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Barnum, Houdini Items Safe in Fire
Austin (AP)–Flames which which burned part of the 20th floor of the 27-story University of Texas main building yesterday missed the collections containing items once owned by escape artist Harry Houdini and circus magnate P. T. Barnum, a drama professor in charge of them said today.

Dr. Fredrick J. Hunter, professor and curator of the Hoblitzelle Theatre Arts Library, said, however, the flames destroyed some nontheatrical books in the collection of Robert Downing, Broadway stage manager, and industrial designs by Norman Bell Geddes, former New York resident. The major portion of the Downing collection was saved, he said.

The Houdini papers and Barnum items, including circus posters, were damaged slightly by water and smoke, but "it’s all still usable," said Hunter. "Everything of theirs is intact."

It took firemen, hampered by choking smoke and cramped quarters, 21/2 hours to put out the flames, which spread through parts of four upper floors of the building.

There were no serious injuries.

Regent chairman W. W. Heath said it would take several days to determine fully the extent of the damages. He said the school carries a $100,000 deductible fire insurance policy.

The fire, which apparently started on the 20th floor, was first spotted by secretary, Mrs. Pat Morrison, who turned in the alarm.

Fire investigators did not immediately pinpoint the cause of the fire, but Mrs. Morrison said it apparently was touched off by a spark from a welder’s torch.

Before firemen, some of whom had to carry hoses and 45-pound oxygen tanks up 20 flights stairs, could put out the flames, they spread through the walls to the 19th, 21st, and 22nd floors.

At least two firemen were overcome by the smoke and were taken to hospitals.

Hundreds of spectators, mostly students, had to be directed away from the building by police to prevent injuries from falling glass and debris.

The building, erected in the 1930s, is a campus landmark, and popular tourist spot as visitors can go to the top and see for miles beyond Austin.

Dallas Times Herald. August 11, 1965.
Article by: Unknown

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3 May 1999
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