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The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Whistler 2003 - Centenary Journal

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27th August 2003 - Opera House Fire

On 27 August 1892 the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, was destroyed by fire, after a workman painting scenery for a forthcoming production dropped a lighted cigarette.

The event is mentioned by Edward Guthrie Kennedy in a letter to Beatrix Whistler on 31 August 1892:

"Our Opera house has been badly injured by fire, but more by water."

(GUL MS Whistler W1189)

According to the Metropolitan Opera Archives, "Though the fire was discovered at nine o'clock in the morning, shortly after it began, the stage was entirely aflame before the arrival of the firemen. In addition to the scenery which was being painted, according to the off-season custom, on the stage, the fire was fed by large quantities of discarded scenery which was stored in cellar beneath the stage. A fireproof curtain, designed to protect the auditorium from just such a mishap as this, was no longer in use, and the flames quickly spread through the interior of the house. The only protection to any portion of it was the ballroom floor over the seats, but even this was of slight value. Though the fire was extinguished by noon, the interior of the building was damaged to an extent estimated to be as much as three hundred thousand dollars."

After some months of discussion over insurance and fund-raising, reconstruction of the opera house was begun on 14 April 1893.

Visit the history section of the Metropolitan Opera website: www.metopera.org/history/