Greene County, Arkansas


Paragould, Arkansas Wednesday Jan 15, 1913

A disastrous fire, costing at least 2 lives and entailing a property loss of $20,000, occurred at 12 o'clock last night in the building occupied by J.L. Martin's Resturant, Ed Baugh's Barber Shop and J. H. riley's Notion Store. Two charred bodies bodies have been taken from the debris and it is thought the bodies of two other occupants of the rooms above the restaurant are in the ruins. One body, identified as that of Dick Lawson, was dug out of the debris about 3 o'clock this morning. Another charred form, lacking all marks of identification was found about 7 o'clock. Workmen have been employed all day removing the ruins to ascertain if there are other bodies buried beneath them.


The fire was caused by the overfilling of the gasoline tank of the big coffee urn that stood on a counter in the rear of the resturant, Jesse Lynch, nephew of J.L. Martin, proprietor of the Corner Resturant, was on night duty and about midnight he attempted to refill the gasoline tank without turning off the flames beneath the coffee urn. Fireman O.B. Swaney was assisting Lynch in refilling the tank. After Lynch had poured a quantity of gasoline into the receptable Swaney tapped the tank with his fingers and said it was not yet full. Lynch poured in more gasoline and ran the tank over. The explosive ran down the side of the coffee urn and was ignited by the blaze from the burner. Instantly the flames shot up, reaching the electric light drop that was covered with tissue paper. From the paper on the ceiling and walls caughter and within a few minutes the entire downstairs was on fire. Lynch, Swaney and Guy Stull, the seventeen year old lad who does the cooking at night, ran from the building. Engineer J.B. Gruber, who was in the resturant, ran upstairs to arouse occupants of the rooms. He knocked several doors, yelling to the sleepers to get out of the burning building. He went into Dick Lawson's room and tried to get him out of bed. Dick had been ill for several days and was in weakened condition. He refused to move. Gruber told Lawson to put his arms about his neck and he would try to get him out, but it is said Lawson turned over on his face and told Gruber to leave him alone. By this time the smoke had completely filled the rooms on the second floor, and the flames were eating their way into these apartments. Gruber had to leave Lawson and seek saftey.


Confusion reigned among the eight occupants of the rooms. The light wires had been burned out and darkness added to the horrors of the smoke and approaching flames, made the situation desperate for the men. Their only hope for escape was to leap from the windows. This, four of them did, and saved their lives. It is believed the other four occupants of the rooms perished.


Those who are known to have escaped from the building are Conductor Cross, Brakeman James G. Turner, W.A. McArthur and Frank Nuttman, the latter employed by Mr. Martin to lok after the rooms. Brakeman Turner leaped from the front window and sustained a severely sprained ankle. Sam Quigley was severely injured in attempting to rescue Frank Nuttman. A ladder had been placed up to a rear window and Quigley had ascended and broken out the window. Nuttman was excitedly trying to get out of the window onto the ladder when Quigley grabbed him one of his legs and pulled him out. The ladder was a frail affair and Nuttman was pulled out the ladder careened and fell. Officer Schmicker and others caught Nuttman. Quigley fell to the ground, breaking several ribs and sustaining painful bruises.


