By Joy Neighbors
Dateline: June 14, 1901
|West Baden Springs Hotel Before the Fire|
It was a quiet night in the West Baden Springs Hotel. The evening’s rain had stopped and the air was muggy. At 1 a.m. the hotel’s night watchman was making his hourly rounds when he smelled smoke. Pushing open the door to the first floor kitchen, he gasped. The room was ablaze with flames climbing up the walls. Realizing he could not contain the fire, the watchman ran back into the lobby and roused the night clerk. Both men ran through the halls shouting for guests to leave the building immediately – it was on fire! Some guests didn’t respond to their entreaty to leave the premise so the night clerk grabbed his revolver and fired a shot into the air. It was a last resort to notify guests that something was terribly amiss.
It took only 15 minutes to clear the 268 guests out of the hotel. Thanks, in part, to a new fire escape that had recently been attached to the east wing. But few guests escaped with their possessions, most had only the clothing on their backs.
It was later reported that the glow from the blaze could be seen as far as Louisville, Kentucky, more than 80 miles away.
|Remains of the Hotel|
|Newspaper Clipping of the Fire|
By the following week, Sinclair had made up his mind. He publicly announced that he would rebuild, and that this hotel would be not only fireproof, but one-of-a-kind, a marvel for all to see. The hotel would be constructed in a circular style and topped with the largest dome in the world. If the public wasn’t startled by that announcement, they were shocked when Sinclair declared that this edifice would be completed one year from the date of the fire – June 14, 1902.
|Lee Sinclair's Vision for West Baden Springs Hotel|