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Rated: 18+ · Short Story · History · #2089637
People hear screams of the dying to this day.
427 words

The date was March 10, 1948 in Asheville, North Carolina. Highland Mental Hospital for women with nervous disorders experienced their third fire in less than a year. The first had been started in a mattress. The second began with some oily rags under a staircase. The final one began in the kitchen. Each was the work of an arsonist.

The first two were extinguished with relatively little damage done. The third, however, caused the complete destruction of the building with the loss of nine lives, two of which had been rescued by firefighters but eventually succumbed to their injuries. The other seven perished inside among the raging inferno.

Of those that died, several were found still strapped to their beds in hospital restraints. Some had screamed for help so loudly they were heard outside over the roar of the fire. Autopsies showed some screamed so hard, they actually ripped their own vocal cords. Others broke their bones in their unsuccessul thrashing attempts to escape. In the end, it was all for nothing.

Quoted from the "Florence Morning News" (South Carolina) March 12, 1948:
"Miss. Betty Uboenga of Lincoln, Illinois, assistant superintendent, described how she and supervisor Frances Render of Scarborough, West Virginia, first went after the helpless patients. "We felt that the others were awake and would help themselves," she said. "As soon as we got the helpless ones out and safely put away elsewhere, we rushed back to help others. By then we knew some had been trapped. Some of them were awake, we know, and were rousing the others. It seemed no time at all until the entire building was like a furnace.""

Among those who died was Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald (July 24, 1900 - March 10, 1948), wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald (September 24, 1896 - December 21, 1940) of The Great Gatsby (1925) fame. She was an artist and a novelist in her own right (Save Me a Waltz, 1932) as well as daughter of Alabama Supreme Court Justice, Anthony Dickinson Sayre (1858 - 1931). She was survived by her daughter and only child, Frances Scott "Scottie" Fitzgerald (October 26, 1921 - June 18, 1986).

The building was a total loss with property damage estimated at $300,000, which is approximately three million dollars in today's money. The arsonist was a former patient turned employee as Highland Mental Hospital had a tendency to hire former patients. She admitted to setting all three fires.

On quiet nights you can still sometimes hear the screams of the damned as they suffer their torment over and over for all of eternity.
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