Occurred December 5, 1876
Location: Corner of Battle Avenue,
Bay View Avenue and Bay Side Avenue
Saved in Time Estimate: $12,500
For cleaning and conservation of existing granite monument (details below).
Saved in Time Estimate: $100,000
For re-creating a permanent enclosure of the plot (details below).
This monument marks the common grave of 103, out of the 278 persons who perished in Brooklyn’s most disastrous fire. The popular Brooklyn Theatre was located at the corner of Johnson and Washington Streets in downtown Brooklyn. On the night of December 5, 1876, as the play “The Two Orphans” was ending, a fire broke out in the sets causing panic among the audience of one thousand patrons. Within half an hour the structure collapsed, and it was not until the next day that firemen were able to dig through the debris and discover the total number of victims who had been trapped and killed. Actress Kate Claxton, performing that night, survived the tragedy. She was buried in Green-Wood in 1924.
Within days, a mass burial of 103 of the victims was arranged with Green-Wood for those whose bodies could not be identified, had not been claimed, or whose family could not afford burial. The coffins buried in the plot are arranged in a radiating double circle around the base of the monument. Originally, a fence consisting of stone posts and a metal railing encompassed the plot, but no physical evidence of it exists above ground today.
The memorial was erected by The City of Brooklyn. The monument is in the form of an obelisk on pedestal constructed entirely of dark gray, tooled granite that is in whole and sound condition. The pedestal consists of a plinth, sub-base, base, die and capital, supporting an obelisk. The total height is approximately 30 feet. The principal components of the monument are decorated with stenciled bands of polished stylized leaves and vines from which the background has been tooled back creating the handsome contrasting shades of the differently finished granite.
Each side of the die has been formed as a plaque with a polished surface. The inscriptions conveying the tragic story of the disaster are carved in block letters with polished faces standing out from tooled back panels.
The granite monument is soiled and streaked, requiring mild detergent and water rinse cleaning that will preserve the polished surfaces of the stone. Existing dressed lead jointing appears to be in good condition.
The Brooklyn Theatre Fire Memorial is a significant “public” monument, commemorating an historic event that took many lives and affected the lives of a far greater number of citizens. The tragedy resulted in more stringent design and occupancy requirements of structures for public assembly, more rigorous fire regulations, and municipal policy.
The missing fence surrounded the actual placement plan of the 103 interments, provided a visual symbol of protection and repose within Green-Wood for those who perished. The monument stands alone on its grassy hillock near the Main Entrance to the Cemetery. Consideration will be given to reconstructing the fence and landscaping the site, replicating the original enclosure based on existing photographic documentation. A fence would restore an appropriate setting for the Brooklyn Theatre Fire Memorial.