Tales from the Morgue replay: Fire at the Congress Hotel

2014-01-22T00:00:00Z 2014-01-22T15:08:48Z Tales from the Morgue replay: Fire at the Congress HotelJohanna Eubank Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 22, 2014 12:00 am  • 

The recent Dillinger Days brings to mind the hotel fire that led to the capture of John Dillinger in Tucson.

The Congress Hotel fire happened Jan. 22, 1934. Extinguishing the fire required the total manpower of the Tucson Fire Department.

While the capture of the Dillinger gang was not reported in the Star until Jan. 26, 1924, there were many other interesting stories to come out of the fire in the Arizona Daily Star published on the morning of Jan. 24.

One tale involved a clerk who stayed at her post to warn hotel guests:

Mrs. Helga Nelson, day clerk at the Congress, had been on duty but a few minutes when the fire shot up from the basement. Glued to her telephone exchange box, Mrs. Nelson stuck to her post awakening guests and summoning them from their rooms. As she completed the calls on the second floor heat reached the telephone system and cut it out. Employes and police officers dashed up to the third floor, warning the guests there.

Dining room manager William P. Humason helped save some of the hotel's property before going after personal property:

After he had done all he could on the first floor, he went up to his room on the third floor, secured his violin from a closet in the room and took it down to the first floor. ... He explained that he had time to save none of his property but his violin.

Mr. and Mrs. Harry Smith were awakened by the arrival of fire engines and someone screaming. They made their way to safety down a ladder with most of their belongings.

One guest was, at first, unwilling to leave:

As the last of the guests were leaving Jesus Camacho of the police was sent to the third floor to remove one guest who had not left his room. The guest, very drunk, was still in bed. "Get out," Comacho ordered, "the place is burning up."

"Let the blankety-blank burn," responded the drunk, "I've got my room paid for for a week." But he left anyhow.

One Cinderella lost her slipper:

In the main entrance lay a white slipper, lost by some woman guest beating her retreat. Lone, lost and pathetic, the slipper lay in an ever growing stream of dirty water, as firemen rushed in and out of the doomed building.

Losses were estimated at $100,000, a hefty sum during the Depression. Fortunately, all guests were safely evacuated.

The news of the record-breaking fire soon paled in comparison to the news that a major criminal and his gang were captured.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

About this blog

"Tales from the Morgue" is a way for the Star to share stories from the treasure trove of information held in its old files.

Johanna Eubank, aka the Morgue Lady, was a research assistant in the Star Library — also known as News and Research Services — for 18 years before becoming an online content producer. She has had her share of sneezing fits after digging into dusty old files, so she's sure to find a few old stories to re-examine.

If you have suggestions, comments or questions about this blog, e-mail jeubank@tucson.com

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