Hartford Courant - Danbury Firebug or Incendiary Articles

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Fourteen articles from The Hartford Courant regarding suspicious fires in Danbury CT.


1890 - 1891



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INCENDIARY FIRE AT DANBURY: A Building Set on Fire in Fifteen Places -- Nine Occupants
The Hartford Courant (1887-1922); Jul 18, 1888;
ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Hartford Courant (1764-1922)
pg. 1

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April 17, 1893
Danbury Fire-Bug Caught

Arrest of Daniel McCready as the incendiary
Danbury, April 16

Daniel McCready, aged 40, and having a police record, was arrested late Saturday afternoon on complaint and evidence made against him to Prosecuting Attorney Booth by Deputy Sheriff Frank O. Scollins. The charge against McCready is setting fire to the Elm street block over a week ago, and in general as being Danbury's notorious fire-bug.

On the night of the Elm street fire, McCready was arrested on suspicion but there being no evidence he was discharged. The following day Deputy Sheriff Scollins, who also does an insurance business, set to work quietly to investigate. The result ws put before the prosecuting attorney Satuday and a warrant for the arrest of McCready for incendiarism is the result.

Scollins does not believe that McCready ws the person who tried to fire the Stebbins barn the past week as that evidently ws the blundering work of some novice, but the evidence against McCready as the incendiary who set fire to the Taylor building on Elm street is pretty strong.

The arrest has caused a sensation here, and there is much rejoicing over it. no one is allowed to see McCready in his cell except in the presence of a policeman. The accused has the reputation of being a barn burner and has been arrested no less than four times on that charge but was never convicted. he has served a term in Wethersfield and the Bridgeport jail

April 12, 1893
The Danbury Fire-bug

He Sets Fire to the Stebinns Barn Again and is seen
(Special to the Courant)
Danbury, April 11

The Danbury police got a slight clew to the fire-bug tonight, but it is very faint. At 9:30 o'clock tonight a servant girl in Mrs. August Stebbins's house on Main street saw smoke arising from the side of the barn, forty feet in the rear of the house. The fire was up out with several buckets of water and then it was discovered tat another fire was burning inside the barn. Hose Company no. 1 succeeded in putting this fire out also.

The police and firemen began an investigation. the first fire was found to have been started from a kerosene soaked towel, which was but half consumed. The police took this article and hope it will lead to something. The fire inside the barn was caused by a burning lap-robe. This was set afire in the window and dropped in a lighted match.

One of the women in the Stebbins house gave the police a faint description of a man who they think is guilty. She was sitting at a window fifteen minutes before the fire was discovered and saw a short man, wearing a dark overcoat and a "crushed" hat, running across the yard from the barn to the street. She thought the man was an Italian. This story and the towel constitute the clew.

The Stebbins barn is the same one that was set on fire last week, as reported at the time in the Courant.

April 6, 1893
Trying to Burn Danbury
Great Excitement Over Work of an Incendiary.
(Special to the Courant)
Danbury, April 4.

This city is excited again over an incendiary scare and the scenes of two years ago are repeated. The patrol duty of the police force has been doubled and extra watchmen have been placed all about the factories. The series of fires began last Wednesday, when the barn of John McCarty, the coal merchant, was set on fire.

An attempt was made Saturday night to burn one of the buildings on D.G. Penfield's property on Rose street. This was frustrated by an early discovery of the flames. On Sunday night the ftrebugs succeeded in burning the large barn in the rear of the Comstock property on Main street. Last night at 8 o'clock fire was discovered in the barn in the rear of Mrs. Augusta Stebbins's residence on Main street. The servants gave the alarm an the flames were put out, with the aid of the firemen. Excitement over the situation is intense and every effort is being made to detect the guilty ones.

Dec 22, 1890

The Fire Bug Fiend

Valuable Danbury Property Goes Up in Smoke

Great Excitement in the Hat City

Over $50,000 worth of Property Burned

Talk of Holding a Public Meeting - the incendiary leaves traces of his work in the shape of oily waste and rags.

