Our Thanks to Donald Adams for researching/submitting this story; Transcribed by Karen Meisenheimer;

Bolivar Breeze – November 22, 1900



McGonigal House, Hotel Barn and Oswayo Opera House Destroyed by Fire.  William Mulraney, Arthur Fletcher, Hugh Jamison and Michael Russell Perish in the Flames.

OSWAYO, Pa., Nov. 19 – Four blackened, charred and shriveled bodies, covered with white sheets, lay on a rough platform in the vestibule of the Methodist church in Oswayo this morning.  They are the bodies of victims of the fire that wiped out the McGonigal House, a two and a half story hotel, the Oswayo opera house and the hotel barn at four o’clock yesterday morning.

            Over pressure on the Potter Gas Company’s lines started the fire, and the burning of the hotel wakened all the people of the village and saved other buildings.  Many who were awakened by the ringing of the bell announcing the hotel fire found that gas jets and stoves in their houses were fairly roaring.

            The dead are:

            William Mulraney, aged 55, a resident of Rexville, N. Y.  He was employed in the Oswayo stave mill and boarded at the McGonigal House.

            Michael Russell, aged 50, a laborer employed in the Oswayo tannery.  He had a quarrel with his family over religious matters a few days ago and left home to board with McGonigal.  The difference had been settled and he intended to gomg back to his home in a day or two.

            Arthur Fletcher, aged 45, a bookkeeper.  His home is at Bellaire, Mich.  He had been in Oswayo a year, employed by the Pennsylvania Stave company.

            Hugh Jamison, aged 55, employed as a hostler at the hotel.  His home is at Alfred, N. Y.  He was a veteran of the civil war and drew a pension.

            Fletcher occupied a room on the first floor in which there was a small stove.  It is believed that the fire originated in his room.  Mrs. McGonigal was awakened by the smell of smoke and the crackling of the flames.  The house seemed all on fire.  She roused her husband and together they did their best to rouse the boarders ad employes.  They tried to pry open the door to Fletcher’s room with a crow bar but the flames drove them out doors.

            There were 21 persons sleeping in the hotel, fifteen of them regular boarders, Mulraney was one of the heroes of the fire.  He was awakened quickly and went from room to room upstairs arousing the sleeping men and women.  “Save yourself while you can,” one of the men he aroused said to him.  When he attempted to find his way out of the building he was blinded by flame and smoke and perished in the fire.  Miss Lena Surdoval of Allentown, N. Y., was employed in the hotel as dining room girl.  She was overcome by smoke while trying to escape and fainting, fell on the hall floor.  Charles Sindo, a boarder, stumbled over her body in trying to pick his way out, picked her up in his arms, broke open a window, climbed out on the veranda and slid down a tree to the ground with the unconscious girl in his arms.  Miss Cunningham, another employe of the hotel, was carried out unconscious by a boarder named McOwen, whose cool head and strong arms saved her life.

            Otto Kahle of Coudersport, Pa., a boarder jumped out of a window and dislocated his shoulder.  J. J. Daly of Wellsville, N. Y., an employe of the Potter Gas Company who had been sent to remedy the uncertain pressure on the gas lines was badly blistered about the face, neck and hands in getting out of his room.

            The McGonigal House was a wooden structure, with gas lights in every room and when once the fire was going it went down like a house of straw.  None of the bodies were recovered until the fire had burned every timber in the hotel to ashes.  The body of Jamison was found in the cellar in a sitting posture.  Russell was identified by bits of underwear, the others only by the rooms they occupied.  Heads, arms and feet were burned off each.  Saturday was pay day and everyone of the boarders had money in their rooms.  Fletcher had $300 in his room.  Not a penny was saved.  All that any person escaped with was their night clothes.  Nothing was saved from the buildings.  A bucket brigade saved the adjoining buildings until the tannery pump was set going and a string of hose laid.  Oswayo has no water system and no fire fighting apparatus except what the Leather Trust owns individually for the protection of the tannery.  McGonigal estimates his loss at $8,000.  He had $5,500 insurance.

            The residence owned by S. W. Crittenden and occupied by L. S. Miner, was damaged about $100, while Mr. Miner lost about $200 of household goods.  Nate Ayers’ hotel barn was slightly damaged.

            Russell was buried at the Catholic cemetery at Kinney, Pa., today.  Mulraney and Jamison will be buried in Oswayo tomorrow.  The Potter Gas Company telegraphed the undertaker here to send a bill for the funeral expense to them.  The body of Fletcher will be shipped to Michigan if an expected telegram comes from his relatives, if not it will be interred here.  No such fatality ever occurred in Oswayo before and it has cast a gloom over the entire village.