Milwaukee Fire, The [Laws G15]
DESCRIPTION: The "oft-condemned" Newhall House catches fire; passers-by watch in horror as the residents die in the flames. In particular, a servant girl leaps to her death, and a mother watches her son trapped in the fire
AUTHOR: probably J. W. Kelley
EARLIEST DATE: 1922
KEYWORDS: fire disaster death
Jan 1883 - Fire at the Newhall House. At least 63 people die
FOUND IN: US(Ap,MW,SW)
REFERENCES (6 citations):
Laws G15, "The Milwaukee Fire"
Peters, pp. 245-246, "The Newhall House Fire" (1 text, 1 tune)
Neely, pp. 166-167, "Milwaukee Fire" (1 text)
LPound-ABS, 62, pp. 138-140, "The Milwaukee Fire" (1 text)
Cohen-AFS2, pp. 435-437, "The Milwaukee Fire" (1 text plus a copy of the Kelley broadside)
DT 682, MILWAUKF
Warde Ford, "Milwaukee Fire" (AFS 4198 B1, 4198 B2, 1938; tr.; in AMMEM/Cowell)
Robert Walker, "The Milwaukee Fire" (AFS, 1941; on LC55)
NOTES: John W. Kelley (who also produced such pieces as "The Bowery Grenadiers") wrote a piece called "The Milwaukee Fire" in 1884, and some sources equate this song with that item. The fire, however, was the subject of a great deal of press coverage, and doubtless produced several pieces. The version of the song reproduced by Cohen appears to be the same song but is entitled "The Newell House Fire" and does not appear to have a chorus. This makes me wonder about a rewrite along the way. None of the folk sources I have consulted equate the traditional song with the Kelley piece, and so I am attributing the authorship only tentatively until I see better evidence.
According to Peters, the Milwaukee Fire was the worst in American history until 1946, The informant in Peters, Ella Mittelstaedt Fischer, claimed to have witnessed the fire. Unfortunately, she did not describe where she learned the song. - RBW
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