On April 12, 1927, a spectacular fire engulfed scaffolds wrapping around the Sherry-Netherland Hotel in Manhattan.
A dispatch in the next day's Portsmouth Herald of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, said:
"Like a huge torch that could be seen for many miles, the superstructure between the 30th and 38th floors of 559-foot Sherry Netherlands Tower, under construction at 59th St. and 5th Ave., burst into flames last night.
"The fire was in wooden scaffolding atop the completed 20 stories of the structue. Firemen were handicapped in reaching the blaze, as the equipment was found inadequate for sending any quantity of water to that height."
An excerpt from the book "One Summer in America, 1927" provides a detailed account:
"On a warm spring evening just before Easter 1927, people who lived in tall buildings in New York were given pause when wooden scaffolding around the tower of the brand-new Sherry-Netherland Apartment Hotel caught fire and it became evident that the city’s firemen lacked
any means to get water to such a height.
"Crowds flocked to Fifth Avenue to watch the blaze, the biggest the city had seen in years.
"At thirty-eight stories, the Sherry-Netherland was the tallest residential building ever erected, and the scaffolding – put there to facilitate the final stages of construction – covered the top fifteen stories, providing enough wood to make a giant blaze around its summit.
"From a distance, the building looked rather like a just-struck match.
"The flames were visible twenty miles away.
"Up close, the scene was much more dramatic.
"Sections of burning scaffolding up to fifty feet long fell from a height of five hundred feet and crashed in clattering showers of sparks in the streets below, to the gleeful cries of the spectators and the peril of toiling firemen.
"Burning embers dropped onto the roofs of neighboring buildings, setting four of them alight."
"Firemen trained their hoses on the Sherry-Netherland building, but it was a token gesture since their streams could not rise above the third or fourth story.
"Fortunately, because the building was unfinished it was unoccupied.
"People in 1920s America were unusually drawn to spectacle and by 10 pm the crowd had grown to an estimated hundred thousand people – an enormous gathering for a spontaneous event.
"Seven hundred policemen had to be brought in to keep order.
"Some wealthy observers, deflected from their evening revels, took rooms in the Plaza Hotel across the street and held impromptu “fire room parties,” according to the New York Times.
"Mayor Jimmy Walker turned up to have a look and got soaked when he wandered into the path of a hose.
"A moment later a flaming ten-foot-long plank crashed onto the pavement near him and he accepted advice to withdraw.
"The fire did extensive damage to the upper reaches of the building, but luckily did not spread downwards and burned itself out about midnight.
"The flames and smoke provided some welcome diversion to two men, Clarence Chamberlin and Bert Acosta, who had been flying in circles in a small plane above Roosevelt Field on Long Island since 9:30 that morning.
"They were doing so in an attempt to break the world endurance record set two years earlier by two French aviators."