On Feb. 10, 1902, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported a disaster in its city. A fire had swept through the Empire Hotel, causing $25,000 worth of damage, an amount near $15.7 million in today’s dollars, using a measure of economic power that compares the value of an individual property to the total output of the economy.
More tragically, the fire killed 11 people in a disaster noted as the second “worst loss of life ever recorded in St. Louis.” The three-story Empire Hotel, located at 2700-2702 Olive St., had once been “one of the worst of the questionable resorts in the city.” At the time of the fire it had gained a small measure of respectability and was operating as a “bachelor apartment” building.
The fire, whose cause had not been determined, had apparently been burning for some time before the alarm was turned in at 3:10 a.m. Sunday. Sidney Manheimer, a young man in the neighborhood, was alerted by passersby and ran to a call box to sound the alarm. A second alarm was turned in at 3:30 a.m.
According to the Globe-Democrat, the fire smoldered but spread rapidly when it reached the third floor of the building. One man jumped from the building and suffered a “frightful injury;” two jumped and were killed. One died at City Hospital where he was taken after the fire. The remainder appeared to have died of smoke inhalation. Their bodies were found after the fire was extinguished.
The dead were primarily working-class men. Samuel Cory, 49, and George Thompson, were employees of the Terminal Railway Company. Morris Yall was a senior member and expert glasscutter at the Yall, Clark, and Cowan Glass Company. J.A. McMillan and C.B. Coutant were carpenters. B.B. Woodely was employed as a sorter at Hamilton-Brown Shoe Company. John Leudeu, 45, worked as an expressman. Toby Davis was a “well-known” professional gambler. Vance Marlin, a stranger in St. Louis, was a 65-year-old veteran of the Civil War. Lizzie Harris, the only woman killed in the fire, was an African-American maid.
The remaining casualty was Andrew Jackson Allen, a stonemason from Sedalia. He had been born in Iowa in 1850 and served for a brief time in the Civil War in 1864, enlisting when he was only 14. He had lived in Sedalia since 1883. Allen was a skilled craftsman, had worked with Edward Hurley and other local contractors, and was said to have been a “splendid workman” who was “never out of employment.”
After his wife died, Allen lived at 1908 S. Lamine Ave. with his two unmarried daughters. One of his daughters, Belle, 17, worked as a saleswoman at Mercurios; another daughter, Ella, 22, worked at Longan’s Laundry. His son, John W. Allen, 19, worked at the Franken Shoe Factory.
His other daughter, Mamie, 25, was married to Allen Scott. The couple and their child lived in a boarding house at 2623A Olive St., St. Louis.
A.J. Allen had become dissatisfied with his life in Sedalia and had explored the idea of employment in St. Louis building the fairgrounds for the World’s Fair to be held in that city in 1904. He told his son that he believed he “could do better” in St. Louis, so he took between $400 and $500 and the tools of his trade and left Sedalia.
Allen had planned to leave for St. Louis on Sunday, but instead took a train from Sedalia on Saturday evening and arrived in St. Louis at 8:30 p.m. He visited his daughter Mamie, but there was not room for him to spend the night at the rooming house, so about 10 p.m. his son-in-law took him to the Empire Hotel, just a block away, to spend the night. He told his son-in-law that he would only stay one night at the Empire Hotel before “find[ing] a safer place tomorrow.”
Allen had intended to search for an apartment where the three of them could live, then find a job. He told Mamie that “he would never go back to Sedalia to live.”
On Monday, Feb. 10, John Allen went to St. Louis. The next day, he and Mamie and Allen Scott brought the body of their father back to Sedalia.