The trajectory of the final three hours of his life was as singular as the trajectory of the first forty-one years of his life. Alfred S. Hayne was born in London in 1849. He attended Eton College, famous for producing poets and prime ministers, not railroad men of the wild West. Nonetheless, by 1879 Al Hayne was in Texas and workin’ on the railroad.
As a railroad civil engineer, Hayne was a rambler, as restless as a switch engine, more an at-large citizen of the state than a resident of any particular city for very long. But at the Texas Spring Palace (see Part 1) on the night of May 30, 1890, for a dozen or so people he had probably had never met before, peripatetic Al Hayne was in the right place at the right time. (Photo courtesy of retired Fort Worth police Sergeant Kevin Foster.)
Al Hayne had come to America in the early 1870s. Soon his personal compass needle pointed him westward: Kansas and Arkansas by 1873, Texas by 1879. As railroads expanded across Texas in the 1880s Hayne designed bridges and performed hydraulic work for Texas & Pacific Railway, Fort Worth & Denver City, Santa Fe. (The “colonel” title in the top clip is probably just a nickname.) Clips are from the October 30, 1887 and January 7, 1888 Gazette.
On March 14, 1888 Hayne was at Folsom, New Mexico—with railroad ramrod General Grenville Dodge—when the Fort Worth & Denver City railway completed its track between its two namesake cities. Service from Fort Worth through the Panhandle to Denver began April 1. B. B. Paddock’s tarantula had another leg. Clip is from the March 15 Gazette.
During the 1880s Hayne lived in Marshall, Big Spring, Quanah, Fort Worth, Galveston. But he was mostly on the move, traveling down the newest mile of railroad right-of-way. When railroad work was slow, he did other civil engineering work. Thus, the Fort Worth 1885 city directory lists him working here with his brother Eugene while boarding at the Pickwick Hotel. But the 1886 Galveston city directory lists him as an employee of the water company there. Al Hayne didn’t stay in one place long enough to own a home. Sometimes when he signed the register at a hotel he listed his home as simply “Texas” or as the railroad company he was working for at the time.
Regardless of which city or hotel room or boardinghouse he called home on May 30, 1890, Al Hayne was in Fort Worth at the Texas Spring Palace that night. That’s the night seven thousand people packed the palace (see Part 2) for the next-to-last night of the exhibition’s second season.
After 10 p.m. the regular evening concert ended. The first floor of the palace was being cleared for the second annual Spring Palace grand ball. About 10:25 a match ignited on the second floor. The wooden palace, decorated with dried vegetation from all over the state, was an exotic tinderbox. That night, as the “most beautiful structure ever erected on earth” burned to the ground, Al Hayne was not the only hero, but he was the only hero who died.
Journalists of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper were touring the South in a special railroad car and happened to be covering the Texas Spring Palace exhibition that night. While witnessing the inferno from the railroad car, a Leslie’s artist made this illustration.
Leslie’s wrote: “As the panic . . . increased, and it seemed probable that many would be burned to death, Mr. Hayne gave himself to the work of rescue. He picked up fainting women and terrified children, and dropped them out of the second story windows into willing arms waiting to receive them below. After all had left the building but Mr. Hayne and one woman, who had fainted; the flames enveloped the entire building. The fainting woman was several feet away from the window and her dress was already ablaze. The hero did not hesitate a moment, but ran to her, picked her up and, without a thought of self, leaped from the window with his senseless burden in his arms. His clothing was ablaze, and in the fall he broke several bones. He died three hours later, but his name will long be cherished as that of one who gave his life for others.” (Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper image from Pete Charlton.)
Hayne is credited with helping at least a dozen people escape the fire. Then, when the building’s huge wooden Grand Dome—lined with dried grasses and grains—collapsed in flame, his clothing caught fire, his lungs were seared. Accounts vary: He jumped—or fell—from a second-story window (about eighteen feet), breaking his leg and injuring his spine upon impact. He was rushed to St. Joseph Infirmary, where beds were already filled with other victims of the fire. The doctors and nuns could try only to lessen his suffering until death came.
Al Hayne was forty-one years old.
The Weekly Gazette’s June 5 coverage included this tribute to Hayne. “No truer hero ever died.”
In this Gazette clip from June 1, note that the Leslie’s railroad car was still in town. Fort Worth firemen (volunteers) were asked to attend the Hayne funeral in uniform. Pallbearers for Hayne would include aldermen J. P. Nicks, W. L. Rail, and J. F. Clements and former Mayor G. H. Day. T. P. Martin was a Spring Palace official. W. J. Bailey may be William J. Bailey, who would found Greenwood Cemetery. (In a few weeks Mayor William H. Pendleton would supply the Gazette with its next sensational headlines.)
A Dallas Morning News reporter attended the funeral at St. Andrew Episcopal Church on June 1. Clip is from June 2.
Photo courtesy of retired Fort Worth police Sergeant Kevin Foster.
On June 2 the Weekly Gazette reported that the Spring Palace fire and its hero were common topics of sermons on the Sunday after the fire.
People immediately began to call for a monument to honor Al Hayne. Clip is from the Weekly Gazette.
It took three years, but on February 27, 1893 that monument was unveiled at Main Street and Lancaster Avenue near the site of the Texas Spring Palace. The Woman’s Humane Society had the monument built as a watering fountain for horses. Among those taking part in the procession was Fannie Burns, one of the children who had been rescued from the fire by adults (in this case, John Peter Smith).
In 1899 the new Texas & Pacific passenger depot would be built across Main Street (where Frank Kent Cadillac would later stand). In 1904 the bust of Al Hayne would witness another conflagration as the depot burned on December 17.
Alfred S. Hayne is honored downtown but buried in Oakwood Cemetery.
Some other views of the Al Hayne Memorial:
The bust of Hayne, which originally faced south toward the site of the Texas Spring Palace, now faces west. In 1934 the weathered marble bust of Hayne was replaced by a bronze bust sculpted by a local artist.
Each side of the monument has an inscription.
In 1931 a new T&P passenger station became Al Hayne’s neighbor. His monument has been removed from the outer basin that provided water to horses and has not functioned as a fountain in years.
It is not known what the humane society intended by these four wee beasties who guard the Al Hayne monument. But they probably would not be the first pets picked at an adoption day.
The monument features a firefighter insignia, and Hayne has long been honored by firefighter organizations, but according to historian Richard Selcer there is no record that Hayne was a fireman. But fireman or not, on the night of May 30, 1890 Al Hayne died doing the duty of a fireman.