(Special to the Courant)

Danbury, Dec 21

The worst fire or rather series of fires that Danbury has experienced in years were those of last night and this morning, when the lumber yard of Osborn Brothers on White Street, the box shop of Green and Beebe , the residence of George Barnam, and half of the machine and iron works of Reed & Co. on Maple avenue were destroyed. The origin of the fires is the alarming thing about it and Danbury is now thoroughly aroused and greatly excited over the whole affair. All the fires have the uncharacteristic Danbury incendiarism mark to them.

The first alarm was sent in shortly after 10 o'clock Saturday night, when flames were discovered in Osborne Brothers' lumber yard on White Street. This is near the New England road station, next to Main Street, and much used as thoroughfare. Five minutes after the fire alarm was sent in an before the entire department responded the fire had spread with such rapidity that the flames from an Acre of Burning Timber illuminated the surrounding country and the intense heat from it could be felt 200 feet away. There were four freight cars of the Housatonic road close to the yard and partly loaded with lumber. The flames blew directly towards them and in ten minutes they, too, were a mass of flames and beyond saving. About fifty feet east of the wall of fire stands the new Housatonic freight depot. It was smoking from the heat and in a few minutes the side facing the fire was a blaze.

By this time the different companies had surrounded the fire and several powerful streams of water were directed upon the freight depot. It was finally saved, although the west side is badly charred. All the freight was removed. The firemen succeeded in keeping the flames from spreading, and all night and all day today streams of water were being poured on the burning ruins.

A merchant who saw the first spark of the fire says that it was on top of a lumber pile close to the freight cars. The flames, he explains, ran along the top of the lumber with the rapidity of water going down a steep decline, evidently fed from oil. That it was oil is further proven by the fact that the very walks were aflame, showing where oil had dropped. Osborne Brothers estimate their loss at $26,000 of which they carry an insurance of $23,000.

A Second Fire.

About 1:30 o'clock, Patrolman Bradley discovered a fire in the rear of the Reed & Co's machine shops on Maple Ave, about two blocks from fire number one. The fire department's force was directed against Osborne Brothers' and before a detachment was sent to fire number two it had gained considerable headway. A member of the fire police reached the place almost immediately and found a lot of oily railroad waste saturated with oil. this was between the foundry and Green and Beebe's box shop. Before the first water was turned on flames shot through the box shop. The foundry was enveloped and the flames were eating their way into the machine shop. the circle of barns in the rear of the shop next took fire. The seven horses stabled there were saved. In the nick of time, for the barns and their contents were destroyed. A dwelling house stood south of the box shop and this, too, caught fire. It was occupied by two families, Edward Burr, baker, down stairs, and Eilliam Parker, junk dealer, up stairs. They holy had time to dress and make their escape. The firemen gained control of the fire at this point and confined i to this area. Maple avenue is filled with small wooden residences and several of the residents moved their household goods on the street preparing to move away. The burned out families were taken care of by neighbors. The loss to Green and Beebe is between $14,000 and $15,000, insured for $10,000. Reed and Co.'s loss is $8,000, covered by insurance. The loss on dwelling house and household effects is $5000 no insurance.

What to do

The Danbury New, in an extra, editorially, says:

"What to do? We are not an alarmist and we don't intend to unduly agitate anybody, but we must say that this fire epidemic is an almighty serous business and Danbury should awake at once to it. for a year or more there have been a number of very serious fires in Danbury. Factories, stores,, and dwellings have gone down; all of them have not been incendiary, but it is evident that most of them have been. And now the question arises, how long can the people of Danbury stand this? The fire on White Street was certainly incendiary. Who knows the cause? Nobody. But somebody should know. It is a very serious loss the Osborne Brothers. And it is a very serious blow to Danbury. We again ask how long is it to continue? It is no funny business,. Every property holder is interested in finding the scoundrel who is the agent of this hellish work. Can we find him or must we give him up and hold our hands and confess this is no use in trying to unearth him? Something should be done not tomorrow but today. The firing of Osborn Brothers lumber yard was an extraordinary act. It was done on a Saturday evening , on a moonlit night and while the adjacent streets were filled with people. The question arises was it the act of insane person? Perhaps i twas. Now, who is the lunatic? Let us find out right way whatever may e the cost. We ask Mayor Hopkins to call a public meeting and to call it right way and let the public air its views and let us see what is know n and what is believed."

