Mercy Hospital Fire

A fire in the mental ward of Mercy Hospital in Davenport, Iowa killed 41 people today.

"The flames spread rapidly through the 60-year-old brick structure, one of four buildings comprising this eastern Iowa city's largest hospital," reported The Oakland Tribune on January 7, 1950.

"Screams of the trapped women spread the alarm. Aid was sent at once from the nearby five-story main Mercy Hospital building, and 14 fire companies came immediately. As the flames swept upward, the scene became one of horror. The women patients, many of them infirm of both body and mind, beat against the barred windows and screamed their terror. Some fainted away into the smoke and flame," continued The Oakland Tribune. The fire raged for several hours before firefighters were able to get it under control.

On this day, in the early morning, in 1950 a fire broke out in the Mercy Hospital in Davenport, IA. The fire was noticed by a night nurse making rounds when she noticed smoke in the courtyard and then found the St. Elizabeth mental ward in flames.

All of the victims that were trapped, 65 in all, were mentally ill and most unable to make valid attempts of escape.

The rooms were secured with wire mesh and bars for keeping the patients in their rooms and the ward. The screams of women could be heard as rescue attempts were made, but due to the progression of the fire, most were futile.

Thirty-one women were known to have died and six others were presumed dead in a fire which swept a mental hospital here early today.

Ten hours after the blaze started, Coroner C. H. WILDMAN said the bodies of 31 women had been recovered and six other patients were missing and almost certain to be dead in the ruins.

The sister superior of the hospital said 31 other patients had been treated for burns or injuries, accounting for the 65 women and three men known to have been in the building.

The path to safety for many of the patients was blocked by barred windows.

Except for a nurse's aide, all the dead and missing were patients.

They were asleep in the three-story St. Elizabeth's ward building of Mercy hospital when the flames broke out at 2 a.m.

It was 2 a.m. and cold; the thermometer stood at 19°. In the hushed buildings of Mercy Hospital in Davenport, Iowa, nurses worked at the desks, hurried soundlessly down hushed corridors on errands of the deep night. A nurse paused at a window, glanced out into the darkness, caught her breath in horror; thin patches of snow in the yard were lighted with the red glare of flames. She raced down the corridor to spread the alarm. As she did, the hospital's St. Elizabeth mental ward, a 60-year-old frame building, was spewing smoke and flame. Trapped in its rooms and wards were 65 women and three men, all of them insane or suffering the gentle irrationality of senility.