A copy of this article, originally in the Lowell Tribune (Thursday, November 9, 1905), can be found in the Local History Files at Lowell Public Library (-LH--"Vital Statistics," Vol. 3, p. 15):
Two Lowell Girls Die in 1905 Fire
Last Tuesday morning, Nov. 7th, in the rooms over Hunt's Drug store, Mabel and Abbie Simpson suffocated.
The fire was in the John Hack Building which housed the Lowell Telephone Co. on the second floor. Miss Abbie attended to the central office at night and her sister, Mabel, stayed with her when she was on duty. Between 2 and 3 a.m. Tuesday Bernie Buckley and Miss Rebecca Bixenman were coming home from a party in the country and when opposite the Hack building they heard a lady's voice calling "Oh, open the door and let us out, we are smothering." Young Buckley did what he could but to no avail. The fire company and other assistance was soon on hand, but the girls had succumbed to the stifling smoke which was heavily charged with poisonous fumes from the paints and varnishes in the store below.
Edith Mabel Simpson, born Jan 24, 1883, died Nov. 7, 1905.
Abbie Burnette Simpson, born on Dec. 31, 1884, died Nov. 7, 1905.
Damage to the building was $2,000 and insurance was $2,000. The damage to Hunt's stock was $3,500, of which $2,000 was covered by insurance. Mrs. Smith's household goods were damaged to the extent of $500 and she had no insurance. (Mrs. Smith had a dressmaking shop and living rooms in back of the phone office.)
The origin of the fire is not as yet known.
From the Star, Nov. 10, 1905, and also found in the Lowell Public Library clipping file (LH--Disasters):
FATAL FILE AT LOWELL
Two Simpson Sisters Smothered to Death
The people of Lowell were compelled on Monday night to fight a stubborn fire at 2:30 in the morning, and what was worse carry out of the telephone office, which was located in the wrecked building, the dead bodies of Abbie Simpson, night operator, aged 21 years, and her sister Mabel, aged 23 years, who was staying with her for company. Although their bodies or night robes were not burned they were past help when rescued. Both had gotten out of bed, and one had gone into the hall before falling. The fire was first sighted by a young man returning from a party. He heard cries for help from the girls, but before he could arouse aid their untimely end had come.
The building is owned by John Hack. The first floor was occupied by F.S. Hunt for a drug store. The front room in the second story was used by the telephone company, and a rear room by Mrs. Mary Eliza Smith, who had not been in them for some time, but the signs showed the fire had started in her apartment, possibly from electric light wires, and slowly burned through the floor to the drug store. It took an hour's hard fight to conquer the flames, and not until the building had been thoroughly damaged, the stock of drugs ruined and the lives of two young ladies taken were they successful. They were daughters of Samuel Simpson, and the father and mother, and a younger sister twelve years old, are nearly distracted by grief.
The telephone plant was not damaged to any great extent, and the building and drug stock were insured, the greatest loss being in human lives which cannot be made good.
From the Star, November 17, 1905, and also found in the clipping files at the Lowell Public Library (LH--Disasters):
SISTERS PERISH FROM FIRE
Girls Suffocate in Room at Lowell, Ind.
Locked in a room of a burning building, two sisters were asphyxiated by gas and smoke at Lowell, Ind. Their screams attracted attention to their predicament. When two men fought their way up the blazing stairway and burst open the door of the room in which they were imprisoned, the young women were found insensible on the floor They were carried out by heroic efforts and doctors worked for hours in an attempt to resuscitate them. They died without regaining consciousness. The dead were: Mabel Simpson, 20 years old, night operator of the Northwestern Indiana Telephone Company; Abbie Simpson, her sister, 22 years old. The building in which the fire started was two stories high, of brick. The front of it was used as the telephone office. The rear of the upper floor was occupied by Mrs. John* Smith, a widow. The lower floor was occupied by Hunt's drug store. Miss Abbie Simpson had come to visit her sister at the telephone office. The two girls, alone in the office at night, locked the door to protect themselves from possible intruders. The building was destroyed. The fire is thought to have originated in Mrs. Smith's flat and to have been caused by mice gnawing at a box of matches. Mrs. Smith was away from home.
Another short article from the Star, Nov. 17, 1905, and found in the clipping files (LH--Disasters):
The origin of the disastrous Lowell fire will likely never be known, as all the theories have been exhausted, and have been but guess work. Perhaps the chewing of matches by mice is the most feasible, but it will no doubt always remain a mystery.
A copy of this undated news article from an unknown source was found in a scrapbook owned by Town Historian Richard C. Schmal:
A HORRIBLE CATASTROPHE
Telephone Building and Hunt's Drug Store Damaged by Fire.
MABEL AND ABBIE SIMPSON LOSE THEIR LIVES BY SUFFOCATION:
A pall of gloom was thrown over the town of Lowell and vicinity Tuesday morning over the terrible catastrophe that occured about 3 o'clock that morning in which the Misses Mabel and Abbie lost their lives by suffocation while asleep in the room adjoining the telephone exchange, Miss Abbie being the night operator and her sister staying with her nights to keep her company.