The police have arrested one Fritz Beal on suspicion. Beal is known as an anarchist of pronounced opinions and it is said that combustibles were found in his rooms.

Aug 29, 1889

A Lost Ring

Also a Scare About the Danbury Fire Bug
(Danbury News)

It was between half-past ten and eleven o'clock, last evening, when Officer Bradley was making the round of his beat on Town Hill avenue. he was accompanied by Horatio Brown and the met two young ladies, one of whom was crying over the loss of a ring.

"Where did you drop it?" Both asked in unison.

The young lady indicated the spot with her index finger. Of course, they couldn't see the index finger, it being dark , but eagerness goes a great way.

Match after match was lit, but no ring was found. All their stock of lucifers was exhaused, and as a last resort, Officer Bradley asked the your lady to go and borrow a lamp at the nearest house. She rang the door bell and a woman appeared. The young lady asked to borrow a lamp. A male voice from within gave out the order that no lamp would leave the house.

"But a police officer sent me for it." said the girl.

As soon as the word plice was mentioned the man juped up and got his double-barreled gun. He thought there must be a fire bug clase at hand. He appeared at the front door with a gun in one hand and a lamp in the other. he wa assured by officer Bradley that everything was all right.

Buy this time others in the neighborhood were aroused by the voices.

"Where is the fire bug, officer?" asked a voice from a window.

"Fire bug be hanged. We're looking for a ring," was the reply.

By the aid of the lamp the ring was found almost covered in burned matches.

The young lady received it with much pleasure, and was profuse with her thanks. The lamp awas returned to its owner , and the heads in the windows were withdrawn.

The incident illustrates one thing clearly, the subject is uppermost in everybody's mind.

Aug 12, 1889

The Fruitless Efforts to Find the Man Who Starts Them - What Newspapers Say.

The three fires in Danbury on Thursday night have renewed the excitement over the fire bug. The Danbury News reports that several fire insurance companies have withdrawn from business there and that others will soon follow unless the person who sets the fires is arrested. It adds: "A petition is now being circulated among the business men of the city, and signed by almost every firm, asking that the city make some arrangements with the Danbury & Bethel Light Company to have the electric lights burn till daylight. With one exception every fire that has occurred in Danbury lately, was after lights were put out. the Petition ends by saying that they believe that some protection may be offered in the matter of the incendiary fires by the lights being allowed to burn till daylight. The petition will be presented to the council board Tuesday night."

The New York Commercial Bulletin in an article on the July Fire loss speaks particularly of Danbury. It says: "One of the unpleasant features of the record of the past month is the frequent occurrence of incendiary fires in Danbury. The three recent fires in Danbury made a total for the past thirty days of no less than twenty fires in that city. It is suspected in well informed fire insurance circles that the incendiaries are connected with the volunteer fire department, as was the case in Plainfield, N.J., where underwriters and property owners lost over $100,000 through incendiary fires in two years. Some of Danbury's most influential citizens, including councilmen, want to do way with the volunteer fire department and organize a paid department. It is said that if the fire insurance companies would take the amatter up the improvement could be accomplished without delay."

The Danbury News which quotes the article remarks: "It does not stand to reason that any member of the Danbury fire department is responsible for all the incendiary attempts, unless there is some demented individual in that department. Several of the attempts were made in broad daylight in public places, and no sane man would have done this - especially if he was expecting to reap a public benefit from the act. We believe all the fires to be the work of an individual. Of course, there is an object in the doing that is aside from plunder. This leads us to believe that the fries are the work of a 'crank.'"

July 27, 1889

Hunting the Fire Bug.

How There Was a Big Excitement in Danbury
(Danbury News)

Tuesday morning a farmer from Lake Mahopac, and a member of the great unwashed, arrived in town. The play-cards about the state offering a reward of one thousand dollars for the capture of the Danbury fire-bugs, was the magnet that drow him here. He called upon Chief Meyers of the fire department, and when he got him beyond earshot and alone he confided to him, in a gush of confidence, that he was a New York detective, and that he was in Danbury for the purpose of aiding in capturing the fire fiend. He excused his appearance , and stated that it was a matter of necessity. His story was to the effect that at the hour of midnight there would be a big fire in the vicinity of White street, and that he was going to be a party to the affair. The scheme was that he would lead the police to the spot and when the building was fired they were to rush in and make the arrest. The New England freight house was the building that was to be sacrificed.

