Visualizing 314: Fire Escape’s BBS Directory

Users who wanted to chat with Fire Escape when she wasn't online would be greeted with this ANSI screen on her BBS.

Users who wanted to chat with Fire Escape when she wasn’t online would be greeted with this ANSI screen on her BBS.

This is the first part of a three-part series.

If there was a superstar of St. Louis BBSes during the 1990s, it had to be Fire Escape.

She would call hundreds of boards in the 314 area code each month, verify they were still online, and note any changes (such as a BBS’s software or modem speed). She packaged all this information into a text file called ‘Fire Escape’s BBS Directory,’ and then posted it on her BBS. The directory would then be shared on BBSes throughout St. Louis.

Each month, new sysops might get a thrill seeing their board’s name in lights. Users could find interesting new boards to call.

Fire Escape did this job consistently — for free — from around 1990 until Jan. 2000. That is dedication.

Thankfully, about eight years worth of these directories have survived to this day (the missing directories are the early years: 1990-1992).

ANSI logon screen for Fire Escape's BBS Directory Headquarters.

ANSI logon screen for Fire Escape’s BBS Directory Headquarters.

Years ago, computer historian Jason Scott compiled a ‘Historical BBS List’ at textfiles.com. It’s a master catalog that aspires to be “a historical record of all the Bulletin Board Systems that ever were.” To build this catalog, Scott made use of BBS lists, Fidonet node lists and other sources. Fire Escape’s data was certainly a primary source for the 314 area code.

The “Historical BBS List” includes the fundamentals about each board (name, sysop, phone number, years online). These were common denominators among the various sources he used.

But Fire Escape’s 314 directories included more information than just the basics: modem speed, software type, hours of operation, RIP graphics support. In the last several years of the directory, she was even noting which boards had telechat, which were religious, which were adult-oriented, and much more.

I thought it would be a fun project to extract the data in these directories and use it to visualize facets of the St. Louis BBS scene, like its growth and swift descent (which Fire Escape called the “great migration”).

To see the charts, keep reading:

Related entries you might like to read:

3 thoughts on “Visualizing 314: Fire Escape’s BBS Directory

  1. jas

    pretty sure fire escape was up until a few years ago. a guy had taken it over and ran it for quite some time.

    Reply
    1. Josh Renaud Post author

      You are right. Fire Escape’s BBS Directory HQ (fehq.org) lived on as a telnet BBS. I know it was still online as late as 2007. I don’t know the exact date it went offline, but it wouldn’t have been too long after that. The “guy” you are referring to is Lucis (Marc Brooks), Fire Escape’s ex-husband.

      Reply
    2. Fire Escape

      That “guy” who took over and ran my BBS, was Lucis, my ex-husband. He kept the BBS going after our divorce until just a few years ago (@2009).

      Beth (aka Fire Escape)

      Reply

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