Page 2 of 6
Brooklyn Theater Fire; December 5, 1876
I remember learning about the First Amendment and how the right to Freedom of Speech offered Americans all sorts of protections and yay America and everything. My teacher was quick to point out though that there were some things you couldn't say, and one of those things was yelling "Fire!" in a theater. And, years later, I get why it would be bad to verbally induce panic, but also? Not yelling fire? When there is actually a fire in a theater? Can lead to the deaths of well over 200 people, as it did in the case of the Brooklyn Theater Fire of 1876. This tragic disaster began between the 4th and 5th act of the play The Two Orphans and it started right on the main stage. Once the fire was noticed, instead of immediately evacuating the theater, the show actually continued to go on, with actors assuring audience members that there was nothing to fear. By the time people began to leave, it was too late. Hundreds of people in the upper seats of the theater died of smoke inhalation and other effects of the fire. By the time the bodies were recovered, they were so mangled and beyond recognition that it was not only impossible to identify individuals, but also impossible to get an exact body count. There is a mass grave in Greenwood Cemetery for the 100 or so unidentified corpses and "an obelisk near the main entrance at Fifth Avenue and 25th Street marks the burial site." This lasting results of this fire included stricter building codes in the city and a better understanding of how best to quell conflagrations. The site of the Brooklyn Theater is now a part of Cadman Plaza.