Infirmary Fire:  1924

Richland Co., Ohio


Historical Records

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Infirmary Fire:  1924



Submitted by Carrol Ann, May 2002


The Infirmary Fire was recounted in the Mansfield News on Saturday, August 9th and Sunday August 10, 1924

Headlines on the  9th:  

Woman Burns County Infirmary
Three are Dead     
Enraged Inmate Sets Fire to Building and Then Ends Own Life

Headlines on 10th:

Infirmary Fire Victims' Bodies Yet in Embers
Many of Occupants are Being Cared For By Friends: Plans For New Building To Be Made.
Men and Women Watch Ruins of Their Former Home: Friends and Relatives Take Some of Homeless Into Their Homes "Loss to County Is Estimated at $75,000:Part of Burned Structure Had Been Condemned.

(The articles have been condensed  from original  manuscript)

Ellen Kunsie, aged 60, was a resident of the County Infirmary since the fall of 1923 and had come from Ontario, Ohio when it was reported she was living in a tumbled down house and had no one to care for her. She protested violently and had made threats to other residents that she would "get even" with the county.

On Friday, August 8, 1924, when the other residents were retiring, Mrs. Kunsie told the attendant she wished to stay up late and was given permission to do so. Later she was seen in a hallway by another resident but nothing was thought about it.

A few minutes later the fire was noticed and the residents were taken to safety. Almost single-handedly Supt. Wade F. Urich took 70 of the aged people to places of safety. (Even when the power failed). Many of the residents fought and struggled as they were afraid and refused to be removed from their beds.

The brick and stone walls made the home like a furnace and the wooden interior acted as a fuel. Within minutes the home was in ruins.

Supt. Urich suffered severe burns on his face and arms and suffered from smoke inhalation.  It is assumed Mrs. Kunsie waited until everyone was asleep to  set the horrible fire. Then she fled to the outdoors and fastened a rope around her throat. She used a nearby willow tree for the hanging. She took a knife and slashed her left wrist and then leaped into the air. Death probably came quickly.

It is amazing that all of the residents escaped but two. The two victims were Mrs. Mary Bollinger aged 90 in the 1920 census and Kate Grieshman aged 80 in the same census. 73 other residents escaped thanks to Mr. Urich's efforts.
Many were cared for by friends and relatives but some had neither. They were moved to makeshift dormitories in the "pest house" that had been fumigated. The laundry room was used as a kitchen and dining room. Loss was about $7500

The building had been built in 1879 and opened in 1880. The building had three floors but the State had condemned the third floor.

The first county infirmary was erected in 1864 and used until 1880, when it was destroyed by fire. Work began the next year on the home which was destroyed August 1924.

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