About the hour above mentioned Bernie Buckley, with a young lady drove up Commercial Ave. in a buggy, and observed smoke coming from the building. He aroused Ed Brownell and they with Walter Staff Jr., went to the fire house and rang the fire alarm and then secured the hose cart and hurried up the street in quest of the fire, which was in the telephone building over Hunt's drug store. Knowing that the young ladies slept in the building Ed Brownell started through an open door into a room back of the sleeping room, but such a dense volume of smoke and gaseous fumes issued therefrom that he was driven back. By this time the fire department arrived. Not knowing where to locate the fire, which had not yet broken through, and thinking only of the safety of the young ladies the brave firemen worked like mad to rescue them. Ladders were run up to the windows which, when thrown open, let forth such a dense volume of smoke and fumes that the firemen were driven back repeatedly. Ernie Gragg volunteered his services, and holding to the loose end of a rope went up the ladder and climbed in the window. He crawled along the floor until he came in contact with the limp form of one of the young ladies lying near the bed, and dragged her to the window, where prompt assistance was given him and the lifeless body of Mabel Simpson was lowered and placed upon a matress in the open air. Ernie went back in search for the other young lady, but his efforts were futile and he was forced to come out. Attempts were made to enter the building with lighted lanterns which were extinguished instantly. In the meantime Officer Duckworth, Owen Peterson, Wm. Sheets and Johny Johnson went up the stairway through the dense smoke, and while Duckworth attempted to kick in the door leading to the exchange, Peterson entered the room through the door that Ed Brownell had entered, and, by the aid of light from the burning building which showed through the crevice of the door, he found the lifeless body of Abbie Simpson, who had evidently reached the door, opened it and fell unconscious to the floor and expired from suffocation. Owen called to the others and carried her to the door, where he was assisted by the others and the body was carried down the stairs and laid on the matress by the side of her sister, and the three doctors worked over them for an hour, all to no purpose. The bodies were removed to the home of their parents. Mr. and Mrs. Simpson were present while the search was going on and were frantic and when the lifeless bodies were brought out their grief knew no bounds.
While the bodies were being recovered by a number of the department, the others searched for the fire and located it in the rooms in which Mrs. Mary Eliza Smith's furniture was stored. By the time the firemen got the hose in position and began throwing water the fire had burst through the roof and the fire was burning fiercely and the smoke had permeated the entire building. The flames had eaten through the door and communicated and set fire to the drug store below and was rapidly gaining headway. Two barrels of oil and a large amount of canned paints were in the room and but for the prompt attention of the firemen would have ignited, causing a bad fire to battle. The flames were soon extinguished, the fire boys doing splendid work. The rear end of the drug store was completely gutted by fire and water, while the front of the store suffered severely from water and smoke. The rooms above were badly gutted by fire and water and Mrs. Smith's furniture and trunks of clothing were badly ruined by fire, water and smoke. The telephone exchange was in a bad condition from water, heat and smoke, and a creosoot substance that had settled over everything. The switchboard was badly affected and people will be without telephone service for a few days. Things presented a most gruesome appearance, Never has such a calamity befallen Lowell, wherein human lives have been lost in this manner. All the parties whose property was injured by the fire are fully insured, excepting Mrs. Smith, who has no insurance, Mr. Hunt has an insurance of $2,000 on his stock, and John Hack has an insurance for a like sum on the building. The losses have not yet been adjusted.
The cause of the fire is unknown but by careful observation it was plain to see that it originated in the little room up stairs used as a pantry, when the rooms were occupied by Mrs. Smith.
Mr. Van Weaver, funeral director for Hoevet & Ruge, took charge of the bodies of the young ladies and prepared them for burial. Their features were unmarred and they were as natural as though sleeping. The bodies, placed in white caskets, after a short service at the house at 11:00, were taken to the Methodist church, where they laid in state from 12:00 to 1:00 o'clock after which the funeral services were conducted by Rev. Idle, assisted by the other preachers of the town. The remains were interred in the town cemetery. Many and beautiful floral tributes were presented. We went to press too early to give the details of the services, which will together with the obituaries of the deceased, be published in our next issue. The grief stricken parents have the heart felt sympathy of the entire community. In the death of Mabel and Abbie Simpson two fine specimens of young womanhood were taken from our midst. They were of exceedingly pleasant dispositions, always agreeable, courteous and accomodating, and were respected by the people. The community mourns with the parents over the tragic death of their lovable daughters.
A copy of this article from an unknown source can be found in the Local History Files at the Lowell Public Library (LH--Vital Statistics, vol 2, page 80):
Another of these sad events was the death by fire of Miss Abbie and Miss Mabel Simpson at Lowell in the night of Monday, Nov. 6, 1905. (See Lowell Tribune, Nov. 9, 1905). After mentioning the disatrous fire, details are given too long and too sad for this report.
It is sad enough to be obliged to record that the two sisters mentioned above, Edith Mabel Simpson and Abbie Burnett Sinpson, one 23 and the other 20 years of age, lost their lives by suffocation in what must have been the fearful confusion of that conflagration. One of the sisters was on night duty at the Central Telephone office, the other was staying with her. Beneath their office was a drug store. Why they could not get pure air before their bodies were reached does not seem clear in the reports. They did not, and they died, with many persons near. Lowell has had but one such burial service.