The Senn Block is currently known as the Sydney Hih building and was built by Dr. Nicholas Senn 3 years before this article in 1876. More information on the building can be found in
Milwaukee Sentinel June 28, 1879
THE RED LIGHTS TURNED ON
AND THE RESULT WAS MORE FORCIBLE THAN PLEASANT.
THE DRUG STORE OF OTTO SCHORSE, CORNER OF THIRD AND CHESTNUT STREETS, WRECKED BY AN EXPLOSION OF CHEMICALS - A NARROW ESCAPE BY THE PROPRIETOR - HEAVY LOSS BY THE EXPLOSION AND FIRE.
All who chanced to be at that much frequented corner, the northwest of Chestnut and Third streets, at about half past 11 o'clock yesterday afternoon experienced a sensation the memory of which will last with their existence. An explosion nearly swept them off their feet while a shower of broken glass tinkled about them. Turning, they observed Mr. Otto Schorse running from his store followed by red, blue and yellow flames, swift speeding along under the ceiling, and forking down as if to envelop and destroy him. The large French plate glass lights in the front were shivered to fragments, and every glass and show case was broken. In a moment after Hr. Schorse's escape a dense, dark culing smoke hid all from view.
Casper Borgelt, the foreman of public works in the Second Ward, happened to be in the street with a gang of men. Fearing that the clerks of the ill-fated establishment had been prostrated, he ordered the men to quit and make every effort to save them. But their fears were groundless, for, as they were hurrying to the entrance, the young men, Joseph Satran, George Spendte and William Luther, ran up an outer stairway, from the basement.
THE FIREMEN CALLED.
An alarm of fire yielded the assistence necessary to save the fine brick block from the fate of the drug store. The flames were making sad havoc with the remains of the stock, burning through to combustibles in the basement, and working toward Fred Ostermann's dry goods and notions store, adjoining. The crowds of people somewhat retarded the movements of the firemen, but the police cleared the way, cut off the intersection of the streets from access by means of ropes, thus giving the rescuers a clear field. Streams were brought to bear with such effect that the flames were subdued before they reached the oils and other inflammables in the basement. The inroad in the rear of Mr. Ostermann's store was also barred, but not before some damage had accrued.
In fifteen minutes, the building was saved and Mr. Schorse was unable to count the cost. As the dense smoke dissolved it became apparent that scarcely any of the stock in the store retained any value. All the drugs, medicines, chemicals and articles of utility were burned, leaving nothing of worth to the owner, except the stock in the basement.
CAUSE OF THE WRECK.
This utter wreck was the result of an explosion or spontaneous combustion. Mr. Schorse had prepared quantities of composition for red, blue and yellow lights to be used for the Saengerfest, and had placed the packages in the northwest corner of the rear room of the establishment. He was compunding a letter at a point but a few feet from the door to that room at the time of the explosion, and his escape in view of his contiguity to the chemicals is considered a very remarkable one. The clerks had just left the store to perform a chore in the basement when the explosion alarmed them. They were on the stairway at the time, having but a moment passed throught the apartment, narrowly escaping the burning, suffocating atmosphere of the scattered chemicals.
FORCE OF THE EXPLOSION.
Dr. Nicholas Senn, the owner of the block in which the Schorse store was, chanced to be in his office when the shock obtained. He was writing at a desk and was fairly lifted by the concussion. It seemed to him as if he had been raised and dropped fully four inches. Hurrying down, he discovered the cause, the fire being observable through the rear door of the drug store which opened from the hallway. Dr. Senn's office being situated immediately over the store, he experienced the force of the explosion more acutely than the remaining occupants of the upper floors. Mr. William Harper, who was driving by the store, noticed blue and red flames after the concussion, then a general blaze. The detonation attracted the attention of people within several blocks of the scene. Mr. Bogelt's gang, at the corner of Seventh and Chestnut streets, thought a gun had been fired in the honor of the Saengerfest. The force was so great that it blew to fragments the heavy French-plate glass lights in the front of the store, each about four feet wide and six feet high, and nearly three-eighths of an inch thick. the walks on the Third and Chestnut street fronts were fairly strewn with bits of glass, and, every now and then, as the jagged pieces remaining in the sash cooled, the crystal would shower and tingle. With these razor edged masses suspended overhead, it was extremely hazardous for the firemen who ventured down the stairways to the basement from the Chestnut street front.
The smoke penetrated to Mr. Ostermann's store and caused the proprietor great anxiety. His stock, valued at $10,000, was insured to the amount of $6000, little over half of its actual worth, and its destruction would have proved a serious blow to him. But, fortunately the damage by water and smoke did not extend to the main portion of his store. His loss by this affair of a moment will range from $100 to $200.
EIGHT THOUSAND DOLLARS.
Mr. Schorse valued his stock at $8000 of which all except about $1000 worth he is obliged to replace by purchase. He was insured, and, as the policies on drug stock admit the keeping of a reasonable amount of explosives, his loss will be made good by the underwriters. The damage to the building is about $1000, which is also covered by insurance.
While Mr. Schorse was wading through the water in his store, he announced to Dr. Senn his intention to rent a store and restock it without delay, in order that his business should not suffer. Dr. Senn also expressed a determination to repair the premises as soon as possible. The gentlemen were pleased to think that the occurrence had been without fatal effect upon any who chanced to be in or about the store.