Friends help fire victims get by / Scottish curse blamed for PU theater woes / Weekend Flurry of fires appear to be accidents


10 April, 1990

Friends help fire victims get by

By Barbara Preston
Staff Writer

Princeton residents are rallying to help nine Guatemalan immigrants who “lost everything” after a fire heavily damaged their rented residence at 9 Pine St. late Friday night.

Liz Cohen, a Spruce Street resident, is one of many neighbors who are providing temporary housing, clothing, food and rent money. The American Red Cross, Princeton Area Chapter, is helping the victims find a new apartment and the Religious Society of Friends is also helping.

“On Saturday, after I heard about the fire, I had taken some clothes over (to 9 Pine St.) for the kids,” Ms. Cohen said. “When I found out they had no place to stay, I offered.”

Four of the fire victims — Hector Santizo, his wife and two children — are staying in Ms. Cohen’s home until they can find new apartment.

The other Pine Street fire victims are staying with their friends, relatives or neighbors who volunteered to house them temporarily.

Rachel M. McCleary, a Princeton University lecturer and a neighbor of 9 Pine St., was at the fire scene to translate for the police, firefighters and Spanish-speaking immigrants.

The fire stared at 11 p.m. Friday. Princeton fire officials said that an electric space heater ignited a nearby thanket in an upstairs bedroom. It was very cold and snowy late Friday night and the electric space heater was going full blast.

The Santizo family shared a bedroom. The (our family members were Asleep when the space heater caught fire, Ms. McCleary said. The father had taken in a lot of smoke. He became confused and crawled into a closet thinking it was the door and bumped his head, she said.

The mother grabbed the two children and carried them out of the bedroom. In the process, she strained her back. She called her husband’s name to lead him out of the bedroom to safety, Ms. McCleary said.

The smoke detectors in the house did not work, she added.

An ambulance transported the entire family to the hospital, she added.

A police officer drove lies. McCleary, who grew up in Bolivia and speaks Spanish fluently, to the hospital so that she could serve as an interpreter for the English,-speaking hospital workers and the Spanish-speaking immigrants.

The Santizo family was treated at the Medical Center at Princeton for smoke inhalation, scrapes and bruises. Mr. Santizo was kept overnight for observation while his children and wife were treated and released.

At 3 a.m Saturday, Princeton Borough Councilman Roger Martindell’s telephone rang. Ms. McCleary had called him to ask if he could drive some of the immigrants from the hospital emergency room to Ms. McCleary’s home.

The Santizo family and another female resident of 9 Pine St. then spent the rest of the night at Ms. McCleary’s home.

The next morning, Ms. McCleary and Mr. Martindell returned to 9 Pine St. to help the immigrants salvage what clothes and furniture they could. Several neighbors also stopped by the house to provide blankets, money, food, and other items.

The victims lost every they owned in the fire, according to Mr. Martindell.

One of the tenants even lost $5,000 cash he had in paper bag; he said. The tenant had planned to send the money to his relatives in Guatemala, Mr. Martindell noted. The cash apparently burned in the flames.

Nobody could find the cash the morning after the fire, Mr. Martindell added, although a portion of the paper bag was found.

They were only able to salvage a couple of passports and some clothes. A neighbor volunteered to wash and dry the clothes for the fire victims.

It was during this salvaging effort that Ms. Cohen appeared at 9 Pine St. with some clothing and she offered to take the Santizo family in until they could find a new apartment.

The children, ages 14 months and 2 1/2 years, are in good shape now, Ms. Cohen said in a telephone interview Monday.

Ms. Cohen noted that she anti her husband, David, used to livesat 9 Pine Street. While the Cohens do not speak Spanish and the Santizos do not speak much English, the two families are “getting by.”

“We get frustrated sometimes.” Ms. Cohen said; “but we have taught each other a word or two. I really wish (could speak Spanish.”

“I am pleased to see how many Princeton people are helping out.” Ms. Cohen added.

Princeton Fire Chief Eric Karch could nbt be reached for comment on the fire. It could not be determined on Monday whether the heat in 9 Pine St. worked adequately. In the past, the Princeton Regional Health Department has cited the landlords — VMW Corporation — with various health code violations.

