Death Date: December 27, 1886
Plot Location: Section 31, Lot 119 north line
As a 16-year-old, John was working in a brickyard and living with his parents, four younger brothers, and an older sister. He had some other jobs but found what he really wanted to do when he became a fireman in 1881. At some point he got married and had a child, but details are missing.
Five years later there was a fire at the Temple Theatre in the 700 block of Chestnut Street. It had a three-story granite facade, formerly the grand hall of a Masonic order. The owner, William Singerly, had recently upgraded the interior, including seating for over 8000 people and electrification. Edison’s early light bulbs produced significant heat, and some muslin that was close to one of the glass globes ignited.
Smoke was seen coming from a window in the late morning, just two days after Christmas in 1886. Engine 4 arrived and John immediately went to work with a hose. It was a four-alarm fire, spreading to six other buildings on Chestnut Street, one building on 7th Street, and seven additional buildings on Jayne Street.
A wall collapsed on top of John as he and two others broke through a door. The debris was so great it took workers four days to find his body. The modern term for what happened next is “crowdfunding,” as donations came in from a sympathetic public. Mr. Singerly himself pledged $500, plus $5 a week for the life of John’s widow.
The funeral was attended by 88 of his fellow firefighters representing every company in the city, and final rites of the International Order of Odd Fellows was read, of which John was a member. His parents and a brother are buried in the same plot. A number of editorials were printed after the theater tragedy, two of which are shown here.
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