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Havens & Geddes Fire - Terre Haute, IN
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member YoSam.
N 39° 27.995 W 087° 24.663
16S E 464641 N 4368637
Quick Description: That corner where Havens & Geddes once stood is now occupied by the Terre Haute Transit Utility bus transfer center.
Location: Indiana, United States
Date Posted: 12/24/2014 6:51:09 AM
Waymark Code: WMN4A3
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member saopaulo1
Views: 1

Long Description:

County of fire: Vigo County
Location of fire: Wabash St. between Fifth St. and Sixth St., Terre Haute
Date of fire: December 19, 1898
Building totally destroyed

A memorial to Herbert’s bravery was dedicated Aug. 2, 1905, but was destroyed by a vehicle, as was its replacement. To protect it, the third memorial was moved to the Vigo County Courthouse grounds in 1980. The monument is still at the former Vigo County courthouse lawn.
Monument location: N 39° 27.985 W 087° 24.913

Monument text:


Who gave his life to save
others in the
Havens & Geddes Fire.

News articles of the 100th anniversary of the fire is preserved by Wabash Valley Visions & Voices

"Havens & Geddes Company, specialized in wholesale staple and fancy dry goods, notions, woolens and carpets. Established in 1859, in 1899 the company succeeded to the business of D. P. Erwin & Company, transferring its business from Terre Haute to Indianapolis. The officers at the time were Elisha Havens, president; R. Geddes, vice-president and treasurer, and H. O. Wright, secretary. This business also controlled the Wabash Manufacturing Company, which manufactured shirts, overalls, etc., employing over 200 persons with Messrs. B. Havens as the president, and R. Geddes as the treasurer and which had been in business since 1874.

"In the 1890's, the 5-storey store was the largest dry goods store in Indiana and occupied a site on the northeast corner of 5th Street and Wabash Avenue and employed more than 300 people. A second-story passageway provided access to the wholesale side of the business that faced Cherry Street. On December 19th, 1898 the retail side of the business was the starting point of the worst fire ever seen in Terre Haute. It cost four people their lives, seriously injured eight others and caused $2 million worth of damage.

"In 1898, the Havens and Geddes building was less than five years old and considered "modern and safe." Around half of the store's 300 employees had already left for home and shortly before 6 p.m. on the evening of December 19th, 1893, an incandescent lamp burst in a main-floor display window, showering sparks onto piles of cotton used to simulate snow. Flames raced up draperies to the wooden ceiling and quickly spread to the evergreen Christmas decorations that the store was using. Louis Kramer, the window dresser, suffered terrible burns to the head and arms. Kramer was in so much pain from his injuries that, according to the New York Times, he "begged to be killed."

"The store manager, Fred Brown, tried to stop the spread of the fire. "I went to the rear of the store where we always keep a large number of buckets of water and called to the other men to help me," Brown said. "All of this time I was thinking that a few buckets of water would hold the fire in the window until the fire department could put it out. When we reached the front of the store I saw at once that the buckets were useless. My hands were singed in the awful heat. With incredible rapidity the fire spread clear through the store. I called to the men with me to run for their lives."

"In April 1898, eighteen year old Claude Herbert had volunteered for the Spanish - American War. A few months later the war had ended and Herbert, a large young man with a gentle nature and "always eager to help anyone," was back in Terre Haute looking for work to support himself and his widowed mother. In December 1898, Herbert had found employment as Santa Claus in the store. Working in the basement, he was entertaining the store's patrons when the fire broke out. The children around him grew frightened and with great presence of mind, Herbert stayed in character as Santa and instructed the children to hold hands. Carrrying two of the smallest children, Herbert led the others out of the burning building onto Wabash Avenue. As soon as the children were safe Herbert threw off his Santa robes and ran back into what the Terre Haute Evening Gazette described as the "fiery holocaust of hell" to render further assistance to the store's customers. By the time local fire units began forming Herbert had already made two trips into the burning store, each time returning with coughing, choking employees and customers. Sadly, Claude Herbert didn't manage to return from his final rescue mission into the store. Clerk Nellie Welch, one of those Herbert rescued, told the Gazette, "He had plenty of time to save himself but he went back inside."

