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Topical Budget 152-1: A Town Burnt Out (1914)


Main image of Topical Budget 152-1: A Town Burnt Out (1914)
35mm, black and white, silent, 59 feet
Production CompanyTopical Film Company

Inhabitants and refugees are cared for and fed after the town of Salem has been devastated by fire.

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This Topical Budget item depicts the aftermath of the Great Salem Fire of 25 June 1914, in which the Massachusetts town best known for the witch trials of 1692 was practically burned to the ground.

The fire had first been recorded at 1.37pm, when the fire alarm at the Korn leather factory alerted the fire brigade to a conflagration that was triggered by a series of explosions. It turned out that the materials needed to finish the patent leather were highly inflammable. One theory claimed that the fire had been started as a result of the sun's rays being magnified by panes of glass in the factory window, igniting bags of celluloid that had been stored there. The factory had not been fitted with an adequate sprinkler system, meaning that the fire spread rapidly.

1,376 buildings were destroyed, and though deaths were mercifully few, 20,000 people were left homeless out of a total population of only just over double that. Massachusetts governor David I. Walsh said "My heart fairly aches for the people of Salem to-night. I never saw a more distressing picture than this in all my life."

Topical's cameraman show the devastation (plumes of smoke are still rising from some of the wreckage) and a brief glimpse of the massive relief effort in which a homeless family are fed by volunteers. By July 22, when Topical's newsreel was screened, the Salem Relief Fund had amassed nearly $97,000 from local contributions, though considerably greater sums were pledged by the state and by Congress.

Michael Brooke

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Topical Budget 167-1: Great Forest Fire (1914)