|Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, September 28, 1861|
A crowd of fifteen hundred watched William Wheatley's production of the first act of The Tempest on the evening of September 14, 1861. The show was interrupted by strange lights from behind the scenery, followed shortly by screams, stage carpenters rushing onto the platform and the appearance of a young dancer engulfed in flames. This dancer, Zelia Gale, screamed and waved her arms frantically as her costume and skin melted away. She finally fell beneath the stage where a carpenter covered her in a sea cloth from the set design.
As the curtains dropped the screams of other dancers backstage became more audible. Initially the manager tried to calm the crowd but when the magnitude of the situation became clear he told them that the show would not continue and evacuated the building. Meanwhile, a horrific and chaotic scene continued in the dressing room part of the theater.