#ThrowbackThursday: Upham fire, Space Shuttle Columbia lost

#ThrowbackThursday: Upham fire, Space Shuttle Columbia lost


As we look back at historical front pages from the Record-Journal over the past 150 years, this week marks two particularly momentous and grave anniversaries in local and international news: the 1965 Upham Department Store fire in Meriden and the Space Shuttle Columbia breaking up on re-entry in 2003.

Upham Fire

The prominent downtown Upham department store, at 44 Colony St., and apartments above went up in flames the evening of Feb. 1, 1965. Coverage of the fire dominated the Record-Journal’s front page on Feb. 2 with headlines including Fire Destroy’s Upham’s Complex, ‘Thank God We’re Alive,’ and Department Store, Office-Apartment Building Razed.

Reports at the time called the fire one of the worst in the city’s history. Three people went to the hospital for treatment.

Tenants noticed smoke about 10 p.m. By 10:30 p.m., firefighters sounded a second alarm, bringing in assistance from South Meriden, Yalesville, Tracy, Middletown, Berlin, Cheshire, Southington and Waterbury fire departments.

Overall, the fire caused an estimated $1 million in damage.

A chance wind blowing to the north likely saved other buildings in the area, since the north side contained a parking lot. The blaze threatened the First Congregational Church, where residents rehearsing for a production of “Arsenic and Old Lace” took precautions to keep the fire from spreading such as removing drapes from the nearby windows.

Herbert Barker, founder of Barker’s Specialty Company and Barker Character, Comic and Cartoon Museum, owned the store in the 1960s. He bought the store from Charles Upham in 1962. Last year, Barker told the Record-Journal he remembers getting a call that the building, which he’d spent two years remodeling, was on fire.

“That was a sad day in my life,” he said. “When I saw my remodeled office go up in flames, the next thing I knew I woke up in a hospital.”

Barker, after attempting to rescue records from his store , was taken to the hospital and treated for shock along with his wife.

The Meriden Housing Authority recently opened a new complex, 24 Colony, which spans onto the lot where the Upham store used to be.

Columbia lost

The front page on Feb. 2, 2003 read “‘Columbia is Lost’ - Nation mourns international crew. The space shuttle broke apart upon re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts on board and sending fiery debris streaking across the Texas sky.

Students from Wallingford’s Stevens School were particularly distraught, since one of the astronauts killed in the incident, Kalpana Chawla, visited the school in 2000.

“‘No matter what career you choose, there will always be a risk,’” Geeta Talpade, who was 10 in 2003, recalled Chawla saying during the visit to her class a few years earlier.

“You feel horrible enough that something like this happens,” Rashmi Talpade, Geeta’s mother, said at the time. “But if you’ve seen and spoken to any of them, that makes the loss much more personal.”

Moments after 9 a.m., Columbia began coming apart while heading toward Cape Canaveral after a 16-day mission. Throughout the region, and the nation, news of the lost shuttle stunned crowds. It was the second shuttle lost after the Challenger explosion in 1986.

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