From The New York World

Tragedy Avoided in 1901 Fire on the Island

From The New York World
From The New York World
With the island opening for the season on Saturday I am ready to get out there for its 13th annual season. I am working like mad to finish my manuscript for the Governors Island Explorer’s Guide, which is being published by Globe Pequot Press. I have an incredible amount of leftover material that won’t make it in the book, so let’s look at some of it.

One thing people ask when I give a walking tour on Governors Island is about fires. There have been several. I think about this, because the island firehouse was demolished for development of The Hills on the south end. (The FDNY trucks were moved to another building. There are still plenty of first responders on the island).

This gem was in The World, 17 October 1901. If you are on the island this season, and visiting Castle Williams, remember that a disaster almost took place. If it wasn’t for the quick action of the soldiers stationed on the post, things could have turned out differently. As a reporter wrote:

Two rifle shots are the signal for fire on Governors Island. This is known to the soldiers stationed there, but is not known to the pilots and officers of harbor craft.

Consequently when the guards around Castle Williams, in which about 225 prisoners are confined, began shooting last night, each one firing two shots in quick succession, the rumor spread that there was an attempted escape among the prisoners.

The excitement was really caused by a small blaze in the basement, where a lot of furniture was stored. The fire, which was started by a cigarette dropped by a prisoner, was extinguished by the guards before the arrival of the fire apparatus on Governors Island, which was quickly manned by the soldiers from Fort Columbus.

The prisoners were not disturbed and few of them knew the cause of the trouble.

More history items will be posted this summer. Did you read about Captain Billy Webb, who escaped the prison by swimming to the battery?

Kevin C. Fitzpatrick has written and edited seven books with ties to New York history, including "The Governors Island Explorer's Guide" and "World War I New York: A Guide to the City’s Enduring Ties to the Great War." Kevin is a licensed sightseeing guide and has been leading walking tours since 1999. He resides in Manhattan.