I’ll admit I’m a week behind for Amy Johnson Crow’s challenge of 52 Ancestors in 52 weeks but I’ll confess, I was busy reading and hadn’t paid much attention (will hang my head in shame). But I’m back for those who like to peruse my posts as this disaster always brings tears to my eyes.
25 March 1939
Ever since I discovered this fire a few years back, this date is now so ingrained in my brain I can’t help but remember it. On this day almost 81 years ago, my great-great-uncle and his wife, Charles and Ethel Childers, decided to take a trip to the store, leaving their children in the care of their older brothers. The brothers had gone fishing, and Eva, who was 9 at the time, began getting dinner started. When she put the kerosene in the stove, it spilled and caused the oven to explode. Eva ran outside, rolled around on the ground to extinguish the flames then ran more than a mile to the nearest neighbor for help. From there she was taken to the hospital where she died.
By the time the neighbor made it to the house, the entire home was gone. 2-year old Ralph Childers died as he was upstairs napping and was unable to be saved.
Other children did get burns on their hands as they tried to put out the flames on Eva before she rolled on the ground.
The Newspaper Article – Altoona Mirror 27 Mar 1939
Eva & Ralph
I tried to find Eva & Ralph’s graves when I went back to Pennsylvania last summer. I found their parent’s and their older brother but there was no grave marker for the two who had perished in that horrible fire. My husband pointed to a plot of land that dipped down next to Charles and Ethel’s grave, stating they were most likely there (along with the other 3 young ones who passed, Orval, Phyllis and Denney).
I was surprised at how this fire has been exaggerated when you read about it on public family trees on Ancestry. Because overall Charles and Ethel Childers had 3 other children pass away young (poor nutrition) many have poorly assumed they died in this fire. Just 2, but in my world these 2 were too many.
My Own Bad Attitude
I know it’s a different time and place but I couldn’t imagine going off to go shopping and leaving my kids alone in the care of their brothers. I know they didn’t know their older boys would go off fishing, and I know girls at age 9 often did the cooking for the family back then, but I look at my own daughter and never would have dreamed her cook a meal at the age of 9 (she hasn’t offered and she just turned 16).
For a long while I use to refer to Charles and Ethel sarcastically as the “greatest parents in the world”. At the time that Eva and Ralph died in the fire, Ethel was pregnant. Her daughter Phyllis Fern was born 30 May 1939 and ended up passing away on 10 October 1939 of Malnutrition. The same happened with a son who was born 9 August 1944, dying on 7 December 1944.
How I’ve Come Around
After realizing that Ethel had other issues, I’m wondering if after having lost her children in a fire, if she was also dealing with post partum depression on top of regular depression. Various newspaper articles have reported her being in the hospital herself within a month of her babies passing. Where I use to be quite judgmental of the couple, especially Ethel, I find myself compromising that there was more going on with her situation than meets the eye. I probably wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if something happened to my children, and its so nice we have other options in this day and age if our children aren’t getting the nutrients they need there is now formula. I know my own mother had issues with my older sister and she had to switch when my sister was very young. She never even tried, she just formula fed me.
But there is also birth control, and I think that in a nutshell may have helped Ethel a bit. No one acknowledged post partum depression in the 1920’s through the 1940’s, and it appears she was quite fertile and that probably didn’t help her mentally either. And with depression getting such a bad reputation back in the day she was probably fearful of being placed in an asylum.
I’m quite happy things have changed in the 81 years since this fire. Kerosene isn’t a regular way of cooking inside a home anymore. More safety precautions are in place and going to the store isn’t an all day excursion (well, depending on what you are looking for). But everyday more and more is being done for mental health.
As for Eva and Ralph – may their souls still rest in peace.