The Convention Hall Fire of 1900
On April 4, 1900, the Democratic Convention was exactly three months away.

The day was hot and dry. A stiff wind blew from the southeast.

The fire took less than thirty minutes to destroy Kansas City’s Convention Hall and three other buildings.

We do not know the cause. Fire Chief George Hale said “fire bugs” were definitely involved. Others blamed careless workers still finishing the Convention Hall—more than a year after its opening.

By one o’clock people around 13th and Central reported smoke from the Convention Hall. Within minutes, flames crawled out windows and up the building’s outside. The fire department saved at least one worker stranded on the roof.

The wind whirled firebrands, igniting the Second Presbyterian Church, its vicarage, and the Lathrop School. The ever-growing crowd watched the towering steeple quietly implode into the church. Schoolchildren were ushered to safety, and residents of boarding houses on facing streets dragged out their belongings.

In what seemed like moments, four buildings had been completely gutted. All that remained of the Convention Hall were the stone and brick walls, and the steel girders that lay twisted like overcooked spaghetti in the ruins.

But even as the fire roared its quick destruction, the Kansas City Spirit reasserted itself. People in the crowd began contributing to rebuilding the Hall. Special deals were made for new steel girders. The city dedicated itself to making July 4, 1900, very special.

That it succeeded so absolutely in just three months amazed the rest of the United States and showered Kansas City with national acclaim.

That July, when William Jennings Bryan accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination, it was in a new, fireproof Convention Hall.
20 photos · 570 views