A fire at the Ring Theater in Vienna, Austria, kills at least 620 people and injures hundreds more on this day in 1881.
The luxurious, ornate theater hosted the most popular performances of the day.
On December 8, it was featuring the second night of Jacques Offenbach’s opera Les Contes d’Hoffman, which was proving popular with both the wealthy and middle class of Vienna. According to the custom of the time, the wealthy theater patrons who sat up front near the stage did not arrive until the last minute so the two balconies at the Ring filled up first. It was about 6:45 p.m. when a stagehand took a long-arm igniter to light the row of gas lights above the stage. He inadvertently also lit some prop clouds that were hanging over the stage.