“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Near Camden in Kershaw County, South Carolina — The American South (South Atlantic)

The Cleveland School Fire

The Cleveland School Fire Marker image. Click for full size.
By Anna Inbody, May 1, 2011
1. The Cleveland School Fire Marker
Inscription. Erected to the memory of those who lost their lives in the Cleveland School Fire, on the night of May 17, 1923.

Grace Arrants, Age 7 yr.; Ima Arrants, Age 17 yr; Mrs. Floride Brown, Age 47 yr.; Lottie Brown, Age 9 yr.; Eugene A. Brown, Age 57 yr.; Mrs. Eugene A. Brown, Age 49 yr.; Ellie Barnes, Age 17 yr.; Fannie Bowers, Age 16 yr.; Mrs. Lula Croft, Age 37 yr.; Dorothy Croft, Age 10 yr.; Hamilton Croft, Age 6 yr.; Mrs. Estelle Campbell, Age 20 yr.; Edline Campbell, Age 14 yr.; Ase R Davis, Age 37 yr.; Mrs. Ase R. Davis, Age 42 yr.; Leila Mae Davis, Age 14 yr.; Lina Davis, Age 8 yr.; Mrs. Lizzie Davis, Age 34 yr.; Eva Mae Davis, Age 10 yr.; Fannie Lee Davis, Age 7 yr.; W. S. Davis, Jr., Age 3 yr.; S. Lucas Dixon, Age 42 yr.; W. S. Davis, Jr., Age 3 yr.; S. Lucas Dixon, Age 42 yr.; Clara Dixon, Age 12 yr.; Mrs. Nannie Dixon, Age 50 yr.; Linwood Dixon, Age 12 yr.; Sara Dixon, Age 9 yr.; Mrs. Addie Dixon, Age 22 yr.; Margaret Dixon, Age 7 yr.; Mrs. Theresa Dixon, Age 32 yr.; Thelma Dixon, Age 9 yr.; Theda Dixon, Age 6 yr.; Willene Dixon, Age 1 yr.; Mary Lynn Godwin, Age 1 yr.; Charlie W. Hendrix, Age 52 yr.; Mazie Hendrix, Age 15 yr.; Annie Lee Hendrix, Age 13 yr.; Wilbur Hendrix, Age 10 yr.; Alva Hendrix, Age 6 yr.; Wesley E. Hendrix, Age 60 yr.; Bertie Hendrix, Age 16, yr.; Frank Hinson, Age 9 yr.; J.C. Hinson, Age 9 yr.; Ora
The Cleveland School Fire Marker image. Click for full size.
By Anna Inbody, May 1, 2011
2. The Cleveland School Fire Marker
Belle Hinson, Age 11 yr.; Charles N. Humphries, Age 64 yr.; Mrs. Charles N. Humphries, Age 56 yr.; Tom B Humphries, Age 30 yr.; William Jeter Johnston, Age 11 yr.; Mrs. Kate McCaskill, Age 40 yr.; Roy McCaskill, Age 4 yr.; Adeline McCaskill, Age 20 yr.; Colza McCaskill, Age 12 yr.; Grace McCaskill, Age 5, yr.; Miller L. McLeod, Age 39 yr.; Mrs. Miller L. McLeod, Age 33 yr.; Lindsey McLeod, Age 5 yr.; Milton McLeod, Age 1 yr.; Burnel G. McLeod, Age 29 yr.; Mrs. Burnel G. McLeod, Age 27 yr.; Bruce McLeod, Age 2 yr.; M. Baum McLeod, Age 63 yr.; Jessie E. Pearce, Age 40 yr.; Mrs. Dora Phillips, Age 45 yr.; Ola Phillips, Age 17 yr.; Dorene Phillips, Age 14 yr.; Eva Phillips, Age 8 yr.; Mrs. Grace Rhoden, Age 32 yr.; Jack Rush, Age 15 yr.; Clara Mae Sowell, Age 13 yr.; Louise Sewell, Age 8 yr.; Jesse Smith, Age 13 yr.; Dunnie Truesdale, Age 23 yr.; Emily Trapp, Age 10 yr.; Vera Trapp, Age 9 yr.; Shell J. West, Age 37 yr.; Thelma West, Age 15 yr.; Rebekah West, Age 11 yr.; Sadie Wade, (colored) Age 17 yr.
Location. 34° 12.706′ N, 80° 31.318′ W. Marker is near Camden, South Carolina, in Kershaw County. Marker is on Cleveland School Road, on the right when traveling east. Click for map. Marker is in this post office area: Camden SC 29020, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 5 miles of this marker
Overview image. Click for full size.
By Anna Inbody, October 15, 2011
3. Overview
, measured as the crow flies. John C. West Boyhood Home (approx. 0.8 miles away); The Loyalists (approx. 4.8 miles away); Prisoners of War (approx. 4.8 miles away); Kershaw House (approx. 4.8 miles away); Josheph Kershaw (1728-1791) (approx. 4.8 miles away); Southeast Redoubt (approx. 4.9 miles away); Powder Magazine (approx. 4.9 miles away); Northeast Redoubt (approx. 4.9 miles away). Click for a list of all markers in Camden.
Also see . . .  Cleveland School Fire. Pictures and information regarding the fire and its impact on the community (Submitted on October 20, 2011, by Anna Inbody of Columbia, South Carolina.) 
Additional comments.
1. The Tragedy of May 17, 1923
The Cleveland School was named after President Grover Cleveland (probably so honored because he was the first Democratic Party candidate elected president after the Civil War).

