, was employed as a clerk in the Mississippi Store, as the wrecked bulding was locally known. He had made his home in McKinney for twenty years and in that time had been in business for himself several times. His wife, a daughter of the late Lewis Moore, with a 13 month’s old baby girl, survive him.
L. W. Bush, whose crushed body was the last recovered, was 55 years of age. He was one of the most prominent citizens of the county, having large landed and financial interests in Collin county. His body was apparently pushed clear through the wreckage by the force of its weight, lodging, fearfully crushed, on the East sidewalk and deeply covered. He leaves a wife, three sons and three daughters - Walter Bush, assistant cashier of the continental State Bank of McKinney, Edgar Bush, a student at Texas Christian University; Willie Bush at home; the daughters being married respectively to Prof. F. G. Jones, and Rev. R. D. Schultz of McKinney. Little Leslie Bush, the baby girl at home, at Allen.

First Estimates Too Large.

.... this overestimate was made by hundreds of persons. It might be said thousands, and was made, not in wild, unreasoning excitement, but in full belief that the deaths must necessarily be from thirty-five to fifty persons, owing to conditions prevailing. The labor of 200 men from afternoon to 11 o’clock at night, and the appearance of many persons known to be in the store, but escaping, cut down the total...
The tragedy, by another unusual twist of things, has created the sensation of one of far greater losses, purely because McKinney people are people of settled families, having relatives scattered far and wide. These people, though realizing that but eight were killed and plainly identified, have kept the wires flooded with messages of inquiry for persons who did not figure at all in the disaster, while the town is still filled with those arriving every hour to see for themselves, that their friends and relatives are really safe.
The result last night was that there was almost a famine in McKinney. The restaurants ran out of bread and practically everything edible, and many people slept in hotel chairs, failing to get beds. Today, though the crowds are lessened, hundreds of visitors are here.

Courageous Telephone Operators.

One of the most striking features of yesterday’s tragic happening was the courageous attitude of the telephone exchange operators, less than fifty feet and immediately across the street from the collapsing building. Miss Pauline Hughes, manager of the exchange, a chief operator, and six operators, all young women, were at work when the building fell.
.....the young women, instead of screaming and fainting, shut the windows tightly, lowered the shades to shut out the horror and kept at work, though one, Miss Mack, had a cousin, Mrs. Stiff, in the building. Miss Southall had a chum in the ruins – Miss Wade, who was killed. Miss Southall collapsed when the strain of work was over.
Within minutes no telephone exchange was ever busier. The calls came thick and fast. Frantic men burst up the stairs and into the waiting room, wildly asking for numbers, and when those who were using phones showed a disposition to hold to them for a considerable length of time, the manager asked that they be given up to others. All evening the heartbreaking strain was kept up. From the outside came hundreds of calls, seemingly all at one time. The lobby was crowded with excited persons seeking use of a booth. From the outside world came long distance calls, growing in number as the news was scattered wider and wider - pathetic calls, angry calls - the demands of desperation and of fright and apprehension until late at night, the pale-faced operators could scarcely sit in their chairs or speak beyond a whisper. Men who feared for their people called; news-gathering agencies made fierce and urgent demand for attention; doctors called to see if help was needed, until the night revealed a partially cleared scene of ruin across the street, and in the fallen quiet, the operators were relieved by others whose work ran much the same, but mostly from long distance calls.

Telegraph Operators Busy.

Telegraph operators of the city encountered similar experiences in the way of work. Copy books were piled high with messages and men with sweat running in tricklets down their noses and with damp hair stringing into their red eyes pounded keys with aching wrists and numb fingers, sending – sending in endless dots and dashes, or sprawled exhaustedly in chairs, hammering out messages received on typewriters, while glaring at them and dancing in impatience were many people, feverishly anxious to send messages.
...but eight people were killed – not eighty — yet it ran all the way to the far Northern States, and messages came from as far north as Illinois, seeking information of personal sort....

Calls at Fire Department.

The [fire] chief says that the reason there were relatively few fatalities is that a sale of white goods was being held on counters near the front of the store, permitting those within to make their escape.
T. J. Tingle, proprietor of the implement house that fell says he was inside with R. H. Cogburn and the latter’s son, Josiah Hewett, and a young man named Brown. He heart the wall crack three times as though wall paper were splitting, and as he looked, bricks from the old wall between the buildings began bulging in, causing him to believe that those who claim to have seen the implement house sagging into the dry goods store were mistaken. He says he carried a stock of $8,000 and estimates his damage to it at $4,000.
Insurance, except of the plate-glass front will not apply to this loss of the building which was valued at $10,000. He saved his books and papers.
O. C. Stewart, manager for Cheeves Bros., declined to give any estimate of losses or insurance on the store’s stock and fixtures. He admitted, when questioned, that the estimate of between $75,000 and $100,000 total loss looked reasonable.
Ben T. Estes, who spent the last quarter of a century within the walls of the building that now lies in ruins, while it housed more than half a dozen different dry goods firms, was conspicuous today in the work of clearing away the debris. He is over 70 years of age....Mr. Estes had left the building only a few minutes before the crash.


