Gallery
Courtesy of the Archives of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock

This is the only known photograph of the fire of January 7-8, 1910 at the Fort Smith Light and Traction Co. According to contemporary news accounts, the fire was caused by the explosion of an oil tank at the plant and on the corner of North First and D streets. The fire interrupted trolley service in the city, burned down some of the houses in the nearby Row area, the vice district where prostitution was legal and regulated. Because it was an oil fire and difficult to extinguish, it burned for more than 12 hours. Late on the morning of Jan. 8, a melted metal tower which held aloft a water tank collapsed. The water spread the oil fire in all directions, igniting the powerhouse. It was at that time that trolley and power service was interrupted. The fiery oil slick covered part of the Arkansas River and even ignited driftwood on a sandbar. Because of the infamy of the Row, the fire has been long remembered locally and earned the name "Night of the Lingerie Parade." That sobriquet was bestowed on the event because legend recounts that prostitutes in the bordellos of the Row fled the threatening blaze in their bedclothes.

While that certainly seems possible, no evidence exists to support a version of the story that an arsonist sought to burn down the Row out of moral indignation. One newspaper reports that the "resort of Dora Gaston" and the "resort of Jesse Collins" were destroyed in the fire, but it was not the end of commercial sex in the Row. Laura Zeigler, the madam at 123 First St., did not move away until 1911. Dora Gaston returned to re-establish her bordello after the blaze. Miss Ella Scott's house operated well into 1920s or later. Some storytellers have asserted that the fire only left Miss Laura's. That appears not to be the case. Several madams and houses continued to operate in the Row for many years.

Click on the thumbnails to see closeup views of sections of the lower part of the image. Notice the woman hiding behind the privacy fence in the top image, what appears to be another woman inside the fence in the middle thumbnail and the mixed character of the crowd of men in the larger view of the bottom image.