21
1507 Pennsylvania Avenue

IN THE LATE-SPRING NIGHT, "flames lit up the horizon for miles around and cast lurid shadows on the surrounding trees, rendering their foliage intensely beautiful." The Douglass house was on fire. Rosetta "was awakened by the odor of smoke and a bright light in her room" and, rousing Nathan, ran from the house. With smoke already filling the halls, he awoke his mother-in-law and his three older children, snatched up the already coughing baby, and got them all out. Running to the barn, which was close to the house, Nathan managed to lead the horse from its stall even though the loft above was the fierce torch that had carried the fire to the house. A cow died, and all the "carriages, sleighs, harnesses, farming implements, &c. were destroyed."

Guided by the light in the night sky, a fire company raced up the South Avenue hill. The water supply proved maddeningly and totally inadequate, and the firemen joined the family and neighbors in hauling whatever they could out of the burning house. Books—an astonishingly large number of them—pictures, and furniture were rushed into the yard. Even the piano was pushed and shoved down the porch steps. (Left inside—and lost—were the only existing complete runs of the North Star, Frederick Douglass' Paper, and Douglass' Monthly, as well as hundreds of personal letters.) By morning, nothing remained of the lovely house on the hill but charred bricks, foundation stones, and ashes; the gardens and some of the trees of the orchard were badly scorched. The morning paper stated flatly, " The fire is attributed to an incendiary."

The telegram of June 3, 1872, to Douglass in Washington said that there had been a fire and the family was safe, but did not say where they

-274-

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