THE BOOTBLACK FROM ANN STREET
 SEVERAL years ago near the corner of Park Row and
Beekman Street, New York, there stood a large frame
building. It was four or five stories in height. On the
ground floor there were several stores; the upper
floors were occupied by offices.
Like all the old-fashioned buildings of that time, it
contained but one stairway, and there was no fire
escape. Elevators had not yet come into use. The only
way, therefore, of passing to or from the upper rooms
was by means of the rickety wooden stairs. No such
building would now be permitted to exist in the city.
One cold day in January the end came to that old
structure. A fire broke out, nobody knew exactly where.
The stairway was soon filled with smoke and flame.
The people in the offices above were cut off—there
seemed to be no way for them to escape. Some were
burned to death. Some were smothered by the smoke. A
few were rescued from the windows by means of ladders.
 The Fire Department was not then equipped as it is
now. There were no ladders long enough to reach to the
topmost floor; and yet there were three men on that
floor looking out at a window and calling for help.
What could be done to save them? Was there no way of
getting them down from their perilous position? If they
remained where they were, the flames would soon reach
and destroy them. If they leaped to the pavement
below, they would surely be crushed to death.
While the firemen were vainly throwing water
on the flames,
and everybody was wondering what should be done, a
little bootblack rushed into the crowd. He saw the men,
with hopeless, beseeching faces, standing at the
window. He saw, too, what no other person had seen, the
only way of saying them.
"Hey there! give me that jimmy!" he cried, and
he snatched a wrench from the hands of a mechanic who
was standing by. He rushed to a telegraph pole that
stood directly across the street from the burning
building. In a moment he was "shinning it" up the
pole, with the heavy wrench stuck in his belt.
 "What's he going to do up there?" inquired the
Then they noticed for the first time that a wire
rope—a stay rope, as it was called—extended
from the top
of the pole to the roof of the building at a point
just above the window where the men were standing. If
the rope could be cut from the pole, it would fall
right across the window, and the men could slide down
it to the ground.
Not a moment was to be lost. The fire was already
beginning to take hold of the woodwork beneath the
window. The smoke was rolling up in heavy clouds. The
wind was blowing a gale. Would the little fellow
ever get to the top of the pole? Small though he was,
he was agile and strong, and he went up rapidly. When
he reached the first crosspiece, the crowd below him
gave a great cheer. In another moment he was on the
upper crosspiece, his wrench was in his hands, he was
hard at work twisting the wire rope from its
fastening. The crowd cheered again.
Oh, how well that rope was fastened, and how long it
took to loosen it! But at last it fell.
It fell just as the boy expected it to fall, and hung
straight down in front of the window. The men saw
it. They seized it, and one after another slid quickly
down to the ground. A few minutes later the whole of
the upper floor of the building fell in with a
The little hero who had saved three lives by his quick
wit came leisurely down the telegraph pule, returned
the wrench to its owner, and again mingled with the
crowd. He did not expect to
be rewarded. He never thought of thanks. He had only done
"Where is the boy who cut that wire?" inquired a
gentleman who had seen the brave deed.
"Yes, where is he?" inquired others, seeming now
to remember that he deserved some reward.
"Who is he?"
"Oh, it's Charlie Wright, the little bootblack from
Ann Street," said one who knew him.
An agent of the American Humane Society soon afterward
found him busy at work in his accustomed place. "Well,
Charlie," he said, "you did a brave and noble deed,
and our society wishes to thank you for it by giving
you a medal."
 The story of his exploit was told in London. The
English Humane Society wished also to thank him, and it
sent him a gold medal inscribed with these words:
PRESENTED TO CHARLES WRIGHT, FOR SAVING THREE LIVES.