On This Day in History: The Paris Opera House catches fire and kills 200 people.
On May 25, 1887, a fire erupted in the wings of the renowned Opéra-Comique in Paris. During the first act of "Mignon", a gas jet caught fire and quickly engulfed the stage before spreading to the rest of the opera house. The actors escaped in their costumes, and the majority of the audience made it out unscathed. But the night was not without tragedy. It's estimated that 200 people lost their lives that night, and several bodies remain unaccounted for to this day (as far as I can tell, anyway). As you can imagine, the entire scene was chaos. I managed to find an old copy of the New York Times that reported on the story, and they describe the event better than I ever could. According to the report: "An artificial fire apparatus, which had been placed in position in readiness for burning of the palace in the second act, rolled down from its place near the roof and exploded below. Women, half-clad and carrying their costumes, fled from the stage screaming. Supers and members of the chorus were terrified. Some of the latter fled with nothing on but tights. The flames spread with such rapidity that in 15 minutes the stage was a vast furnace. Several actors escaped by climbing to the roof on the side of the Rue Marivanta, where they were rescued by fire escapes." "The audience was delayed a few minutes by dense smoke and insufficient light...there was not a frantic rush in the theater, but it is believed that the staircase became blocked....if they had made a rush for the doors the loss of life would have been terrible." "The scene outside was one of the wildest excitement. Falling embers struck horses in the surrounding streets, causing them to plunge and rear. Flames shot out of every window, forcing the crowd into the narrow streets, where the brush was terrific." (Rare Newspapers) The irony of the whole situation is that this wasn't the first time the Opéra-Comique had caught fire. Originally known as the Salle Favart, the building was constructed in 1781-1783 to house the Comédie Italienne, but it was later renamed Théâtre Royal Italien (or Théâtre Italien for short). It burned down in 1838, but was immediately rebuilt and opened again in 1840 as the Opéra-Comique. After this second fire (which completely destroyed the building), the building was redone for the third time and opened in 1898. Thankfully, this Opéra-Comique is still standing today. I'm sure there is more to this story, but it was hard to find information about it. However, I do encourage you to read the newspaper clippings for yourself to get the full experience. There's something special about reading events as they happen, especially historical events, and this is no exception. The link is above! If you want to know more about the deadly fire of 1887, check out Wikipedia, The Oxford Illustrated History of Opera, and The Hector Berlioz Website. The photo came from Wikipedia.