Photo of the Week: City Hall on Fire

[Brooklyn City Hall Tower Fire], 1895, V1981.15.132; Ralph Irving Lloyd lantern slides, 1981.15, Brooklyn Historical Society.

[Brooklyn City Hall Tower Fire], 1895, V1981.15.132; Ralph Irving Lloyd lantern slides, 1981.15, Brooklyn Historical Society.

This week marks the 120th anniversary of the 1895 fire at Brooklyn City Hall (today’s Borough Hall). This photograph displays a roof level view of the 1895 City Hall cupola burning.  If you look closely, you can see fire ladders propped against the building and firefighters on the roof using hoses to extinguish the fire. The fire started because of a lighted gas jet in a third floor closet. The fire left significant damage, destroying the clock and bell tower, as well as most of the top floor.

This photograph was taken by Dr. Ralph Irving Lloyd (1875-1969), a Brooklyn ophthalmologist and an avid amateur photographer. Throughout his life, Lloyd documented primarily historic 17th, 18th, and 19th century houses located in the New York City metropolitan area. The collection of his photographs includes roughly 400 lantern slides like the one pictured above.

The lantern slide, popularized in the late 19th century, displayed a positive image on a glass plate. This could then be displayed for an audience to experience. This was significant because for the first time, photography became a shared medium, visible by a broad audience. Production of lantern slides ended over 40 years ago, so it’s a rare and unique experience to see one for yourself! To view more of Lloyd’s photographs, check out this gallery. To learn more about the history of lantern slides, check out this article.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here. To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m.

Source: Brooklyn Borough Hall, New York State Unified Court System, retrieved from:

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2 Responses to Photo of the Week: City Hall on Fire

  1. Mary Canneva says:

    My brother has a cast bust of christ made from the bell from city hall in Brooklyn NY February 26th 1895, this is engraved on the cast bust of christ. Does anyone have any information on this piece would be appreciated!. Thank you, Mary.

  2. Robert W. Lobenstein says:

    I am wondering if the Brooklyn Historical Society has one of the small City Hall desk bells made out of the bell that crashed down during the city hall fire? These desk bells were made to help fund the rebuilding of the city hall building after the 1895 fire.

    I have one that was passed down in the family.
    Bob Lobenstein
    Volunteer-NY Transit Museum

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