Precious Blood Fire Recalled By Holyoke Man

by Laurel | September 25th, 2014

15 September 1929

Sebastien Yenlin

Sebastien Yenlin

Sebastien Yenlin Was Singing With Choir When the Flames Started
Tells of Details of the Tragedy

Sebastien Yenlin of 67 Suffolk Street is 75 years of age; but if he lives to be 175 he will never forget the scenes in the Precious Blood church fire. He was a young man, then, and a singer in the choir. It was Corpus Christi day and the church was crowded. “I had just begun to sing “Salve Regina,” mused Mr. Yenlin, speaking of the fire. And he hummed to tune abstractedly as he recalled the incidents previous to the fire. A veil hanging over the shrine of the Blessed Virgin was blown by the wind against a lighted candle. The fire ran up the veil and caught from one point to another. Billows of smoke rolled from the altar section to the ceiling and balconies. The rope on which a group of kerosene lanterns was suspended caught fire, snapped and they dropped on to the rungs beneath. The glass crashed, the oil flowed out and scattered about and a great wall of flame arose from the front of the altar.

“It burned like a matchbox,” said Mr. Yenlin. “As soon as the fire got headway I looked around from my singing. I stopped singing then. There was a rush for the exits. I started down the stairs from the choir loft but it was choked. So I went back and jumped from the balcony to the main floor.

Mr. Yenlin spoke at this point of a memory of a time before. Something like a month or six weeks before, the church had been similarly crowded. Someone standing up on a bench broke through with a crash. Many thought that the balcony was giving away and dashed out; and Mr. Yenlin jumped from the balcony to the main floor as at the time of the fire. Someone referred to him at that time as “a little monkey” and it amused him at the time and does yet as he thinks of it.

Why Fire Started So Rapidly

The church was build of single matched boards and there was a lot of sheathing papers also. All was as dry as tinder; so that it can be understood how the church was entirely burned down in less than 20 minutes. Miss Meunier who was playing the organ was one of those who perished. Thomas Sampson and Louis Larrivee were two that got out about the same time as Mr. Yenlin. After he had got out Mr. Yenlin caught one young woman who jumped out of one of the other windows, A second woman was caught by two others. A piteous sound was the cries of others whose hands appeared imploringly at the windows but who were unable to get out and who fell back into the flames. The balcony on one side had stairs and an easy egress. The balcony on the other was where most of the fatalities occurred. The fire was on Thursday, and Mr. Yenlin helped bury 60 people on Saturday, but this was only a part of those who lost their lives. The details as to numbers, etc., have been given repeatedly — even a book written about the fire by a young woman who went to all the survivors that she could find and took down their statements.

Mr. Yenlin came to Holyoke from Alsace in 1872. He soon after went into the baking business, it now being  one of the oldest in Holyoke. He retired about five years ago. His memory is excellent and the older Holyoke, “Little Canada,” “Tiger Town,” “The Patch” are familiar terms to him. The old church destroyed by fire was a little east of the present structure and much smaller. Masses were said at what is now the Vincent drug store and St. James institute hall for some time after. Where the convent now stands opposite the church was then a sand bank.

Adapted from The Springfield Republican.
More on the Precious Blood Church Fire.

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