Collinwood School Fire Video Footage

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The camera first peers into the smoldering building from the rear (west) entrance, where most of the children perished. In the basement can be seen the wreckage of the heating system and other debris. A man comes into view and can be seen walking around the debris. The camera then makes a second sweep over the disaster scene. Straight ahead, looking east, one can see a building across Collamer (East 152nd) Street through the front entrance. The next scene shows the view from the front door looking west to the rear door. Men can be seen standing in the smoky haze, peering into the wreckage. The iron beam that supported the front stairs is in the foreground. The fire started below this beam and it can be seen to be badly charred. 

The Collinwood School Fire film was shot as the fire smoldered by twenty-three-year-old William Hubern Bullock, a moving picture operator at the American Amusement Company (716 Superior Avenue, N.E., Cleveland), who had rushed to the scene of the fire on a streetcar with his motion picture equipment. A week later he was showing the film in the American Theatre until Cleveland Police Chief Fred Kohler, responding to public indignation, “invited” him to cease and desist. The film was discovered in the archives of the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound division of the Library of Congress in 2008. It is believed that recently discovered footage represents only a portion of what was originally filmed. William H. Bullock was born September 13, 1885, in Patterson, New Jersey, the son of Edith Ayers Bullock and Sam Bullock, both immigrants from England. He died June 23, 1949, at his home at 15610 Pythias Avenue, in the Collinwood neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio. He was married to Josephine Bullock (Ca. 1892 – 2 May 1974). They had no children. Bullock was involved in the motion picture business his entire life. He was a projectionist at the Palace Theatre in Cleveland at the time of his death. He was buried at Lake View Cemetery, Cleveland.

On March 4, 1908, 172 children, two teachers and one neighborhood resident were killed as they attempted to flee Lake View School after a fire started in a closet below the front stairs. Lake View School was located on Collamer Street (now east 152nd Street) in the village of Collinwood, Ohio, U.S.A. Collinwood was annexed to Cleveland in 1910 and is now a neighborhood in Cleveland. The present-day address of the site is 410 East 152nd Street. The Collinwood School Fire remains the worst school building fire in U.S. history. A century-old myth holds that the students at Collinwood died because they were trapped behind doors that opened inward. This was quickly proven to be false, but the myth gained traction and is repeated to this day. It was the narrowness of the exit stairs and inner vestibule doorway, combined with the panic of the children as they rushed to escape, that led to their entrapment. The cause of the fire was never determined with absolute certainty. The conclusion of the Coroner’s Inquest was that a steam pipe that was in direct contact with a wooden floor joist heated the joist to kindling temperature and caused it to ignite. A new school — named Memorial School — was built on the adjacent property in 1909-10, designed by Frank Barnum. Old Memorial School was demolished in 2004 and a new Memorial School, designed by Moody Nolan, was built in 2005. A Memorial Garden was constructed on the site of the fire in 1917, designed by Louise Klein Miller, Curator of School Gardens and Grounds for the Cleveland Public Schools. In 1993, a smaller garden, designed by Behnke Associates, replaced what little remained of the original 1917 garden.

The short film of the Cleveland Fire Department displaying its fire equipment was filmed in 1900 at Fire Department Headquarters (located on St. Clair Avenue on the current site of the Justice Center) by pioneering American cameraman G.W. “Billy” Bitzer (1872-1944). Best known as D. W. Griffith’s cameraman, Bitzer worked for the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company from its founding in the 1890s and later filmed Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, one of the most influential and controversial films in the history of American cinema. This film was also discovered in the archives of the Library of Congress. Text prepared by the History & Geography Department of the Cleveland Public Library (Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.A.).

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