The light flickered, growing dim and bright before finally shutting out completely as H.H. Boyle’s room filled with white smoke soon after the darkness.
That night smoke also filled the rest of the building that sat on the corner of 9th and Lubbock Streets. The 25 patrons that occupied the building rushed out as the crackling fire spread.
Boyle, trying to make his way down a hallway to find the stairs, found the smoke too thick and the darkness all consuming.
He was trapped in the Forrest Hotel as fire quickly engulfed the building.
That following Friday, April 24, 1953, The Slatonite reported that the other patrons’, fortunately, made their way out of the burning building. “Miraculously enough,” the article stated, “none of the hotel’s approximately 25 guests suffered serious injury in the blaze, one of the worst ever recorded in the annals of Slaton history.”
On that spring night, Wednesday, April 22, 1953, people were awakened shortly after midnight; they looked out of windows and from their front yards at the smoke and blaze that drifted from their charming town square.
Even from the Slaton Club House, which was a few blocks down the red brick street, flames could be seen.
It was in that same building, The Slaton Club House, that only a few months earlier, in January of 1953, the Reverend P.J. Burns presented a plaque to L.B. Hagerman as Slaton’s Man of the Year.
The Slatonite reported that more than 152 people attended the annual Chamber of Commerce Banquet.
Hagerman was chosen man of the year for his 42 years as a, “railroad man,” in Slaton and his extensive work for the Boy Scouts of America.
The event was emceed by Robert Hall Davis and ended in laughter and merriment as Davis ended by telling the crowd, “We hope all of you will remember Slaton as the fastest-growing city between Posey and Southland.”
However, months later, the laughter was hushed as the Slaton Chamber dealt with the aftermath of a town square in rubble.
As the people staying at the Forrest Hotel rushed out, most losing their belongings in the fire, violent flames grew more and more unruly throughout the night and well into the morning.
Boyle had to make a decision. He had two options, face the uncertainty of running through hallways and towards unpredictable flames and smoke filled darkness, or find his way out by other means.
Boyle went to the window in his room, looked down at the alleyway below and – jumped.
The fire began in the storeroom at the rear of Itty Bitty Drug. The fire was estimated to cost $125,00 in damage, “perhaps more,” according to The Slatonite.
“The lean, nervous and likeable Clyde Doherty, who owned the Itty Bitty for scarcely more than two years, stood heartbrokenly in front of his place of business as late as 4:20 am on Wednesday morning, sobbing ashamedly,” The Slatonite reported.
As Boyle escaped the flames with a non-life threatening ankle injury, it was in the front of the hotel where people watched in awe and a few voiced their grievance in the still of the warm spring night.
“It’s everything I have ever worked for my whole life, it’s gone,” Doherty shouted as he watched the flames reaching further and further into the sky.
The people sat on the town square and watched as the fire soared into the night and by the time the sun rose the next morning all that remained of the top floor of the skeletal structure was the smoldering soot and ash of what once was many Slatonites first memories of their fair city.
On that night, in Slaton, there was no laughter.
On Friday, when The Slatonite went to print, on the front page, the blaring headline that week read, “Midnight Holocaust Guts Forrest Hotel.”