Monday, February 19, 2024

Heroes of the 1912 Great Fire (part two)

By Susan G Mathis

As mentioned in my January 19th post, the Great Fire razed the Columbian Hotel and more than a hundred businesses and cottages in the Thousand Island Park. Firefighters bravely fought the fire for many terrible hours. But the residents who also tried to save their beloved Thousand Island Park, were heroes in their own right.

Grandma Tousey was a special resident of the Park. At age 92, she took charge of volunteers, urging them to save others. She was known to save at least two people—Mrs. Anna Nunn and Mrs. Eager—who were caught in a burning cottage. She found them on the floor unconscious and called for help. Once they were dragged into the fresh air, they revived.

Marion Mayer, a twelve-year-old girl, saved a large boarding house on Garden Avenue with a garden hose. And many countless folks risked life and limb to save businesses, cottages, and most importantly, their fellow TI Park residents and volunteers.

After the fire had consumed those hundred structures and an entire section of the Park, others stepped up to help those left homeless and devastated. The Murray Hill Hotel on Murray Island as well as other hotels took in more than a hundred and twenty guests left homeless when the Columbian Hotel burned to the ground. Some welcomed victims into their unburned cottages.

Commodore Gillespie and Herbert Copelle provided $300 of food to form a bread line and provide for the basic needs of the victims. Joseph Wittman of Isle of Pines and T. A. Gillespie of Basswood Island sent their private yachts to Clayton to purchase all the baked goods available and anything else useful for the fire sufferers. These goods were placed in the pavilion on the dock and divided among those who needed them.

And there were others, unnamed folks who helped any way they could. In my novel, Mary’s Moment, I tell their stories—firemen, friends, neighbors, doctors, nurses, and a telephone switchboard operator at the center of it all.

What makes a hero? Leave your answer or comments on the post below and join me on February 19th for my next post.


It’s 1912, and Thousand Island Park’s switchboard operator Mary Flynn is the community heroine saving dozens of homes from a terrible fire. Less than a month later, when another disastrous fire rages through the Park, Mary loses her memory as she risks her life in a neighbor's burning cottage. Widowed fireman George Flannigan is enamored by the brave raven-haired lass and takes every opportunity to connect with Mary. But he has hidden griefs of his own that cause him great heartache. When George can’t stop the destructive Columbian Hotel fire from eradicating more than a hundred businesses and homes, he is distraught. Yet George’s greater concern is Mary. Will she remember their budding relationship or be forever lost to him?


Susan G Mathis is an international award-winning, multi-published author of stories set in the beautiful Thousand Islands in upstate NY. Susan has been published more than thirty times in full-length novels, novellas, and non-fiction books. She has eleven in her fiction line. Susan is also a published author of two premarital books, stories in a dozen compilations, and hundreds of published articles. Susan lives in Colorado Springs and enjoys traveling the world. Visit for more.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting today. I look forward to your posts about the Thousand Island region, and I just may have to conquer my distaste for travel and go there! Hmm, what makes a hero? That's hard to say because there are so many mind immediately goes to the person just living their quiet lives when suddenly an opportunity presents itself and they say yes. Yes to the scary thing, yes to moving outside their comfort zone, yes to stopping to help someone or speaking the kind word. There are more "super" heroes with big stories to tell, but the quiet ones are what came to my mind first.