Collinwood sought to support survivors and honor the dead. For days, funerals filled churches and processions by the dozen wound through mourning neighborhoods. The city council authorizedWhile the families of victims mourned long after the quelling of smoke and flame, many others in Collinwood rushed back to the business of building a boom town. funds for the mass burial of unidentifiable remains, declaring corpses still stored in the town hall to be a threat to public health. Social workers visited grieving families only to find often horrid circumstances. “The conditions were pitiful,” said one volunteer. “There was nothing to eat in the house and no fuel. The mother cried when she told me of her destitution.” A financial panic and depression devastated Collinwood and the nation in 1907 and 1908, making life especially difficult for railroad and other industrial workers. At the turn of the twentieth century, no governmental agency dedicated itself to aiding victims of disaster, but Ohio’s legislature approved 25,000 dollars to help traumatized families in the town. Local newspapers organized fundraisers and Blanche Bates, a Broadway star on tour in Cleveland, performed in a benefit. The beautiful Countess di Castelvetro, more humbly known as Bella Platt, was Collinwood’s most unlikely angel of mercy. She had grown up in Cleveland,CP, March 7, 1908. moved to New York, and married a man claiming to be an aristocrat. He deserted Platt, leading her to a widely publicized suicide attempt. “Her hat was a milliner’s triumph of silk and French hued Roses,” wrote the Cleveland Press. “But her blue eyes were brimming behind her stylishly drawn veil. . .‘Yes, I am a countess,’ she explained hurriedly. ‘But what does that matter? I know what sorrow is.’”
In a public ceremony three days after the disaster, thousands of mourners attended the burial of Collinwood’s unidentifiable dead in a shared grave at Lake View Cemetery. White caskets rested beneath an elaborate floral arch. Sympathetic donors contributed to the arrangements, but flowers offered no possibility of permanence. Blooms, after all, wither and die. Stone, on the other hand, endured, and throughout the cemetery’s sprawling grounds stood imposing monuments to Cleveland’s political and business elite. A mammoth gothic revival tomb for James Garfield, the US President assassinated in 1881, rose almost two-hundred feet into the air near Lake View’s highest point. Public donations raised the 135,000 dollars to build it. Jeptha Wade, a founder of Western Union, had a chapel built in his honor. A granite slab approached the lower branches of trees over the body of Edwin Higbee, who had operated one of Cleveland’s largest department stores.
The Village of Collinwood had no ambitions to match the scale of Garfield’s tomb, but the nation-wide outpouring of sorrow and crowds at the public burial suggested that mourners would contribute. “The Collinwood School Children’s Monument Commission,” appointed by the Village council, mailed subscription letters and sought to have donation boxes placed in schools throughout the state. They imagined that many thousands of children and their families would seize the chance to donate just a few cents apiece. “The school children of OhioThe fire monument’s bronze tableau shows an angel sheltering doomed children beneath her wings, promising their ascent to heaven. To see a readable image of the plaque listing names of the dead on the back of the monument, click HERE. Photos from PC. News Photo, 1911. should largely be the contributors to this memorial, and . . . it should be built in their name,” declared members of the committee. The Plain Dealer reported twice that Collinwood planned to raise 10,000 dollars. As time passed, though, the fire left the headlines and newspaper readers found other disasters, divorces, and deaths that stole their attention. One year later, the monument committee found that “responses have been slow in coming in.” The disappointed commission adjusted its expectations downward by eighty percent, thinking they could raise 2,000 dollars, but they had only 1,300 on hand. The superintendent of Cleveland schools found it inappropriate to ask for contributions from public school children for any monument, whether at the site of the school or in the cemetery. He pointed out that there were “plenty of wealthy men” in the city to contribute. None of them did so in a substantial way. “It seems to me that the monument that was to have been placed in Lake View, marking the grave of the unidentified dead, has been lost sight of,” said the publisher of The Collinwood News. In the end, Collinwood appropriated 500 dollars from its own budget to reach the 2,000 dollar target. On October 23, 1910, more than two-and-a-half years after the fire, the commission unveiled a twelve-foot stone marker with an elaborate bronze casting embedded in the center. The marker sat on a pediment, raising it a few more feet, and a plaque listing the names of the dead appeared on the back side. “Officials met to accept the memorial,” reported the Plain Dealer, but “no exercises were held, it being thought fitting to accept the monument without display.”
WhileWilliam Graf, the president of the school board, told reporters that “We intend paying no attention to the sentiment that the ground should not be used again for a school site.” PD. May 7, 1908. the families of victims mourned long after the quelling of smoke and flame, many in Collinwood rushed back to the business of building a boom town. To control costs and complications, the school board committed to building the new elementary school, Collinwood Memorial, on exactly the spot where Lake View had burned. A storm of protest and litigation erupted from parents who had lost children in the blaze. In an effort to settle the dispute, the state of Ohio bought the land, allowing Collinwood to construct a memorial garden over the old foundation while building the new school adjacent to it. With the disagreements and lawsuits, though, more than a year passed between the collapse of Lake View Elementary and breaking ground for Collinwood Memorial. Meanwhile, many children attended classes in temporary rooms that the health inspector called “not properly heated or ventilated” and “unsanitary.” Nothing, could be done, he concluded, “until the citizens and the school board settle their squabble.”
Other slights raised tensions between those who moved on from the tragedy and those suffering continued pain and trauma. On the fire’s first anniversary, Cleveland schools and the Lake Shore railyard displayed flags at half mast, but the Collinwood schools didn’t and authorities made no apologies. “It is insolent indifference to all of us,” said A W Emerich. “I called up Philip Graf, president of the school board. . . . He said that he supposed it was the janitor’s business to look out for those things. He seemed completely indifferent.” Children who survived the fire visited the cemetery to lay flowers on the collective grave that still waited for a memorialGE’s vision of a futuristic world lit by Mazda bulbs hardly corresponded to the experience of urban-industrial life in Collinwood. Munsey’s Magazine, 1915. In the 1990s, the EPA decalred GE’s shuttered glass-making facility a superfund site. marker, but the anniversary, reported the newspaper, passed in “bickering and dissension.”
The fire shattered the lives of some in Collinwood and changed very little for others. Trains rolled through, subdivisions sprouted, and industry grew. In 1910, Collinwood voted to merge with Cleveland. “In the stores and business houses,” wrote the Plain Dealer, “the men of Collinwood discussed the probable lower tax rate and other practical advantages.” In 1911, high on a bluff above Collinwood with a view of Lake Erie, General Electric broke ground for Nela Park, a center dedicated to research on electric lighting. The facility displaced thirty-seven acres of vineyards. Below it, factories churned out parts for incandescent bulbs. The boom town’s heart skipped a beat in March of 1908, quickly found its rhythm, and went on mercilessly pounding, leaving those in mourning to inhabit a loud and smoky world of loss.