Near Camden in Kershaw County, South Carolina — The American South (South Atlantic)
The Cleveland School Fire
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
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. Touch 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 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); Joseph 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). Touch for a list and map 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.)
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
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
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
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
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
— Submitted October 20, 2011, by Anna Inbody of Columbia, South Carolina.
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Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on October 20, 2011, by Anna Inbody of Columbia, South Carolina. This page has been viewed 2,515 times since then and 5 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. submitted on October 20, 2011, by Anna Inbody of Columbia, South Carolina. • Craig Swain was the editor who published this page.