The 1897 Paris Bazaar Fire
This post might seem too remote to be written under the ‘on cinema’ section. Most of the books on History of cinema do ignore it as it is not directly connected with the Film history. Yet, this is worth knowing as we trace the path of Cinema. Cinema is a show business. The Paris Bazaar fire is a quintessential event that reminds us of the safety measures that are to be ensured in cinema halls, or during any public events for that matter.
The Paris charity Bazaar was a major event in the social calendar of the French Aristocracy. It gained immense popularity since its inception in 1885. The event was organized yearly to raise funds for social causes, and this was quite popular among the aristocrats as it was a better opportunity to show their social responsibility. Hence the event was attended mostly by the wives of princes, dukes and government ministers.
The 1897 bazaar was organized at Rue Jean-Guojon, on the banks of River Seine. It was a charity hall, nothing more than a timber hall with a draped canvas ceiling. On 4th May, 1897, the hall got ready for the show.
In the bazaar one of the attractions was the Cinematographe. It was hardly 18 months after the Lumiere’s invention. People began to lose their interest on the show, as gussed by Lumiere – due to the repeated screenings of the same films. However the revival of cinema, then, was something that they didn’t thought of. Hence the show slowly turned into children’s attraction, amid whom the show still managed to hold the fascination. An entire street was constructed with stalls mostly in wood to give a 16th century feel for the guests.
The cinematographe shows were running relentlessly show after show all day. The shows ran in a small booth packed with audiences. The only entry to the booth was through a turnstile – a mechanical door system that will count the paying customers entering through it.
Around 4.10 pm, during the afternoon shows, the projector lamp went off. They were actually lamps lit with ether. When the projector operator’s assistant attempted to lit the lamp after filling it with fresh ether, a quick whisk of fire broke out that immediately spread across the canvas material. The blaze of fire quickly engulfed everything and the burning drapes of canvas fell on the audience. As the spectators were mostly aristocratic women, who wore flimsy spring apparel it caught up with fire in no time. None was spared time to think of a possible plans of escape. This catastrophic accident took many lives and gave us some costly lessons, which we might see tomorrow.