Newspapers told stories about Collinwood. Some had a tighter relation to a discernible reality than others. Take, for example, the case of Glenn Sanderson, an eleven-year-old boy who moved to Collinwood from Elkhart, Indiana a few years before dying in the inferno. Century-old gravestones tell a devastating history of The boy was on the third floor in the school auditorium. The floor beneath him was in flames. Seeking to escape, he swung from one piece of scenery to another . . . trying to reach the fire escape.
–Cleveland Leader, 3/5/1908the Sandersons. Two older children died in infancy before the family moved to Collinwood. Glenn and his younger brother, Harold, perished in the fire. The Sanderson parents yearned for a house busy with children. On March fifth of 1908, they lived very much alone. The Elkhart Review, a newspaper in the Sandersons’ home town, reported their history of sorrow, but the big-city dailies didn’t.
The Cleveland Leader did, however, spin a more gripping tale, and news wires carried it for publication to the New York Times, the Boston Post, the Baltimore Sun, and others: “Agonized crowds before the blazing schoolhouse saw Glenn Sanderson meet his death. The boy was on the third floor in the school auditorium. The floor beneath him was in flames. Seeking to escape, he swung from one piece of scenery to another . . . trying to reach the fire escape. When he tried to leap from one side of the stage to the other, he failed to touch his goal and fell down into the seething flames.” In our animation, this version of Glenn Sanderson falls from a chandelier into a flaming pit of headlines.
Would any plausible line of sight allow horrified onlookers at street level to see deep into the third floor of a burning school with smoke pouring from every window? Like 171 other children, Glenn Sanderson died painfully, but he probably never swung halfway across an auditorium while a sea of flame seethed below. Nobody outside the building could have witnessed such daring. The report of Glenn’s acrobatics, though, became “true” in the telling, conveying something more than the purely factual. Cast as the tragic version of an action hero from boys’ pulp fiction of the period, Glenn promised that at least some of the trapped children died performing acts of pluck and courage, not purely in terror. His story sold newspapers and, in a portrait of bravery, offered some small consolation to readers shocked by the purity of the horror. Maybe the vision of Glenn swinging valiantly provided solace to his parents.