This two-story wooden structure served the children of the mostly rural community eight miles southeast of Camden, SC. Many "grades" were taught by the 3 teachers, some grades having only two or three students.

There was a tradition that on graduation night, the children would put on a play. During this day and time, before regular radio programming and television, a play was a special
Overview from the east image. Click for full size.
By Anna Inbody, October 15, 2011
4. Overview from the east
The marker and the model of the school building.
occasion to attend. This graduation's performance would be "Topsy Turvey" before an approximate crowd of 300. It was made even more special by news that, after tonight, the school would be closed for good and that the children would be attending other schools next year.

The building's auditorium was located on the second floor. The seating capacity of the 40-foot long auditorium was even less considering the eight-foot stage that ran across the west end of its twenty-foot width. And, an open area to the left and just in front of the stage was reserved for a piano and music section. Individual chairs were placed in rows facing the stage. A small aisle separated the rows into two sections.

At night, interior lighting came from oil lamps. One such lamp was hanging from a nail near the ceiling of the stage. Some report the nail just gave out, others believed that heat from the lamp loosened the nail
Around 9:00 P.M. and the start of the last act of the play, the lamp fell to the stage floor and quickly spread oil and flame. Several men immediately rose, took off their coats, and began to smother the fire. At first, the attempt appeared to be working. Even the crowd was orderly and calm as many began making their way toward the head of the stairs.

But the oil fed flames made their way to the old curtains hanging from the stage. These quickly caught
Model of the Cleveland School image. Click for full size.
By Anna Inbody, May 1, 2011
5. Model of the Cleveland School
afire, touching the ceiling and fanning an annoying and choking smoke. In an instant, the crowd began to sense the pending danger. Chairs became obstacles and were soon overturned and tripped over as loved ones sought out each other and pressed toward the stairs. Smoke and flame quickly gained on the fearful as they waited their turn to descend the narrow stairway.
Some not wishing to wait their turn at the stairway opened windows and plunged into the darkness. Many who did were seriously injured by the 15-foot fall. Those early survivors gathered outside the building and looked with horror at the second floor windows. As the jumpers screamed for help, no ladders could be found to effect a rescue. Would be rescuers attempting to break the jumpers' falls became injured as well. Panic increased as the fire and smoke spread. Compounding the exit problem were several reports of people re-entering the building in search of loved ones. Wesley Hendrix was one. He made it out early, but soon realized that Bertie was still inside. Unable to bear the thought of losing his only daughter and not having done something to save her, he re-entered the building. According to Moseley's The Terrible Cleveland Fire: Its Victims and Survivors, "Mr. Hendrix had only one child and she was taking a leading part in the entertainment, and was possibly as bright a girl as the community afforded, and
Mass Grave Site at the Beulah Methodist Church image. Click for full size.
By Anna Inbody, October 15, 2011
6. Mass Grave Site at the Beulah Methodist Church
she was the idol of her parents' hearts. Mr. Hendrix had made his escape from the burning building, when he perceived that his only child was un-rescued. He rushed back into the flames and they perished together."

Despite the warnings that he would face certain death by going back upstairs, an eye witness reported that his last words were "Watch me die with her." Aunt Ida (Johanna Burgess) stated that she remembered seeing them through a window reunited at last and holding onto each other to the end.

A tragic end came to those crammed into the narrow stairway. First-hand reports stated that several individuals had fallen and were unable to get to their feet in time before being trampled to death. During the final moments, the stairs themselves broke under the weight of so many. By now, the fire had weakened much of the upper structure which was crumbling down into the first floor.

The morning light served to confirm the worse fears of the survivors. Relatives and friends from nearby that now happened on the scene were also taken back by the carnage. Bodies were laid on the ground and on lookers began the gruesome task of identifying the remains. Identification was difficult at best as many bodies were limb and headless due to the intensity of the fire and the crush of the building.

Thirteen bodies were claimed by relatives and taken
The Mass Grave Site image. Click for full size.
By Anna Inbody, October 15, 2011
7. The Mass Grave Site
home for burial. But at least 67 remained. It was nearly impossible to separate and identify the other dead. It was determined that since they had died together, they would be buried together.

Just one mile from the school stood Beulah Methodist Church and Cemetery. A large grave, 12 feet by 40 feet, was prepared. The bodies were removed from the school yard and placed in the mass grave. Between three and five thousand persons attended the funeral service.

