Way back in the 2000s, at the Eastern APA’s conference hotel in DC, the fire alarms went off in the middle of the night. The hotel was briefly evacuated, but, because it was winter, rather than keep everyone outside, the hotel let people take shelter in the ballroom—the very ballroom at which the Smoker had taken place earlier that night. The tables were still in place.  Some people, it seems, had actually taken the time to put on a suit. I imagine there were job candidates going around to philosophers in their pajamas saying, “I neglected to mention this during my interview but…” And of course there was speculation about the cause: perhaps someone looking to create a few new openings in next year’s job market? It was all over in an hour or two.

All of this is prelude to the news that our neighbors in political science have just experienced a worse version of the same thing. The annual American Political Science Association (APSA) meeting, which is orders of magnitude larger than the APA Eastern, is taking place at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park, which was on fire last night, apparently owing to multiple instances of arson. People were evacuated from their rooms for most of the night. Many slept outside on the lawn.  It doesn’t appear that anyone was injured, and attendees seem to be making the best of it with various quips on Twitter. Some gems from #APSAOnFire:

“Whoever set fire to the conference hotel, I wish I had your IRB.”

“If you thought the NSF funding crisis was a fire drill for political science, check out their annual meeting.”

“If you are wearing your name tag in Salon 1, you are a douche.”

“And if political scientists didn’t think DC liked them before, trying to burn the place down isn’t going to help.”

“I, for one, am certain it was the sociologists.”

UPDATE: IHE article on the fire here.

UPDATE 2: Several readers remind me that it was the same hotel both times.

UPDATE 3: “People start to yell at the various authorities on the stage. I silently debate whether the faction that I am going to lead will focus on hoarding the water or controlling access to the restrooms as our strategy when order breaks down.” A first person account of the night, here.

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9 years ago

Wasn’t the 2012 APSA meeting disrupted by hurricane Isaac? Some people have all the luck.

John Protevi
John Protevi
9 years ago

Some have claimed tha the Funk Caucus of the APSA were to blame, as their chant that “the roof, the roof, the roof is on fire” was misunderstood by nearby less hip conference goers. The FC people however refused responsibility, claiming that they were clearly involved in an ideal theory thought experiment and that the clearly labeled Veil of Ignorance at the entry to their seminar room should have been all the warning any rational agent would have needed.

(Inspired by this classic: http://www.theonion.com/articles/national-funk-congress-deadlocked-on-get-upget-dow,625/)

9 years ago

I was at that APA in 2006, not sleeping well before an interview the next morning. I think I had finally coaxed myself to sleep at about 3:15 AM and the fire alarm went off around 3:30. (There is video of me and some others during the evacuation on Facebook, but it’s mostly just us being punchy from sleep deprivation, so I’ll leave it out here.) The fairly well-supported scuttlebutt, i.e. I went and had a look later, was that it had been a small fire confined to an area around the elevators. Less-well-supported rumors put the blame on disgruntled job-seekers.

I would note that when the Skype/in-person interview debates get going, the pro-Skype crowd never brings up the possibility of the hotel catching on fire. At least in a Skype interview, only one of the parties would be in mortal danger, barring distant simultaneous fires.

kristin andrews
9 years ago

I have to share my favorite story from that APA meeting, published in the proceedings of the APA, and saved forever on my hardrive:

“Dear Editor,
I recently received my 9-year-old son’s yearly schoolwork portfolio from his fourth-grade teacher, and I was pleasantly surprised to find included an account of his impressions of the Eastern Division Meeting in Washington, D.C. this past winter. In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that my family chose to accompany me to the meeting despite my warnings!
In any case, here’s what Atticus had to say.
[see attached document]
Charles Bolyard
“2 days after Christmas I went to a philosophy confrence [sic]. It was horrible. There were 200 philosophers. They all did weird things. They couldn’t make jokes, many had beards.
In the elevator it was worse. Once a philosopher got off on the wrong floor, so said, “wait for me.” “We’ll take you to the 27th,” said another. Nobody laughed. “Get it there are only 10 floors,” said some random old guy in a country accent. You get the point it was creepy.
A few days later there was a fire. Only one person was hurt, but everyone did weird things. Like people were standing in the roads, so nonphilosophers had to lead them out. Some people went back into the hotel. Firefighters had to lead them away. Still one guy stayed and had his bags blocking the door. Firefighters told him to move his bags, so he did, but when they left he put them back. I’ll never go to a philosophy confrence [sic] again.””

9 years ago

I was there, but didn’t know people were let into the ballroom! We were stuck outside the whole time, and it was damned cold.

It was pretty enjoyable watching job seekers schmooze committee members in their (seekers and members both) jammies, though.

Our favorite theory at the time was that the fire started with a job seeker self-immolating in protest.

But that 9 year old’s description is so perfect. It really looked like a mental institution had released all the inmates. Or like that Monty Python philosophers on the football field bit.

idrather notsay
idrather notsay
9 years ago

I was at the APA for the fire, and I have a vague memory of it seeming suspicious, and reading or hearing about other fires in that same hotel?

Michael Kremer
Michael Kremer
9 years ago

This is much further back… There was also a fire at a hotel at the APA in Washington in 1989. It was not the main conference hotel, but it was right across the street, and many conference goers were staying there. (I found a story about this in the Washington Post online, 12/29/1988, p. B4, which names the hotel as the Omni Shoreham and states the fire was 2-alarm and started around 9 a.m. 12/28; according to the APA proceedings from that year, the conference hotel was the Sheraton Washington, which is now the Marriott Wardman Park). I remember this well, because I was in the shower getting cleaned up for an interview to take place an hour or so later, when the alarms went off. I grabbed my bathrobe and went downstairs. There was a lot of smoke, and we had to crawl along the floor to get unde it, and of course walk down the stairs. We had to go down to the main lobby where we were permitted to camp out while the firefighters came and dealt with the fire (which was minor — I always thought it was in the kitchen but the Post article I dug up tells me it was mattresses stored in an unused meeting room). Meanwhile the lobby was full of philosophers — and also of the other group using the hotel for a meeting, something like transcendental meditators. So there we were in our tweed jackets (or as the case may be, bathrobes), talking shop, and there they were on their mats, meditating. My thought at the time: if a random visitor was told that half the people in the room were philosophers, which group would he or she pick?

(Oh, and I did make it to the interview, with time to change; it only took about half an hour for the firefighters to settle everything.)

9 years ago

An American University professor may be a suspect in the case. See this Washington Post article. (via Steven Gross)