On the evening of December 5, 1876 a fire broke out in the popular Brooklyn Theatre of Downtown Brooklyn (located at today’s Cadman Plaza, north of the New York Supreme Court Building in a tree-covered area). The fire began backstage and spread rapidly. Within half an hour the structure collapsed. At least 278 individuals lost their lives that night. 103 unidentified victims were buried in a common grave at Green-Wood. The print above appeared in the December 30, 1876 issue of Harper’s Weekly –the caption reads: “The Brooklyn Calamity – Burial of Unclaimed Dead in Greenwood Cemetery.” A thirty-foot granite obelisk erected by the City of Brooklyn marks the burial site, near the cemetery’s main entrance at 25th Street and Fifth Avenue.
The tragic incident spurred revisions to the New York City and Brooklyn fire codes in the 1880s. New regulations were placed on stage props and scenery as well as the size and number of theatre exits. Click the image to expand.