A monument now stands where the Cleveland School was located. A bronze plaque on the monument's front lists 77 persons who actually died in the fire. This number was somewhat in dispute at the time because it was nearly impossible to separate and identify all the burned victims. The plaque at the burial site lists 67 persons. Although ten victims were identified and taken by families for individual burials, a report at the time stated that 13 bodies were taken by families for private burial. It is unknown at this time why there is a discrepancy - 77 or 80 individuals that died! This may be a result of those surviving the fire, but dying later of their injuries.

Although it's perhaps a miracle that no more people were killed in the fire, the dead did inspire the living to make sure the tragedy did not repeat itself. Within three years after the fire, laws were passed. Schools and other
The Cleveland School Fire Mass Grave Marker image. Click for full size.
By Anna Inbody, October 15, 2011
8. The Cleveland School Fire Mass Grave Marker
In Memory of those who lost their lives in The Cleveland School Fire on the night of May 17, 1923.

Ima Arrants, Mar. 22, 1908; Mrs. Floride Brown, Apr. 9, 1876; Lottie Brown, Oct. 8, 1919; Eugene A. Brown, Jul. 13, 1913; Mrs. Eugene A. Brown, Oct. 31, 1873; Ellie Barnes, Nov. 10 1905; Fannie Bowers, Oct. 18, 1906; Mrs. Lula Croft, Dec. 11, 1885; Dorothy Croft, Feb. 12, 1913; Hamilton Croft, Jul. 21, 1916; Eoline Campbell, May 12, 1909; Ase R Davis, Feb. 15, 1884; Mrs. Ase R. Davis, Sep. 9, 1880; Leila Mae Davis, Mar. 13, 1909; Lina Davis, Aug. 13, 1914; Mrs. Lizzie Davis, Jul. 2, 1888; Eva Mae Davis, Sep. 12, 1912; Fannie Lee Davis, Jul. 13, 1915; W. G. Davis, Jr., Feb. 20, 1920; G. Lucas Dixon, Nov. 27, 1880; Clara Dixon, Oct. 12, 1910; Mrs. Nannie Dixon, Jan. 16, 1873; Linwood Dixon, Nov. 24, 1910; Sara Dixon, Aug. 14, 1913; Mrs. Addie Dixon, Jan. 29, 1901; Margaret Dixon, Dec. 20, 1915; Mrs. Theresa Dixon, Sep. 14, 1890; Thelma Dixon, Nov. 2, 1913; Theda Dixon, Nov. 28, 1916; Willene Dixon, Sep. 12, 1921; Mary Lynn Godwin, Jul. 29, 1920; Charlie W. Hendrix, Oct. 20, 1871; Mazie Hendrix, Nov. 14, 1907; Annie Lee Hendrix, Nov. 13, 1903; Wilbur Hendrix, Mar. 27, 1913; Alva Hendrix, May 8, 1916; Wesley E. Hendrix, Nov. 1, 1862; Bertie Hendrix, Jan. 4, 1907; J.C. Hinson, Feb. 15, 1914; Ora Belle Hinson, Jun. 8, 1912; Charles N. Humphries, Dec. 13, 1858; Mrs. Charles N. Humphries, Nov. 7, 1866; Tom B Humphries, Jun. 17, 1892; Mrs. Kate McCaskill, Jun. 11, 1885; Roy McCaskill, Jan. 8, 1919; Adeline McCaskill, Mar. 6, 1903; Colza McCaskill, Jun. 5, 1911; Grace McCaskill, Nov. 9, 1917; Miller L. McLeod, Apr. 5, 1884; Mrs. Miller L. McLeod, Dec. 13, 1889; Lindsey McLeod, Jul. 1, 1917; Milton McLeod, Aug. 9, 1921; Burnel G. McLeod, Jan. 20, 1894; Mrs. Burnel G. McLeod, May 8, 1896.; Bruce McLeod, Apr. 3, 1921; M. Baum McLeod, Dec. 18, 1859; Mrs. Dora Phillips, Aug. 21, 1877; Ola Phillips, Mar. 27, 1906; Dorene Phillips, Sep. 9, 1908; Eva Phillips, Sep. 25, 1914; Mrs. Grace Rhoden, Jan. 20, 1891; Jack Rush, Sep. 21, 1907; Jesse Smith, May 22, 1910; Shell. J. West, Jul. 31, 1885; Thelma West, May 17, 1908; Rebekah West, Aug. 16, 1911; Sadie Wade, (colored) Feb. 22, 1906
public buildings would soon became much safer.
    — Submitted October 20, 2011, by Anna Inbody of Columbia, South Carolina.

Categories. Notable Events
The Cleveland School Fire Mass Grave image. Click for full size.
By Anna Inbody, October 15, 2011
9. The Cleveland School Fire Mass Grave
Beulah Methodist Church image. Click for full size.
By Anna Inbody, October 15, 2011
10. Beulah Methodist Church
The unidentifiable bodies were buried in a mass grave at this church cemetery, the closest church to the school site.
Credits. This page originally submitted on , by Anna Inbody of Columbia, South Carolina. This page has been viewed 2,302 times since then and 478 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. submitted on , by Anna Inbody of Columbia, South Carolina. • Craig Swain was the editor who published this page. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016.
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