May 7, 1963- South Side of Square Goes up in Blaze

A blaze causing damages estimated at $1.5 million destroyed seven businesses and three apartments on the Marion Public Square last night. It was the worst fire in Marion’s history.

Twenty-eight pieces of equipment were used in fighting the fire that raged out of control for five hours. At least three firemen were injured. Thousands of spectators watched firemen fight to contain the fire to that block. Businesses destroyed were: Goss Home Furnishings, 900 Public Square.

Kay’s Shop, 902 Public Square Farley’s Barber Shop, 101 S. Market St. South Side Tavern, 105 S. Market St. Bearings Service Co., 111 S. Market St. Lampley Electronics, 107 S. Market St. Cox Hardware and Furniture, 906 Public Square. Apartments destroyed were two above the South Side Tavern and one above Goss’ Store.

Sam Barbaro, owner of the tavern, also owned the two apartments. He lived in one and rented the other to Mr. and Mrs. Harold Bargel. Mrs. Cloin Whitson, student practical nurse at Marion Memorial Hospital and her daughter lived in the apartment above Goss’ Store. An appeal has been made for Mrs. Whitson and her daughter. They both wear size 18. Clothing should be given to Mrs. Pearl Bauer, 106 N. Fifth.

C.P. Cappell, insurance adjuster estimated the total loss at $1.5 million. Barbaro suffered a heart attack last night and was admitted to Marion Memorial Hospital at 8 pm. He has had a previous heart ailment. Herrin Fire Chief Carl Mayer, 51, suffered smoke inhalation and is expected to be released today from Marion Memorial after being admitted at 6:45 pm.

First Assistant Fire Chief, Luther Henson, West Frankfort was treated at Marion Memorial at 8:45 pm for a fractured right elbow, and returned to the scene and waited out the fire. Henson said that this was his first injury he has had in his 19 years fighting fires. He was tripped by a fire hose and he landed on his elbow. A Johnston City fireman, Doyle Ray of the emergency squad of the volunteers was given oxygen after he was slightly overcome by smoke. Marion Fire Chief James Dungey says, “It was the biggest fire we’ve had that I know about. Dungey has been fighting Marion fires for 12 years.

John Goss, owner of the Goss Store, said he was in the front of his establishment when he saw smoke coming in the back of the store from the basement. He said he went into the basement and saw flames. “I then ran next door to Kay’s to tell everyone to leave the building,” Goss said. He called firemen from Kay’s. Goss was the only employee in his store when the fire broke out. He said the others were delivering merchandise. Goss received a scratch over the left eye when he ran into something while coming from the basement. Smoke roared mostly southward, and firemen and equipment on the first block of South Market could hardly be seen.

Authorities at first roped off only the area in front of the fire on the Public Square. But during the night the roped off area was extended to include the entire square and side streets. Many owners of businesses close to the block were busy removing records, merchandise and equipment from their stores. Had water pressure been greater, the blaze might have been contained to Goss’ and Kay’s, Chief Dungey said. There were reports from time to time that some of the building might be blasted to prevent the spread of the fire, but authorities said such action was ruled out because the blast might smash debris against other buildings.

Some officials said they feared that the fire might cause paint and ammunition in the Cox store to explode, but no blast came. Much of the firemen’s efforts were directed toward keeping the blaze from spreading to the Marion Daily Republican building. Some firemen with hoses were on top of The Republican building squirting water across the street to the Cox building. The window in the Selective Service System office, in front of the top floor of The Republican building, received a cracked glass, but there was no other damage to the building.

Dungey said the fire started at about 4:45 pm. At 6:45 pm smoke was coming from the corners of the windows in the top of the Cox store after the blaze had already spread from Goss’ to Kay’s. Businesses in the block with entrances on South Market were on fire at about 7 pm. Dungey said the blaze was brought under control at 10 pm but firemen continued to put water onto the block until this morning. Workers were busy today scooping up brick and other debris with machines. It was the first general alarm in the history of the Coal Belt Fire Protective Association since it was formed in 1949.

Some 2,500 persons were without power in the southeastern part of Marion as electrical service was cut off during the fire. Dungey directed the fire-fighting which included 28 pieces of equipment and dozens of men. A 75-foot boom on a snorkel fire truck from Mt. Vernon was credited with contributing greatly to the saving of the Republican-Leader building. The snorkel boom hovered over Cox’s Hardware and the Republican shooting water from two hoses on both buildings. It was the first time the new equipment had been used.

A second important factor which helped save other buildings was the wind coming out of the northeast. The wind was probably responsible for the Cox building remaining standing today although it is seriously gutted to the point of destruction. The Marion Insurance building which houses the newly-elected Mayor Robert L. Butler’s law office and the Butler News Agency was struck by the falling wall in the back of blazing block. Butler’s building wall was knocked in by the falling wall. Cox’s Hardware and Furniture only last weekend held its Grand Opening after a thorough remodeling of the store front and the interior.

The block was one of the most modern looking blocks in the downtown section. Goss’s store and Kay’s women’s apparel had been remodeled within the past year. Gene Cox, owner of the destroyed store, plans to open another store in the old Bargain Center building at 304 Public Square. Cox was named 1962’s “Marion Man of the Year.” John Goss of Goss Home Furnishings plans to resume business at another site. He has none located at present.

The seven businesses were housed in three buildings. The blaze spread through joists leading through a firewall to the Cox’s Hardware and Furniture Store to the east and through windows to another building to the south housing Farley’s Barber Shop, Barbaro’s Tavern, Lampley Electronics and Bearing Service Co. Apartments were located above the third building owned by Sam Barbaro, owner of the tavern.

The blaze sent flames 150 feet into the air at its peak and residents of Herrin 10 miles away reported they could smell the billowing smoke. Goss said faulty wiring apparently started the blaze.

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(Photos by A.C. Storme (donated to WCHS), data extracted from local newspapers and compiled by Harry Boyd, posted at )

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