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Topics in Chronicling America - Brooklyn Theater Fire of 1876

Labeled “Brooklyn’s Holocaust” by the December 7, 1876 National Republican, the Brooklyn Theater Fire was one of the most devastating fires in U.S. history. The fire began when a piece of scenery caught fire and fell on the stage. In a little over 10 minutes, the fire was out of control and the audience thrown into a panic. People clogged stairwells and trampled fellow patrons in an attempt to flee the spreading flames. When it was all said and done, almost 300 people had been claimed by the fire. Read more about it!

The information and sample article links below provide access to a sampling of articles from historic newspapers that can be found in the Chronicling America: American Historic Newspapers digital collection ( Use the Suggested Search Terms and Dates to explore this topic further in Chronicling America.

Map of the theater

Jump to: Sample Articles

Important Dates:

  • December 5, 1876 – 11:20 pm. Around 11:20 pm, during a performance of the Two Orphans, a piece of scenery caught fire after being struck by a falling light fixture. Immediate attempts to put out the fire failed. Pieces of wood and canvas, but some of the actors continued acting as convinced some audience members that the fire was a part of the play. But more flaming pieces fell to the stage and the audience panicked.
  • December 5, 1876 – 11:30 pm In only 10 minutes, stairways were clogged by patrons from the upper tiers. This caused human crush as people pushed to get to the lower level exits. People simply trampled over those that had fallen down in the stairwell. Many people died as the flames intensified and the smoke became unbearable, or simply because they were trampled by panicked patrons attempting to get out.
  • December 5, 1876 – 1:00 am The fire begins to die down and finally burns out around 3:00 am. December 09, 1876 Many newspapers, the New York Tribune in particular began publishing the names of the victims. The fire claimed about 300 lives but numbers are inconclusive as to the degree to which victims were burned beyond recognition.

Suggested Search Strategies:

  • [Try the following terms in combination, proximity, or as phrases using Search Pages in Chronicling America.] Brooklyn Theater Fire
  • It is important to use a specific date range if looking for articles for a particular event in order to narrow your results.

Sample Articles from Chronicling America:

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