Texas Spring Palace (Part 3): “No Truer Hero Ever Died”

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 exhibition (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 and historian Kevin Foster.)

al RR clipsAl 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.

al spike driven 3-15-88 gazOn 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 map had another leg. Clip is from the March 15 Gazette.

al 85 cdDuring 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.

al Frank Leslies Newspaper-PETEJournalists 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.)

One person saved by Hayne was Howard Fogg, who was fifteen at the time. In 1931 Fogg recalled: “I was with my mother when Al Hayne had three boys and a girl by the hands leading them downstairs to safety. He called to us and others present to follow him and I had hold of his belt and followed him and hung onto him until we reached the outside, which was a hotbed of confusion. Hayne then returned to the flames to try to rescue others whom we knew were left upstairs, but he never returned.”

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 said Hayne fell from the building. The Gazette said of  Hayne: “No truer hero ever died.” Note the mention of “a colored man, Jesse Williams.”

As a “colored man,” Williams was not allowed admission to the palace. As the fire raged he was standing outside the palace “some little distance away,” the Gazette wrote. When Williams “saw heroic Al Hayne leaning against the wall of the building, on the inside, his clothes on fire and his face and hands badly burned. At the risk of his own life, Williams rushed into the building and seizing Hayne in his arms bore him to a place of safety on the outside. Williams’ coat was on fire, but he paid no attention to this until several gentlemen came up and, wrapping Hayne in a piece of tent cloth, extinguished the flames; then, and not till then, did the brave colored man put out the fire that was burning his coat and body. Williams did his best to save poor Al Hayne’s life.”

The Gazette would later recognize Jesse Williams for his “heroic act.”

al firemen june 1In 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.)

al funeral 6-2 dmnA 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.

al sermons june 2On 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.

al fitting tribute june 5People immediately began to call for a monument to honor Al Hayne. Clip is from the Weekly Gazette.

al unveiled 2-27-94 galvestonIt 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 her case, John Peter Smith). The monument was designed by Marshall Sanguinet and the Messer brothers. The bust was sculpted by Lloyd Bowman.

al postcardIn 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.

hayne graveAlfred S. Hayne is honored downtown but buried in Oakwood Cemetery.

His name is engraved on the wall of the Fort Worth Police and Firefighters Memorial in Trinity Park.

Hayne’s bust originally faced south, toward the site of the palace. This 1910 postcard, looking north, shows the fountain still flowing. Behind the fountain, on Front Street (Lancaster Avenue today), can be seen Lackey’s Pharmacy, sponsor of the postcard. To the left of Lackey’s was Winfield Scott‘s Terminal Hotel. (Postcard from University of Texas at Arlington Libraries, Jenkins Garrett Texas Postcard Collection. Thanks to G. R. Harwell for the tip.)

Some other views of the Al Hayne Memorial:

The bust of Hayne now faces west. In 1934 the weathered marble bust of Hayne was replaced by a bronze bust sculpted by a local artist.

al top halfal palaceal markeral inscriptionsEach side of the monument has an inscription.

al face

al with t&pIn 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.

Four wee beasties guard the Al Hayne monument.

al insignia

The monument features a firefighter insignia, and Hayne has long been honored by firefighter organizations, but according to historian Dr. 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.

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13 Responses to Texas Spring Palace (Part 3): “No Truer Hero Ever Died”

  1. G R Harwell says:

    UTA digital library has a scan of a 1910 postcard showing the fountain running.


  2. Mike Neu says:

    I’m highly intrigued by the Texas Spring Palace as a native Fort Worth resident. Any chance there were other civilizations in America and Texas we haven’t been told about, like Tartarians, the Orientals depicted in some of the dated literature?? The Moorish and Greeco-Roman influence of a destroyed Palace, there’s a similarity in the story of it’s fire compared to many other lost exhibitions in that era, across the world.

    • hometown says:

      Mike, your question is far above my pay grade. But the Texas Spring Palace was indeed an eye-popping architectural stew. I do not know where architect Messer got his inspiration.

  3. earl belcher says:

    Remember . . . TEXAS ain’t just some place. It’s a state of mind. Being born here or moving here don’t make a person a Texan. The spirit of Texas chooses the person and once chosen there is no backing out. To quote the famous Civil War general Texans always move them. Al Hayne was born in England but was clearly chosen. From the Alamo to now . . . TEXAS will live on.

  4. John Worley says:

    Hello Mike, I was turned on to your article through a friend. I have been trying to do some research on the Spring Palace for an art project. Through doing some (light) investigation, I came across the name of Ada Large. As you may recall she was the 15 year old girl who helped get people to safety during the blaze. My question is: have you ever seen a photo of her, or any of the other heroines from that day. If you have any recommendations on where I should direct my research I would greatly appreciate it. I plan on visiting the Fort Worth Library soon to look through references.

    • hometown says:

      John, I have e-mailed you some material, including a link to the Tarrant County archive, which apparently has photos of her.

  5. earl belcher says:

    Fantastic story, Mike. I call upon HRM the queen to instill the KBE upon this great Englishman. All our heroes are dead. Mike, we are going to give the people back their heroes. Don’t know how, don’t know when or where. But somehow Fort Worth must come to a new way of life in an age where rapers, hoodlums, and street scum are held up high by the hands instead of swinging from a rope. Great deeds must be proclaimed.

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Earl. Hayne’s story is indeed fascinating. What a strange new world those European immigrants must have found over here in the wild West. But so many of them adapted and prospered.

  6. Richard Pruitt says:

    Excellent, Mike. Thank you for retelling the A.S. Hayne story in such a thorough and illustrated way.

  7. Colleen Pyles Godley, Tx says:

    What an amazing tribute, Mike! Al Hayne embodied all that was Texan. I have often wondered about this man who saved so many. Thank you so much for this story

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