Legislative Branch

Guide to House Records: Chapter 23 Ford's Theater Disaster

Chapter 23. Records of the Joint Committees of Congress 1789-1968 (Record Group 128)

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Records of the Joint Committees of Congress 1789-1989 (Record Group 128) from Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States, 1789-1988

Joint Commission on the Ford's Theater Disaster (1894-1897)

JC.050 On June 9, 1893, while 490 clerks of the Record and Pension Division of the War Department were working at their offices in the Ford's Theater building, workmen in the basement were removing portions of the building's foundation. The building collapsed. Eighteen employees were killed immediately and several more died later. Many more were injured.

JC.051 In December 1893, the Senate established a select committee to investigate the disaster and report whether the Government should compensate the victims (S. Rept. 528, 53d Cong., 2d sess., Serial 3192). A few months later, the sundry civil appropriations bill of August 18, 1894 (28 Stat. 392), created a joint commission of the existing Senate select committee and five Members of the House of Representatives. The commission was directed to investigate the disaster and report to the two Houses "whether in equity and justice the Government should compensate the sufferers of that disaster for the injuries sustained by them." If such compensation seemed appropriate, the act required the commission to investigate each case to determine the amount that should be paid.

JC.052 Upon investigation, the commission unanimously concluded that compensation should be made "by reason of the fact that in the contract for removing the underpinning of said building no provision whatever for shoring up the building during the excavation was made, and the fact that no provision was made for expert superintendence, the building at the time containing about 500 Government clerks" (S. Rept. 908, 54th Cong., 1st sess., Serial 3366).

JC.053 The commission proceeded to consider individual claims of death or injury due to the disaster, taking testimony and affidavits from claimants and witnesses. The commission referred all claims for permanent injury to a medical board. An abstract of each case was appended to a commission report of May 11, 1896. The committee completed its task on February 25, 1897, with the issuance of its final report (S. Rept. 1548, 54th Cong., 2d sess., Serial 3476), including synopses and recommendations on three new cases and some reconsidered claims. Among the records are the original claim forms and transcript of questions regarding the last few claims considered by the commission, as well as transcripts of coroner's inquests into the deaths of Frederick B. Loftus and J.H. Chapin. There are also letters, resolutions, an investigative report, and a printed copy of H. Exec. Doc. 61 (53d Cong., 2d sess., Serial 3223) consisting of a January 1894 letter from the Secretary of War regarding the condition of the building (S.C. 53, 54).

This Web version is updated from time to time to include records processed since 1989.

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Bibliographic note: Web version based on Guide to the Records of the United States House of Representatives at the National Archives, 1789-1989: Bicentennial Edition (Doct. No. 100-245). By Charles E. Schamel, Mary Rephlo, Rodney Ross, David Kepley, Robert W. Coren, and James Gregory Bradsher. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1989.