Chief Meyers communicated these facts to the police. It upset the usual quiet of that office, and preparations for the big capture were made. Captain Keating brushed up his revolver and donned his worst looking clothes. Officer Foley was let into the scheme and made to put on rough looking habillents. Everybody spoke in whispers and walked on his toes about the police headquarters, and the general air of mystery was very oppressive.

At the appointed hour officers Keating and Foley merged from the station with a mysterious air that spoke volumes. Both were heavily armed. Chief Meyers met them as agreed and pointed out the New York Detective. Officer Foley watched the suspect from the east walk and Captain Keating from the west side of the street. Officer Foley was anxious to get a look at the famous detective's face and so got ahead of him at White street. he succeeded in studying his profile for a second and was saying to himself, "Who would take that thing for a detective" when the man suddenly stopped in front of James Moore, a member of fire company No. 1 and said:
"You did it!"
"Did what" was the startled reply,
"I saw you when you did it."
Mr. Moore's look was now one of pity, as he said: -
"What are you driving at?"
"I saw you set the house afire," triumphantly cried the detective.
"You're off your nut," was the only reply that Moore made and he turned on his heel and left.

When Chief Meyers found out what kind of detective he took so much stock in the inclination to swear was great, and it is not asserted here that he conquered his desire.

Captain Keating followed him up for the purpose of an interview. The self-appointed , however, did the interviewing.

"Is that you, Mike?" asked the man of shabby appearance.

The captain replied in the affirmative, and asked the question how he came to know him.

"We detectives know each other, at a glance, as it were," responded the fire-bug detective. "But," said he, "all is safe, I have laid my plans carefully, and the fire fiend will be behind iron bars in an hour. I am to be arrested with them."

A moment later he told the captain that he was going in a certain doorway for a sleep, as he was going out of town about 3 o'clock and wanted some rest.

The fellow was subsequently locked up as insane.

July 24, 1889
The Danbury Fire Bug
A Remarkable Story - What the Gaylord Family has seen and heard, The Danbury News of Monday says: -

It is probable that the most thoroughly frightened family in Danbury in that of Daniel Gaylord, a laborer, living at 13 Turner Street, one of the long tenement houses on the north side of the street. A few nights ago, Mrs. Gaylord noticed a peculiar noise at the rear of the house, and started to make an investigation. A pane of glass is missing from a rear window, and in the hole had been stuck an old wrapper. Going to the widow she saw a man standing beside the house pouring something on that portion of the garment which projected out of the window. As she approached the window he evidently caught sight of her, for he instantly fled She could not obtain a good view of him and is unable to give much of a description further than that he wore a straw hat. The matter was reported to the police rather tardily, but an investigation was made as thoroughly as could be under the circumstances. Officer Sullivan called at the house Friday. Saturday morning Miss Gaylord responded to a knock at the front door, and was confronted by a stranger. With an oath, he asked her why she had squealed to the police. "Damn it woman," he said, "Keep your mouth shut. Don't you know there is money in this fire business. If you say another word to the police, I will burn this house down over your head." With several oaths he left as abruptly as he had entered.

Miss Gayloard's little girl recognized the man on the street Saturday and a description was given the police. But little was thought of the matter until yesterday afternoon. The Gaylord family was absent from home, with the exception of two boys, one with an injured hand. They were asleep when a little girl, who was passing the house aroused them and told them that there was smoke at the rear of the house. They ran out and found a little hole knocked in the outside wall of the building, over the place where the fire had been started. Officer Foley after considerable of a search found the man who was supected of calling at the house. He was taken to Turner Street, where Mrs. Gaylord and daughter promptly identified him. He was taken to the station house where he proved he had no connection with the affair and was discharged.


July 16, 1889
Danbury's Fire Bug

He Was At Work Again Last Night

Two fires discovered early in the evening both started with waste soaked in in oil
(Special to the Courant)

Danbury, July 15.

