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The Duchess

Today in the Word, April 14, 1993

On May 4, 1897, duchess Sophie-Charlotte Alencon was presiding over a charity ball in Paris when the hall caught fire. Flames spread to the paper decorations and flimsy walls, and in seconds the place was an inferno. In the hideous panic that followed, many women and children were trampled as they rushed for the exits, while workmen from a nearby site rushed into the blaze to carry out the trapped women. Some rescuers reached the duchess, who had remained calmly seated behind her booth.

"Because of my title, I was the first to enter here. I shall be the last to go out," she said, rejecting their offer of help. She stayed and was burned to death along with more than 120 others.