Hauntings and the Denver Equitable Building

The Denver fire tests can be considered first attempt at ‘organised’ floor tests in North America, however; their modern legacy are for the building they supported and the ghost stories it tells today

The Denver fire tests can be considered first attempt at ‘organised’ floor tests in North America, however; their modern legacy is also for the building they supported and the ghost stories it tells today.

The Denver Fire tests of 1890 were revolutionary to the practice of fire safety engineering. The tests were performed under direction of architectural firm, Andrews, Jaques and Rantoul. The objective was to compare three allegedly ‘fire-proof’ flooring arch systems which had been proposed for the Denver Equitable Building through a competitive bid process. For the building contract, the Pioneer fire proof construction company had the lowest bid. The Wight Fire proof company bid slightly more. These companies proposed similar structural systems of floor arches of dense fire-clay. Thomas Lee, who bid the highest for the building contract, proposed an arched system of  porous terra-cotta structural system (see the below floor configurations). Lee realized he out bid

Three competing floor arch systems for the Denver Equitable Building

Three competing floor arch systems for the Denver Equitable Building. Lees system differed to the other proposed systems. These differences included: the orientation of the arch; the choice of material; and the configuration of the the tile itself.

his competitors, but also feeling his product much more superior in fire he asked the architects to consider comparative testing of all three proposed flooring systems. The architects and building owner agreed on the provision that all three companies were willing to participate. The three companies agreed to the terms and the architectural firm drafted a testing schedule of: A still load test- increasing until failure of the arch system; shock (impact) loading repeating until failure; Fire and water test alternating until failure; and continuous heating of “high heat” until failure. After testing, the architects came to the conclusion, that although Thomas Lee out bid his competitors his flooring system had out performed those of his competitors in this test series.

Today, we consider these tests revolutionary in the advancement of our fire science field by motivating progress towards organized fire testing of building materials. The building that inspired these tests, the Denver Equitable Building was built shortly after that test series and still stands today.  The building even survived a major fire in the 1930s. However, the occupants of the building have different stories to tell. Stories of a more ‘spookish’ nature. Fittingly for Halloween it is appropriate to share these.

The Denver tests were photographed. In this photo you can see the ghostly camera effect of the man in the black suit. Because images needed time to develop, he inspects the first beam then proceeds to the next; the picture is not done processing so it appears like a ghost is captured in the photo

The Denver tests were photographed. In this photo you can see the ghostly camera effect of the man in the black suit. Photography in the 1800s needed time to develop images. The photo shows the man inspecting the first floor then in the same image you can see he proceeds to the next. The picture though appears like a ghost is captured in the photo.

After publishing earlier on this topic on the Edinburgh Fire Research Blog in 2012, I was alerted to the writings of Kathleen Barlow on the Denver Equitable Building. Kathleen’s article, Spirits and Scandals tells of several ghost stories related to the Denver Equitable Building. She writes of two crimes of passion conducted by two jealous husbands on two separate occasions at the building site. Also recounted are tales how an individual died in the building shortly after constructed, and how a janitor, Andrew Anderson, fell to his death washing windows from the ninth floor. These aren’t the ghost stories though they may explain them. Today, she reports the occupiers of the building occasionally report the smell of aftershave in areas of the building. A person could be sitting there move a few metres and the smell would disappear. Some claim the smell to be from the deceased janitor of the building. Others report that when they speak ill things of the building strange events happen to them and their possessions. And the most spooky of all, stories of figures that resemble people that vanish. Usually when asked who they were and what they were doing in the building, they disappear. Yet one figure did not; a women who entered the building early one morning saw a man in very classical overall garments cleaning the halls. The man looked at her and spoke “you shouldn’t be here so early. Don’t you know the building is haunted.” When she contacted the company responsible for cleaning, they informed her that they had no one working there that morning, and certainly no one fitting the description she provided….

These old buildings have history to tell. Some scientific, some not so. But still interestingly enough for a scare on Halloween.

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