One such violation was that the “furnace looks to be inoperative” that the house had no heat.

While this was abated, according to a health department report, the tenants told Ms. McCleary that the fumance broke again. Health officials were not available for comment Monday.

Anybody interested in providing cash assistance for the Pine Street fire victims may send checks to the American Red Cross, Princeton Area Chapter, 182 N. Harrison St.. Princeton, Ni 08540.

The check should be earmarked for disaster relief, according to Divis Harper, the director of social services.

The money will be used to purchase new clothing, food and household items. Rental assistance will also be provided to the victims, she said.

“These are real good members of our community,” Ms. Harper said. “They are hard workers.”

People who wish to donate clothing, food, toys for the children, dishes, pots, and pans, and/or other items instead of money, can contact Mary Beth or Ed Miller of the Religious Society of Friends at 921-0943. The Millers are associated with the Princeton Friends Meeting.

Staff photo • Pete Borg

A man clears out the gutted second floor at 9 Pine St. in Princeton Borough on Saturday. The Friday night fire began when an electric space heater ignited a nearby blanket in an upstairs bedroom, according to police and fire officials.

Staff photo • Pete Borg

Items that weren’t destroyed in Friday night’s fire are removed from 9 Pine St. on Saturday

Scottish curse blamed for PU theater woes

By Patti Wieser
Staff Writer

The cause of Sunday’s minor fire at 185 Nassau St. may have been a little more supernatural than the down-to-earth machine sparks that were named as the official origin.

A university spokesman said clouds of smoke in the building that houses programs in theater and dance, creative writing and visual arts, had been caused when sparks from woodworking machines ignited accumulated wood dust in an air duct system and cawed minor smoke damage to some of the building’s contents.

But some in Princeton University’s theater circle, who stood outside the building as smoke billowed out a side door Sunday morning, attributed the fire to the “Scottish curse” associated with Shakespeare’s play, “Macbeth.”

The curse, which was written into the Shakespearean tragedy, has to do with the witches and incantations in the play, said Carol Elliott, a lecturer in the Council of the Humanities and Theater and Dance program at Princeton.

In the play, three witches call upon the spirits of darkness using a curse — “Double, double toil and trouble/Fire burn and cauldron bubble. …” — that many believe to be authentic.

Ms. Elliott is directing “A Doll’s House.” which is being rehearsed on the same stage as a class workshop centering on Macbeth variations.

“They’re rehearsing that play on our set.– said the director. Surrounding “Macbeth” has been a strong belief, particularly during the early days of the play, that the curse could incur tragedy, vengeance and the wrath of other powers, explained Ms. Elliott.

Such a belief still exists. and may be growing among those at 185 Nassau St.

“I’ve never been superstitious (but) I’m starting to question it,” said Ms. Elliott of the curse.

She said weird occurrences have been piling up at a steady rate while, work for a “A Doll’s House continue. Going through the list of misfortunes that has affected the production of the Ibsen work, the director said she lost hearing in her left ear, a lead actress was ill for a week, an actor was hospitalized for internal bleeding and another actress was taken to the hospital by ambulance. Then there was the fire.

“We’ve just had crisis after crisis,” said Ms. Elliott, who noted the list contributes to the “unspoken belief’ for those around her in the possibility that the cure exists. This cast is convinced we’ve peaked — the fire was the peak (of ill fortune).”

Theaters and actors have refused to do the play because of mysterious catastrophes associated with the curse that have occurred during its production. For instance, said the director, a man jumped from the balcony at the New York Metropolitan about a year ago during the operatic performance of “Macbeth.”

“Theater history is just rife with example after example,” she added.

When the trucks pulled away and the smoke cleared Sunday, it was determined that little damage resulted— unbeknownst to the word-ed looking onlookers outside Sunday morning.

“All the costumes for our play are probably burned,” said Tristine Skyler, a university student who stood outside 185 Nassau St. in a long white skirt — part of her rehearsal costume — and a jacket as smoke rolled out of the building and fire vehicles pulled up to the scene.