The fire bug was about again this evening and started two fires, each of which was discovered and put out before it had made much progress. The first was at 6 o'clock in the shed of the Danbury & Norwalk Railroad. The department was called out, but the blase was extinguished. Waste soaked in oil was found under the boards. At 7 o'clock firemen returning from this fire discovered another in the New England freight depot. More waste soaked in oil had been used, and it was placed under the beams of the first floor just below two kerosene barrels. This also was easily extinguished, simply because it was discovered early. There is still no clue whatever to the identity of the person who has already burned so many buildings. One person has been arrested and discharged, and another on whom suspicion rested has left town. The fires set tonight were noticeable from the fact that they were started while it was still broad daylight and when any one coming and going about the buildings was liable to notice.


Jul 8, 1889
Danbury's Fire Bug

Big incendiary Fire Saturday Morning and Four More the Following Night

Another destructive incendiary fire occured at Danbury early on Saturday morning. It destroyed three buildings and caused a loss of $65,000. An attempt to fir another plase was discovered in time to frustrate. The incendiary was seen at work but escaped.

The Danbury News says:

Nearly all that portion of Canal Street which escaped destruction in the great conflagration of last summer was swept away at an early hour this morning. A daring fire bug nearly completed the work of clearing out the industries of that thoroughfare by a well-laid plan and escaped undiscovered. As bold and dastardly an set of incendiaries as was ever committed in Danbury was plainly the cause of the fire. By it thousands of dollars worth of property was converted into ashes and human lives imperiled. Two buildings, several hundred yards apart but on the same street and each in a secluded spot offered a tempting inducement to the fiend whose work resulted so disastrously.

These buldings were Meeker's Grain Elevator and the large hat case factory of Theodore Clark & Co. An ice-house near the elevator was also burned. The fires were set at nearly the same time and both must have been started before the first alarm was given.

There was a third attempt, as to which the Danbury News says:
Captain Keating discovered several startling facts this morning, and among them one which shows a third attempt at incendiarism. A party of four while passing through Canal Street about the time of the breaking out of the fire, saw a man pouring something upon the old wooden building adjoining the brick machine factory, now unoccupied. He held something in his hand covered with what appeared to be a newspaper. As the party told the story the captain carefully noted the [f]rets, and going to the spot indicated found the side of the building thououghly saturated with what appeared to be ans smelled like kerosene oil. the man fled at the approach of the party, and disappeared in the darkness before they could recognize him. James Lovelace passed him shortly after, as he was running across the small foot bridge crossing the river, back of Canal Street. The fellow was running away from the fire and was vigorously wiping and rubbing his hands. Mr. Lovelace could not recognize him as he passed. It is said that the same man was seen to board a New England freight train, west bound, later and [onto] an empty box car.

Daniel McCrady [McCready] has been arrested on suspicion.
Dec 15, 1888

Again at his Old Work The Fire Set as Before at the Only Exit

A few months ago there was a series of incendiary fires at Danbury. They suddenly ceased, and nothing was learned of the person who had done the mischief. Wednesday night a new attempt was made which is thus described by the Danbury News: "Erastus Kimball of 93 Elm Street was walking up that portion of the thoroughfare known as Rabbit Hill, about half-past 1 this morning, when he noticed a flame blazing brightly on the stoop of a house owned by Samuel E. Dunham. Mr. Kimball proceeded to investigate and found that the stoop and side of the house were burning briskly. He hastily aroused the inmates of the house and set to work to extinguish the flames by smothering them with a large rug with lay near. he succeeded in doing so, but not without considerable difficulty, for a substance which appeared to be oil was scattered about in every direction, and caught the rug itself. The stoop faces east and is approached by a large yard, giving easy access from the street. The oil was thrown upon the floor of this porch and upon the side of the house, running down the building to the ground. A match had evidently been applied to the stoop, where quite a surface was burned over. On the side of the house were three of four small charred places in the wood where the incendiary had touched the match to the oil to it a good start. The fire was started at the foot of the only outlet which the family upstairs have. There are no other stairs leading to the lower floor or to the ground. Had the flames gained even a fair headway Mr. Durham and his family would have found it necessary to make their exit from a second story window at the risk of life and limb. When the old "Academy" on Turner street was fired on the 22nd of last July, the fire was started exactly the same position in relation to those upstairs. There were some twenty persons in the upper stories at that time and their only means of exit, a narrow stairway, was completely cut off.

