Horror struck South Richmond Hill 52 years ago this month, when one of the deadliest fires in Queens history killed nearly an entire family.
South Richmond Hill was predominately a German-American middle-class community when it was developed during the early 20th century. But on 94th Avenue, one house stood out above the rest — an early all-wood clapboard home at 127-10 94 Ave. It was owned by German-born Emil Grimminger and his wife, Emilia. They had one daughter. Emilia’s parents lived with them too, and they also took in a lodger to help with the bills. Grimminger was a mechanic who worked for the Sheffield Milk Company just down the block.
He eventually sold the house to William Ryan, a sanitation worker. But Ryan’s time there would end in tragedy.
On the cold night of Feb. 12-13, 1961, a fire raced through the old wooden house. It took the lives of four of the five Ryan children and their aunt on their mother’s side.
Bill Ryan and his wife escaped through the front window off the porch. Their son William Jr., age 5, also survived. The rest were trapped in a rear bedroom. Various charities aided the surviving family members and helped them find a five-bedroom apartment in South Ozone Park.
Today an all-brick three-family home occupies the site, just steps away from Phil Rizzuto Park. The scars of that terrible day 52 years ago are no longer visible, but must persist in the hearts of the remaining family members and others who remember.