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Flatbush + Main Episode 19: The Brooklyn Theatre Fire

By Julie Golia

Posted on November 3, 2017

In Episode 19 of Brooklyn Historical Society’s podcast Flatbush + Main, co-hosts Zaheer Ali and Julie Golia examine an important but long-forgotten tragedy in Brooklyn’s past: the Brooklyn Theatre Fire of 1876, and discuss the Gilded Age, municipal reform, class relations, the culture of leisure, and the politics of memory in the 19th century – and today.


02:31 – Histories and Ideas
23:03 – Into the Archives
44:50 – Voices of Brooklyn

For complete show notes, go to

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Segment 1: Histories and Ideas

In segment 1, Zaheer and Julie tell the story of the Brooklyn Theatre Fire, the deadliest fire in the country when it occurred in December 1876. They situate the event in the context of late 19th-century Brooklyn and America, and tackle the question of why some disasters become embedded in American memory, while others are forgotten.

Segment 2: Into the Archives

Julie and Zaheer dive into the aftermath of the Brooklyn Theatre Fire by looking at a rich manuscript collection from BHS’s archives. The Brooklyn Theatre Fire Relief Association was formed a few weeks after the fire, and ultimately gave out about $50,000 of private aid to the families of the 280+ victims of the fire. The collection gives a glimpse into the politics of philanthropy and reform in late 19th-century urban life.

Explore the finding aid of the Brooklyn Theatre Fire Relief Association records (1977.049) here.

Here are some image from the collection:


Historian Joshua Britton has researched and written about the Brooklyn Theatre Fire and its aftermath, and his writing helped inform our analysis of the collection. Read his work here.

Segment 3: Voices of Brooklyn

Zaheer and Julie listen to the experiences of Barbara Norris. Norris was a nurse working at Woodhull Hospital in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, where she worked at the AIDS clinic during the 1980s and 1990s. In her interview, she speaks at length about the impact of HIV/AIDS on the people of Brooklyn and on her and others in her profession. The interview is from the AIDS/Brooklyn Oral History Project collection (1993), which documented the impact of the AIDS epidemic on Brooklyn communities.

You can listen to the full interview on BHS’s Oral History Portal here.

Segment 4: Endorsements

Zaheer endorsed Julie’s on-going series celebrating the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New York State. In the series of conversations, Julie sits down with leading scholars and activists to consider the histories and legacies of women and the vote. Part 2 on Monday, November 6, includes Christine Quinn and A’Shanti F. Gholar. Get tickets here. And part 3 on Wednesday, November 8, presents Joan Malin, Allison K. Lange, and Jamia Wilson. Get tickets here.

Julie endorsed “Elite Northern Colleges and Their Ties to Slavery,” a public program at BHS’s Pierrepont location on Thursday, November 30, at 6:30pm. Historians Eric Foner, Martha Sandweiss, and Craig Wilder examine the importance of slavery to the foundations of America’s most prestigious colleges and universities. $10 general admission ($5 for members). Purchase tickets here.

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1 comment

  • Alfredo Valentine

    Posted on November 7, 2017

    This is really interesting. I love history and how much it can enrich our current times.

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