Birds saved in 1910 fire

JSSP Keith Norman Column Sig

I suppose there have been a number of exciting Jamestown City Council meetings in the 137 years since Jamestown was promoted from village status to city.

Still, I’m thinking the December City Council meeting in 1910 would stand out.

Shortly after the meeting was called to order, an alarm sounded indicating a fire at a local theater.

“All started to the scene of the fire, where exciting events kept them for a half hour or so,” wrote The Jamestown Alert. “The good work of the fire department was again demonstrated and the fact that the city team was handy probably saved much property.”

Another Alert article details the fire which started in the basement of the Orpheum Theatre while the “playhouse was well filled.”


The fire evidently started small and was first noticed by the singer, Katherine Moore, who noticed smoke coming up through the floor. At first, she backed up and continued her song but the smoke became “heavier and more frequent.”

Somewhere along about that time, someone in the rear of the crowded theater shouted fire.

“There was a quick rush for the exits,” reported the Alert. “Several cool-headed men held the crowd back, telling them to sit down and that there was no danger.”

Once order was restored, the crowd exited through the main and emergency doors in the course of about 3 minutes.

None of the patrons were injured, although several were badly panic-stricken and “two ladies fainted.”

“In the meantime the blaze had swept up the stage and destroyed the scenery and curtain which had dropped,” wrote The Jamestown Alert.

"Singer Moore and the other performers and crew managed to exit through a back door without injury although they “lost nearly all of their apparatus and clothing.”

Among the few things saved from the fire were the trained birds of Madame Marzella.


Marzella was a veteran vaudeville performer who had toured the world with her birds for decades. While the bird acts varied over the years they included the anarchist cockatoos, avian artillerists and “birds who could spell out the names of politicians.”

You would hate to see that kind of talent roasted in a theater fire.

The cause of the fire was either electrical or a smoldering cigar butt, according to fire department officials.

The City Council and community expressed their thanks to the fire department for controlling the blaze. There were no injuries and damage was limited to the interior of the Orpheum.

They did a great job and even saved the birds all under the watchful eye of the Jamestown City Council.

Author Keith Norman can be reached at

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