"Two of Havens & Geddes' clerks, Katie Maloney and her friend Linelle or Luella "Lulu" Ferguson, were trapped on the second floor of the store by the fire. A Mr. Peters, a salesman for the Baldwin Music House in Chicago spotted the women at a window. He rushed into the burning building and persuaded them to jump for their lives. He jumped first, followed by Ferguson who was caught by some men. Although injured, she recovered. Maloney apparently threw her coat down ahead of herself then jumped. She wasn't so lucky as her friend and hit her head on the pavement. She died from her injuries on December 23rd.

"J. O. Button, manager of Havens and Geddes bookstore was badly injured as was Albert Weinbreicht, a bookkeeper.

"The fire threatened to get completely out of control and appeals for help were sent via telegraph. The mayor of Indianapolis helped load two fire wagons onto a special train which raced towards Terre Haute, all other rail traffic being stopped for it. The fire department fought the blaze bravely and two firemen were killed, several badly injured whilst many suffered from smoke inhalation and burns.

"Three firemen, Captain John Osterloo, John Welch and William O'Connell were badly injured and burned in the cellar of the nearby Ford and Overstreet store when the floor collapsed under them. Osterloo was trapped under burning debris and died from his injuries on December 29th.

"Henry Nehf was a pharmacist and volunteer fireman, he was also one of John Osterloo's friends - they'd known each other from their schooldays. Nehf's body was found 10 or 12 twelve days after the fire in the remains of a burned and collapsed building, his right arm over his head, as if to fend off the ceiling, and his left around the nozzle of a fire hose. A great deal was made of the fact that Nehf's pocket watch, which he kept in his vest pocket, had stopped at 6:08. It seems unlikely that this is the time that he died though as this was either around the time that the fire first started or after the bulk of the fire was extinguished. The fire was still burning fiercely around 11pm that night but by then was under control.

"As well as the loss of life, the economic impact of the fire was huge. The Havens and Geddes store suffered around $800,000 worth of damage. Albrecht and compnay, a dry goods store, $750,000. Terre Haute Shoe Company, a shoe wholesalers, $150,000. Owen Pixley and Company, a clothing manufacturer's and store, $100,000. The United States Baking company $80,000. Thorman and Schloss, clothiers, $50,000. Breinig and Miller furniture store, $40,000. Ford and Overstreet, another clothiers, $40,000. These and other, smaller businesses, in total suffered around $2 million worth of damage.

"More than half of the block on the north side of Wabash Avenue between Fifth and Sixth streets and the Thorman & Schloss building at the northwest corner of the intersection were destroyed by the fire. The facia of the Albrecht Building, now Ellis Plaza, survived, but the rest of the building had to be rebuilt. Havens and Geddes never reopened in Terre Haute. Elisha Havens moved to Indianapolis a few months after the fire after spending 35 years in Terre Haute. The site of the Havens and Geddes store is now occupied by the Terre Haute Transit Utility bus transfer center.

"With the help of his wartime friends and grateful members of the Terre Haute community, a seven-foot stone monument to Herbert’s bravery was dedicated on August 2nd, 1905, but it was destroyed by a vehicle, as was its replacement. To protect it, the third memorial was moved to the Vigo County Courthouse grounds in 1980. The simple engraving says: "In memory of Claude Herbert, who gave his life to save others in the Havens & Geddes fire." ~ Terre Haute Postcards

Type of Structure: Public building

Fire Date: 12/19/1898

Structure status: Plaque

Cause of Fire:
Electrical short in the department store Christmas display window

Documentation of the fire: [Web Link]

Other: Not listed

Construction Date: Not listed

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