The Great Salem Fire of 1914

An exhausted and wounded National Guardsman stands on guard among the chimneys and foundations left after the Great Fire.

Peabody Essex Museum Photo

At 1:37 PM on June 25, 1914, a fire started in a leather factory on Boston Street in Salem. At 2:31 PM the fire was out of control and Salem’s National Guard unit, the Second Corps Cadets, was called into service.

By the time the fire was contained on June 26, firefighters from 22 communities in Eastern Massachusetts were in Salem, and 1,700 National Guardsmen were in the city to assist the Second Corps.

The fire cut a swath half a mile wide and one and a half miles long through the most densely populated part of the city, leaving 20,000 homeless and 10,000 without jobs when the factories burned.

The guardsmen of the Second Corps immediately began evacuating residents, dynamiting buildings to try to stop the fire, and assisting wounded fire fighters, even as many knew their own homes stood in the path of the flames. In the weeks that followed, the National Guard patrolled the burned district to prevent looting, managed the refugee camps, and dealt with the thousands of tourists who came to gawk at the ruins.

Part of a series of articles titled Citizen Soldiers.

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Last updated: June 28, 2022