At least one fellow employee in the historic, downtown Denver building where I once worked, swears the place is haunted. And maybe it is.
I don’t know much about the history of the building itself, but I suppose it is possible that ghosts, from the terrible 1951 fire across the street at the Denver Athletic Club that killed four people and injured dozens, could have wandered over to our side of Glenarm Place.
What is haunting to me, however, is the photograph snapped by legendary Rocky Mountain News staffer Bill Peery showing two men, twelve or fifteen feet apart, at two, different, fourth-story windows, hoping for escape or rescue by the fire department.
“’Why the hell don’t they do something?’ One bystander asked,’” according to Dick Kreck in his 2000 book “Denver in Flames: Forging a New Mile High City.”
“Trying to find firm footing on six inches of ice in the alley behind the building, firefighters strained to raise a heavy, fifty-foot wooden ladder to the window while carefully avoiding telephone and high voltage electrical wires crisscrossing the alley like a spider web. ‘The suddenly,’ the Denver Post Reporter wrote, ‘the man’s hand relaxed. The hat dropped straight, brushed against the wires and tumbled to the alley. There was nothing but smoke at the window. ‘He’s gone,’ someone said.”
The Peery photograph, winner of a national Headliner award for spot news photography, shows Dr. Dan Monaghan and J. Charles Wild trying to escape smoke pouring out the windows of the DAC. Monaghan was rescued in time by the firefighters.
Wild, a fifty-five-year-old retired businessman living at the club at the time, perished along with three others in the $1.5 million fire.
“The DAC had planned a Valentine’s Dance on Saturday, February 17, 1951. There were 400 reservations made for dinner and dancing that night. Many Members/Owners had decorated the gymnasium (which is the ballroom today) with cardboard cupids and Valentines hearts. The excitement was building for what was to be a memorable event,” says the DAC’s web site www.denverathleticclub.org.
“About 3:00 p.m. that day, a flash of flames came from the speaker system. Something had gone wrong with the wiring and the flames leapt to the curtains and tablecloths. There were about 100 people in the Club at this time. The fire grew so quickly that four of them would not get out alive.”
Dozens of employees and residents were trapped in the smoke filled building that had recently been renovated. Nearly 600,000 gallons of water from 18 fire trucks was dumped on the building to douse the fire.
According to firefighter Stan “Smokey” Sorenson quoted by Kreck, “That Glenarm entrance looked like Niagara Falls.”
In the March 2 edition of the Rocky Mountain News, Denver safety manager Harold MacArthur explained the firefighters decision process in a public statement.
“Due to the direction of the fire and smoke, it was necessary to make evacuations from the alley side. Life nets could not be used as this alley carries electrical wire on alley fixtures. Some of these wires carry as much as 4,000 volts and clearance between DAC and the alley fixtures carrying these wires is about three feet. The order of evacuation was so made because it appeared the one initially evacuated (Dr. Monaghan) was in much more precarious situation. It was honestly felt that this individual might jump because the smoke and noxious fumes about his window were terrific.”
In addition to Wild, those killed in the fire were Ernest D. Bowman, 55; John McGinley King, 65; Jane “Jennie” Meade, 63.