The Iowa State Capitol Fire 1904, November 2012

(2012) The Iowa State Capitol Fire 1904, November 2012. Legislative Services Agency (Legislative Service Bureau)

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Abstract

The twenty-first century Iowa State Capitol contains state-of-the-art fire protection. Sprinklers and smoke detectors are located in every room and all public hallways are equipped with nearby hydrants. The Des Moines Fire Department is able to fight fires at nearly any height. However, on Monday morning, January 4, 1904, the circumstances were much different. By the beginning of 1904, the Capitol Improvement Commission had been working in the Capitol for about two years. The commissioners were in charge of decorating the public areas of the building, installing the artwork in the public areas, installing a new copper roof, re-gilding the dome, replacing windows, and connecting electrical lines throughout. Electrician H. Frazer had been working that morning in Committee Room Number Five behind the House Chamber, drilling into the walls to run electrical wires and using a candle to light his way. The investigating committee determined that Frazer had left his work area and had neglected to extinguish his candle. The initial fire alarm sounded at approximately 10 a.m. Many citizen volunteers came to help the fire department. Capitol employees and state officials also assisted in fighting the fire, including Governor Albert Cummins. The fire was finally brought under control around 6 p.m., although some newspaper accounts at the time reported that the fire continued smoldering for several days. Crampton Linley was the engineer working with the Capitol Improvement Commission. He was in the building at the time of the fire and was credited with saving the building. Linley crawled through attic areas to close doors separating wings of the Capitol, an action which smothered the flames and brought the fire under control. Sadly, Linley did not live long enough to be recognized for his heroism. The day after the fire, while examining the damage, Linley fell through the ceiling of the House Chamber and died instantly from severe head injuries. The flames had burned through the ceiling and caused much of it to collapse to the floor below, while the lower areas of the building had been damaged by smoke and water. Elmer Garnsey was the artist hired by the Capitol Improvement Commission to decorate the public areas of the building. Therefore, he seemed the logical candidate to be given the additional responsibility of redecorating the areas damaged by the fire. Garnsey had a very different vision for the decoration, which is why the House Chamber, the old Supreme Court Room, and the old Agriculture offices directly below the House Chamber have a design that is very different from the areas of the building untouched by the fire.

Item Type: Departmental Report
Keywords: History of Iowa, Iowa State Capital Fire
Subjects: History and culture
History and culture > History of Iowa
History and culture > Landmarks
ID Code: 15817
Deposited By: Margaret Barr
Deposited On: 07 Jan 2014 19:32
Last Modified: 07 Jan 2014 19:32
URI: http://publications.iowa.gov/id/eprint/15817