“And we had one week to go,” added fellow theater student Pam Weymouth, who was also outfitted in a flowing white skirt. “If only we had been doing a dress rehearsal. We could have worn every-thing outside.”

“A Doll’s House” is scheduled to open April 19.

Phillip Contic, the costume designer for “A Doll’s House,” also stood outside on the chilly spring morning, looking concerned over the outcome of the smoke. The woodworking shop is next to the costume shop at 185 Nassau St.

“It’s a pretty big loss if they (the costumes) are gone,” he said, add-ing that it looked like “the curse” had been at work.

But Monday, Ms. Elliott said the only apparent harm to the Ibsen production included a little smoke damage to the period costumes, which will require some,dry cleaning.

‘Yes, we were lucky,” she said, adding that they were especially fortunate because no one was hurt by the occurrence.

The blaze was timed for optimum viewing — right after church on Palm Sunday. Spectators lined up on one side of Nassau Street, while firefighters, some coming directly from church services, fought to contain the smoke.

No flames were visible, just smoke billowing from the first floor of the Princeton University building, which houses, among other things, the second-floor office of writer Joyce Carol Oates.

One of the firefighters, Peter Hodge of Mather-Hodge Funeral Home, had on a blue blazer, tie, shirt and the firemen’s yellow slicker pants. He had just come from church and later commented that Sunday his jacket had still been drying out from his firefighting duties Friday.

The university building is a sentimental favorite of many longtime Princetonians who grew up it town-and remembered the building as the Nassau Street School.

Alfred Kahn, for example, a firefighter in Engine CO. 3, helped fight the fire that apparently started in the room he attended kindergarten in 40 years-ago. It was Mrs. Wilcox’s room.

At the scene, several of the firefighters were shaking their heads in disbelief over the fact that the fire took place right next to the devastating blaze that occurred six weeks ago at 179 and 183 Nassau St.

The firefighters also were commenting on how this was the third fire,of the weekend.

“What the hell it going on here?” firefighter Ray Wadsworth asked.

Managing editor Pant Hersh contributed to this story.

Weekend flurry of fires appear to be accidents

By John P. McAlpin
Staff Writer

Three fires that kept Princeton’s volunteers busy over the weekend have been called accidental by investigators.

Two minor blazes generated more smoke than flames inside air ducts in different Princeton University buildings, officials said.

The third and most serious sent two small children and an adult to the hospital after they and six other residents of 9 Pine Street were evacuated from their home Friday night, police said.

In that fire, police believe a space heater ignited a nearby blanket just past II p.m. Friday, Capt. Thomas Michaud said.

A neighbor called police at 11:30 p.m. and said there was smoke pouring out of a bedroom window. Capt. Michaud said.

“They stated there was a great deal of smoke coming from a second floor window,” he said.

Firefighters were on the scene within minutes and fought the general alarm blaze for nearly an hour, Capt. Michaud said.

Investigators traced the start to a space heater that had been set up too close to a blanket.

“It (the fire) spread to a rug and then spread to the wall,” the captain said.

They had it under control by 12:30 am.,” he added.

Rescue workers took two very, very young children,” to the Medical Center at Princeton to be checked for smoke inhalation Capt. Michaud said. They were released the next day.

A third person, identified as Hector Santizo. was also taken to the emergency mom and was released after spending the night.

The nine residents — forced out by the fire’s damage — are staying with neighbors, friends and family.

Earlier on Friday, firefighters were called to the university’s Hoyt Lab at 7:43 p.m., Capt. Michaud said.

Smoke was seen billowing from a third-floor window after a fire started inside an air duct, police and university officials said.

A university employee extinguished the small fire but not before the duct system sent the smoke to the third-floor labs.

Firefighters smashed open a sky-light to ventilate the building, university spokesman Justin Harrison said.

On Sunday morning, a third fire alarm sounded when an accumulation of wood dust ignited inside another ventilation system at 185 Nassau St.

The fire started in a basement woodworking lab, Mr. Harmon said. The university houses many of its creative and performing arts departments in the former schoolhouse.

“Again, it was a lot of smoke and not a lot of damage,” Mr. Harmon said.

Leave a Reply