Brakeman Turner, in his room at the Stancill hotel this morning, said he could not give an intelligent account of the tragic scenes enacted upstairs. " I came in on No. 3 last night from Illmo to get my paycheck. I had been up two nights ans was wore out. I went upstairs to room No. 9 about 10:30, and was sound asleep within a few minutes. I knew nothing until I was aroused by a loud rapping on my door and shouts of fire. My room was full of smoke and I could hardly breathe. My bed was near a window and hurriedly decided this was my only chance for escape.In the hallway and in the other rooms I could hear cries for help and voices asking for a way out. I slipped on my left shoe and while seated on the bed, kicked out the window. As I did someone came rushing through my room and went out the window. Whether he jumped or went down the awning I do not know. I grabbed up an armful of my clothes and sprang out of the window to the pavement below. I sustained a sprained ankle and am otherwise badly shaken up. My lungs are sore from inhaling the smoke, but otherwise I do not seem to havat e suffered much. I have been in two fires, but this was my closest call. I confess I was much excited - so much so that I hardly know what waas going on around me, except that allof us who were on that floor were in great peril and from the cries and shouts I knew there were some who could not find their way out of the building or to a window." Mr. Martin, the proprietor at the resturant, says he is quite sure there were eight men occupying beds upstairs. The register is of course destroyed and Mr. Martin has to rely on his memory for the names. He says Conductor Cross, Brakeman Turner, Dick Lawson, W.A. McArthur, Frank Nuttman, a man named Gilbert and two others occupied beds. Of this number, Cross, Turner, McArthur, and Nuttman are known to be alive. Dick Lawson is known to be dead. Gilbert has not showed up and it is believed he perished. It is possible the unidentified body at the undertsking establishment is that of Gilbert, but more recent developements indicate that it is the body of Walter Robinson, son of Mr and Mrs W.F. Robinson of Beech Grove. Mr and Mrs Robinson and their son came to town yesturday afternoon. They ate supper at Allen's Resturant. After supper Walter asked his father if he intended getting a bed with Allen. Mr Robinson stated he did not as he and his wife were going to spend the night with the family of J.P. Westbrook, residing near Bertig's Gin on North Pruett Street. Young Robinson remarked that he would get a bed from Allen and spend the night there. This morning when he failed to show up his father began making inquiries. It developed that he did not get a bed at Allen's, but went to Martin's Resturant and obtained lodging. Mr Martin says he remembers seeing the name Robinson on the register and thinks the initials were W.W. This is the way young Robinson often signed his name. The father and mother of the young man spent all the forenoon making investigations and picking up bits of evidence and both have arrived at the conclusion that the unidentified body at Trice Brothers (Funeral Home) is that of their boy. The height corresponds with that of Walter Robinson, and the fact that he spent the night at the Martin Resturant convinces the parents that he perished in the flames. Mr Robinson said he would wait until all the debris is removed and if no other bodies are recovered he will claim the one at the undertaking parlor as that of his son and will take it home for burial.

The young man naed Gilbert, who is missing, is a brother of Fireman Gilbert. Mr Martin says Gilbert came to the resturant yesturday's evening and ask if his brother, the fireman, was running out of Paragould, when informed that he was Gilbert and said that he would stay over here and see him when he came in from his run. Last night before retiring he told Martin if his brother came in to notify him that he was upstairs in bed. This morning Fireman Gilbert and his friends have diligent inquiry about his brother and have failed to locate him. With Robinson and Gilbert both missing it seems almost certain that three men perished in the flames, and if Mr Martin is correct in stating that eight men occupied rooms there is yet one other party to be accounted for.

W.F. Robinson, father of young Walter Robinson, who is believed to have been a victim of the fire, says his son was 24 years of age, was married and leaves two small children. His wife is a daughter of Lee Breckenridge, residing near Beech Grove. Young Robinson had just bought a plot of ground in Beech Grove and was making preparations to build a small house and open up a barber shop. He came to Paragould yesterday to buy some furniture for his home.

Dick Lawson, whose body has been identified, has been a resident of Paragould for many years. At one time, he served as city marshal and on several occasions had been on the police force. During recent years he had led a desultory sort of life and was not employed at any particular occupation. More than a year ago his health broke down and recently his family and friends realized that he could not last long. He was in the last stages of Bright's disease and was being treated by Dr. J. G. McKensie. For nearly a week he had occupied one of the rooms over Martin's Restaurant, being confined to his bed during this time. Yesterday Dr. McKenzie tried to persuade him to move to the home of his nephew, Mack Woodard, but Mr Lawson insisted he was too weak to be moved asked that he be permitted to remain where he was until today when probably he would feel better. Dick was about 46 years of age and was unmarried. He is survived by one brother, ex-sheriff, J. E. Lawson, and his mother, who resides in Blackford, Kentucky, four sisters - Mrs Ellen Young, residing near this city, Mrs Herron of Paragould, and two others residing in Blackford, Kentucky. J. E. Lawson is out of the city, having gone to Little Rock several days ago. He was located at Wynne this morning and will reach here this afternoon on a freight. His mother and sisters in Kentucky will reach here tomorrow. Mrs Herron is visiting in Kentucky and she is looked for tomorrow also. The remains will be interred tomorrow.

In loss of property, the fire last night was the largest since the destruction of Bertig Brothers Department Store on May 10, 1910. Careful estimates place toal loss $20,000 with insurance amounting to $10,000.

Transcribed by: Sandy Hardin


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