Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

A New U.S. War Fed Rumors of 1917 Easter Day Fire's Origin

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

A New U.S. War Fed Rumors of 1917 Easter Day Fire's Origin

Article excerpt

Fire raged on the city waterfront on an Easter Sunday two days into the Great War, spectacular flames and billowing smoke thrusting over a fear-stricken city.

Easter promenande turned to near riot. Women in finery fled for their lives. Men shed splendid suits to battle the blaze.

High wind fanned roaring fire from the Clyde terminals, periling the waterfront east to Commodores Point. People poured to the scene as thick smoke from pier and cargo cloaked the shore. Others in the distance packed belongings to flee, fearing the worst.

It was 2:30 the Sunday afternoon of April 8, 1917, barely 48 hours after President Wilson signed the congressional declaration of war against Germany.

Passions were high from the advent of war even without panic and flame. Juices were flowing in any event; fire stoked further prejudice a long-time dying.

Firemen, police, civilians and Boy Scouts battled the conflagration from middle afternoon well into the night, first checking, then dousing, then extinguishing the dying sparks as the city sighed in exhausted relief.

Rumors of sabotage, anarchy and infernal devices spread as fast as flame with as great intensity and left searing embers of doubt, myth lasting longer than years of debunking.

The fire was checked at a late hour. Little danger was apparent beyond the Clyde Steamship Line's Pier 1, save to a drained and exhausted citizenry, its Easter finery drenched and ripped and smoked in the scorching strife, its state of mind perhaps touched for a generation.

Destroyed with the handsome pier were the steamship line's passenger offices and waiting rooms, three wooden lighters with cargoes of crossties and a large quantity of lumber waiting shipment north.

The pier was at the eastern end of the terminal, on the St. Johns River between Newnan and Washington streets. It was 400 feet long, 125 wide, almost new and guarded by a war-bolstered crew of watchmen.

"The firemen said they never saw a fire gain such intensity so rapidly," The Florida Times-Union said.

"The wind continued to rise until it sent sheets of fire across the railroad tracks to the rear of buildings fronting Bay Street . …

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