A Young Lady Victim Gives Vivid Description.

The most concise story of the accident was told by Miss Annie Curts, a saleswoman at the Cheeves Brothers store, as she was propped up on a couch at the Dr. Joe Largent sanitarium.... her eyes widened and her cheeks flushed feverishly as she recounted the story of her part in the catastrophe.
“I was in the front of the store...and I had just finished waiting on a customer and glanced at a clock – it was exactly 3:40 o’clock. I noted idly that every one of the ten clerks except myself had a customer.... perhaps it was intuition...I was moved to look toward the north walls, right at the front, and I saw it begin to move inward. Like a flash, I realized what was about to happen and I threw myself on the floor just behind the counter. It saved my life. With a roar such I imagine would come from a cyclone, the walls tumbled about us. I heard no screams and I didn’t seem to get excited.”
“The wall nearest me had fallen against the counter behind which I had been standing and a narrow little subterranean passage had been formed. I began groping my way along to the rear of the building. My hand encountered a shoe and I felt instinctively that it was John Thomas.
“Is that you, Mr. Thomas?” I asked and I was astonished at the calm manner in which I spoke. He answered in the affirmative, and then I asked him if he thought that we would get out alive.
“It looks like a slim chance, Miss Annie”, he answered. And there we waited.
As if at a great distance, we heard the sound of voices.... for a few minutes we were calm for we felt that they might reach us. “But after waiting for ages, it seemed, the voices seemed no nearer, and suddenly a light began to glow toward the rear of the passage, and we realized that the ruins were on fire. The heat became almost unbearable and somebody down the passage tried to push on the ruins. I cried out for them to keep their hands off – that would tear away the support of the counter and we would be crushed to death. I could hardly breathe and with one hand I broke open the glass pane of a showcase and thrust my hand within – and there I remained until they lifted me to the surface and carried me to the sanitarium.”

Friday a Day of Funerals and Sorrow in McKinney

[For complete stories of the funerals of the eight killed in the disaster, see the Obituary page at this site.]

Items of Interest Picked Here and There Regarding the Awful Disaster

Luther Stephenson, delivery boy for Cheeves Bros., made a narrow escape.

One of the many sad incidents was the fact that County Treasurer Mort Shirley sat in his office in the Northeast corner of the Court House where he viewed from the North window the ruins which held his wife entombed.....Mr. Shirley in his paralyzed condition was utterly helpless and unable to go to the rescue. His wife was restored to him and his grateful heart gave a message of appreciation to the Great Ruler of the universe.

[Names which can be deciphered but not the context in which they appear.]
Sam Kite, Miss Edna Edwards, Mr. A. Lamm, H. A. L. Greenwood, Arthur Anderson, Mrs. McWilliams, Miss Ruby Ivy, J. H. Ferguson, J. D. Page, Oscar E. Moreland, Mrs. Norma Holmes, Dr. Altus.

George Walker was standing in front of the building when the crash came. Just had time to get from under.

Motion picture men from Dallas came up with their machines and took pictures of the collapsed buildings.

Old Joe, the Mexican tamale man who always hung out at the corner had just left his stand a minute or two before the crash.

Dr. W. T. Largent, who has offices over Dick Allen’s store was standing on the sidewalk and saw the great building as it crashed to the ground.

Cards of Thanks or Sympathy.

John Thomas; John Welch, Buford Welch, George Welch, Will Welch, Emmett Ledbetter, Glen L. Sneed, Mr. and Mrs. R. L. Hight, Mrs. M. J. Hight and family, Mr. and Mrs. E. D. Russell and Family, W. M. Shirley and children, R. J. Milligan and Family, L. H. Searcy and Family, Ike Talkington, C. M. Brantley, Fred Owenby, W. G. Ashley, Vernie Graves, T. J. Tingle, Mrs. L. W. Bush and Family, Pastors: C. C. Young, Jeff Davis, A. P. Hightower, R. R. Rives, S. H. Winston (Col.), A. F. Johnson (Col.).