Tuesday, March 31, 2009


As pertains to the previous post, here are some period items concerning musicians and theater fires:
Elizabeth, N.J.—The presence of mind of a pianist in the Proctor Theater, who started to play "The Star Spangled Banner" when a film caught fire, checked the stampede of freightened people and the fire was extinguished by hand grenades ("Trade Notes," Moving Picture World, 19 September 1908, 216).
Not sure what kind of hand grenades those would be...

The problem was not so much the fire itself, which was usually contained by the metal lined box that served as the projection room. Rather the greater danger was general panic:
"The study of the safeguards against accidents from moving pictures is now occupying much of the attention of electricians and insurance men,” said Mr. Sydney Andrews, of the Middle Underwriters’ Association, 316 Walnut street [Philadelphia]. "So satisfactorily has the problem been solved, however, that it would appear to me personally that the greatest danger from the moving picture places was that of stampede from fear of fire rather than from the actual results of fire. You see the most of these places have only one exit, and that is in the front. Consequently, in case of fire the audience would be compelled to rush by the booth, which is in front of the building." ("The Situation in Philadelphia," Moving Picture World, 2 November 1907: 560)
In such situations, music was understood to be a definite ally:
The coolness of George Hunter, proprietor of a nickelodeon at 4115 Butler street, Pittsburgh, Pa., and his piano-player, in the face of danger saved an audience from panic the other night when the moving picture film fired and set fire to a curtain. The flames were spreading rapidly through the room. Hunter leaped to the platform and assured the audience there was plenty of time to get out. At the same time the piano player struck up a lively tune, and their combined efforts served to calm the frightened people. Ushers succeeded in getting every one out safely. Harry Wills, the operator of the machine, was slightly burned about the hands and face. The damage to the building was about $600. ("Trade Notes," Moving Picture World, 1 June 1907, 200)

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