Main administration building of the State Normal School at Cheney burns down on April 24, 1912.

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 9/12/2007
  • Essay 8289

In the early morning hours of April 24, 1912, a fire breaks out in the main administration building of the State Normal School at Cheney, now known as Eastern Washington University. Two men jump from the third floor and survive, but the building is a total loss.

The Normal's on Fire!

The fire was reported by the head of the English department, who heard cracking glass as he returned home at a late hour. He ran for help, screaming, "The Normal's on fire! The Normal's on fire!"

The fire, of unknown origin, was too advanced for firefighters to save the building. Firefighters soon discovered two young men trapped on the third floor, standing at a window. They were a piano teacher and the brother of one of the manual art instructors, who had been lodging in a room in the tower. They had been asleep when the fire started and by the time they woke up, the stairway was impassable.


The firefighters grabbed a rug from a first-floor room and held it as a makeshift net beneath the window. The two men were reluctant to jump such a distance, and shouts of, "Jump! Jump!" could be heard for blocks. In desperation, they finally made the leap. Despite the efforts of the firefighters to brace the rug, both men hit it so hard that they struck the cement walk underneath. One was uninjured, but the other was hurt so badly he did not fully recover for months.

The building was an utter ruin. Yet school resumed with only one day's interruption. Operations were shifted to the school's only otherĀ building until a grand new administration building could be built.

Sources: J. Orin Oliphant, History of the State Normal School at Cheney, Washington (Spokane: Inland-American Printing Company, 1924); Cecil Dryden, Light for an Empire: The Story of Eastern Washington State College (Cheney: Eastern Washington State College, 1965).

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