“Great” Pepper Building fire



Northeast News
May 1, 2013

Wednesday, May 7, a regular day: The St. Louis Cardinals beat the Philadelphia Phillies 6-4, the Chicago Cubs beat the Brooklyn Dodgers, Tommy Burns beat Jack O’Brien in 20 rounds for the heavyweight boxing title, and the Cit   y of Kansas City witnessed its worst disaster since the Lathrop Grade School at Sixth and May was destroyed by a cyclone, killing 11 students.

The “Great” Pepper Building fire on May 7, 1907, drew a crowd said to be in the thousands. The Pepper Building stood on the northwest corner of Ninth and Locust, where the new Federal Courthouse is today.

This week’s postcard is one of a series of five or six postcards depicting the fire scene from various vantage points both during and after the conflagration. One card bearing an “x” over a top floor window shows where Miss Ellen Barnes was rescued by Fireman Charles Braun using a 50-foot extension ladder and a 16-foot “Pompier” scaling ladder. Another shows a window some 70 feet above the ground where Professor Georges DeMare was overcome by smoke and fell to his death.

The Pepper building was built in 1887, its cornerstone laid by former President Grover Cleveland. It was built around an open courtyard and was home to many private music teachers as well as the Schulze Music College. Due to the building’s open construction, the fire of unknown origin spread rapidly and was well underway long before fire equipment arrived on the already-packed scene. The narrowness of the streets and alleys meant some fire wagons were unable to get near the raging building. That made heroic rescues with the Pompier (pole) ladders necessary. The building was razed shortly after the fire.

This card bears no publisher’s mark other than the date and the description “Pepper Building Fire, May 7, 1907.”

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