BINGHAMTON, NY – It was 108 years ago, on July 22nd 1913, that the City of Binghamton faced the most deadly single event in our history.
A monstrous fire started in the basement of the Binghamton Clothing Company, a 4 story factory on Wall Street which made men’s overalls and jeans.
The fire skyrocketed up the stairs, trapping those on the 3rd and 4th floor.
NewsChannel 34 spoke with former Broome County Historian Gerry Smith about the event.
The Binghamton Clothing Company was owned by Reed Freeman and employed about 100 people.
All the factory workers were women expect for two. Most of the workers were also immigrants.
Freeman’s wife worked in the factory as well.
Unlike factories in New York City at this time, the Binghamton Clothing Company did not employ children. Some of the workers were young, maybe 16 or 17, but Freeman did not hire any child laborers.
The factory did participate in fire drills and other safety measures that were in place at the time. Smith says that many women did not like participating in the drills, due to getting catcalled outside the building. The women also had to wear long woolen outer skirts, which were removed once inside. The drills required the women to put the uncomfortable garments back on, and the unwillingness to do so may have been the cause of death.
The Fire and the Victims:
In 1913, the Binghamton Fire Department was only half a block away. There was also a fireman’s convention in town on July 22nd. The fire engulfed and collapsed the entire building in 15 minutes while thousands of people looked on, unable to help.
Due to the fire spreading incredibly past, the department was not able to offer much assistance.
Of the 100 workers, 68 were able to escape, many with burns and injuries.
31 perished in the fire.
Of the 31, 19 bodies were unidentified and are buried at Spring Forest Cemetery.
Those who died seemed to have gone back for personal items, or tried to jump out the windows of the higher floors. Some workers didn’t realize that the alarms were not a drill, and ignored them.
There were two heroes of the fire – Nellie Connor and Sidney Dimmock.
Nellie was the supervisor of the 3rd and 4th floors, and helped guide her workers to safety.
Sidney was a man who made trips into the building to save the women, including Nellie.
Both perished in the fire.
Factory owner Reed Freeman’s wife was trying to contact the fire department and eventually got out, wisely grabbing the register of who was in the building.
The Cause of the Fire:
The official cause of the fire is still unknown.
In 1988, Reed Freeman’s granddaughter along with a co-author put out a book about the events.
The book alleges that an employee committed arson.
The fire started in the basement, and it is also possible that the rags and chemicals kept down there created the blaze.
Regardless, Reed Freeman believed he was at fault for the fire.
The Binghamton Clothing Company caught fire only two years after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City.
After both tragedies so closely together, New York State began looking at the fire safety measures.
All building were then required to have a fire extinguisher as well as a fire escape.
Freeman believed he was at fault for the 31 deaths of his workers for the rest of his life, and worked to fundraise and pay the families.
In 2013, the City of Binghamton put up a plaque honoring Nellie Connor and Sidney Dimmock, as well as the victims of the fire.
The plaque was destroyed some time later in an act of vandalism, and in 2021, the City Parks Department has replaced and reinstalled the memorial.