July 25, 1888

The Danbury Fire Bug

A Dangerous Rascal Who Will Fare Hard Some Day The Attempt was Seen, but Nothing Done to Catch the Fellow

On Saturday night there was another incendiary fire in Danbury, and , like the last preceding, it was at a house occupied by a number of people, all of whom were asleep when the fire was started. The building was the old academy, which has been made over into a tenement house and is occupied by fifteen or more persons. As it happened the particular fire burned itself out without doing any damage , and without an alarm being given. The fire was made at a a porch and doorway, the door being the only one through which the occupants of the house had egress. Kerosene had been used freely. It was also found that two window castings had been saturated with kerosene and one of them set on fire.

The Danbury News says: "Mrs. Patrick Quinn lives at the Town Hill avenue which is just above the scene of the incendiary's attempt. About a quarter of twelve Mrs. Quinn, who happened to be up, glanced out of the window. A flash of light down at the front of the hill met her eye. Thinking it was some one with a light she paid no more attention to it. the light continued, however, and as she looked again she saw the flame leap up.. At the same time a dark form passed around the in front of the fire, which quickly died down. She thought it a queer thing to take place that time of night, and waited for its repetition. A few seconds after the light again flashed up and this time a little stronger. Again the man, as one could plainly make out, ran away from the place. the fire died out as quickly as before, however. The women waited at the window the third time, and again the same light came from the same source. Then she raised her window, and from there watched another but much fainter light. The fifth time she saw the mysterious fire, and the form of a man move away. Then the truth flashed across her mind now she cried out to him to stop, and called for help. She waited, but nothing else of the kind happened, although she watched some time. In the morning she learned the truth of the matter, and found her suspicions correct. She was too far from the person to recognize him or give a fair description of him. She tells of a man coming along Town Hill during the time she was watching and asking if the house below was a tenement, and receiving an affirmative reply he passed on down toward the place.

A relative of Mrs. Quinn's came up across the yard, as she was looking at the fires, and she called his attention to the fact, and asked him to go down and catch the person. She said he did not go because he was afraid. She herself did not go because she was ill. She called in a neighbor, and the two watched for some time.

The colored watchman at Smith's factory is said to have seen the attempt from the factory, but he did not put in an appearance last night."
July 20, 1888

The Danbury Fires.

Something like a Reign of Terror

The Danbury News of Wednesday gave partial synopsis of the fires in that place during the last two months. There have been a dozen or more fires and the aggregate lass has been $150,000. Nearly all that were not plainly incendiary were mysterious and hinted of incendiarism. The News speaks at length of some of the more important and then continues thus: -

Now we have James Mahoney's saloon on Railroad avenue taking fire early Sunday morning, how?

A few nights after, that of James R. Kelley not a stone's throw away, and in almost precisely the same manner. How?

On Sunday morning the house occupied by Patrick Larkin takes fire. The flames start in a small outbuilding in the morning the house is nearly destroyed and the [family] narrowly [?] with their lives. Hos does this catch fire?

Most certainly there is something suspicious about all those fires as wes as many more not mentioned in this article. Something should be done and very promptly, too.

It is but a few nights since the stables of the Danbury & Bethel Street railway company had a remarkably narrow escape from destruction. nothing accidental about this. The fire broke out in a small outbuilding not far from midnight. In the morning two different places were found where oil was poured over the wood work and deliberately set fire to. Here, too, the fire bugs exhibited their boldness for several watchmen and others were but a few feet away.

A few nights later the barn of Michael Carney was burned at almost the same hour. This too was set on fire.

This article brings out very clearly the state of alarm and natural peril in which Danbury people now live. It would hardly be possible to spend too much time or money in discovering the incendiaries and bringing them to the full punishment of their crimes.


“Hartford Courant - Danbury Firebug or Incendiary Articles.” WCSU Archives, 9 July 2019. Accessed on the Web: 23 Sep. 2019.


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