On Dec. 24, 1924, At a Christmas tree celebration at Babbs Switch School, thirty-six persons lost their lives
The Oklahoman, Dec. 26, 1924 Front Page
The identified dead are:
Mrs. Roda Bradshaw, age 37
Dow Bolding, 17 years
Maggie Bolding, 13 years old
Edward Bolding, 8 years old
William Riggers, 9 years old
T. C. Coffey, 65 years old
Maudie Coffey, 16 years old
Aubrey Coffey, 26 years old
Juanita Clements Stevenson, 26 years old
Infant: Mary Juanita Stevenson
Mary Lois Clements, 21 years old
Gladys Clements, 22 years old
W.T. Curtis, 47 years old
Mrs. W. T. Curtis, 38 years old
Frances Curtis, 8 years old
Edna Curtis, 12 years old
John Duke, 21 years old
J. T. Goforth, 55 years old
Vesta Jackson, 18 years old
Cyril Peck, 17 years old
Paul Peck, 19 years old
Walter Riggers, 15 years old
Mattie May Bryan, 10 years old
Mrs. T. C. Coffey, 60 years old
Orley Coffey, 4 years old
Mary Elizabeth Eden, 3 years old
John Hepenshperger, 9 years old
Mrs. Glen Hill, 26 years old (school teacher)
Obel Peck, 21 years old
Ernest Peterson, 13 years old
Julia Revill, 9 years old
Lee Revill, 11 years old
E. H. Bryan
Mrs. W. G. Bolding
Mrs. W. H. Biggers
L. F. Eden
John Goforth (injured probably fatal)
A. D. Harris
W. L. Haney
Mrs. A. C. Noah
Mrs. Gertrude Williamson
Mrs. Joe McNutt
On Christmas Eve 1924, the teacher, Mrs. Florence Terry Hill, greeted her pupils and parents as they arrived at the schoolhouse for the Christmas program. The school looked good. It was freshly painted (with paint incorporating turpentine thinner). New steel grates had been installed over the windows to prevent any more breakage as had occurred in the recent windstorm. The tree was trimmed with red and green tallow candles, giving a warmth to the room that contrasted with the cold night and light snow outdoors.
The school was that of Babbs Switch, Okla., on the southwestern plains located in Kiowa County.
The evening went as planned until Santa Claus, "Dowell Bolding", reached for a small gift on the tree, bent a branch, and inadvertently set the tree ablaze. People nearby tipped the tree over and tried to smother the flames, but only succeeded in spreading them. There was a panic. People piled up at the rear door, trampling one another. They tried to escape via the windows, but couldn't get the new gratings loose. A reporter wrote, "Spectators who witnessed the tragedy said entire families died wrapped in each others arms."
It was slow getting burn victims to hospital in Hobart, because most folks had drained their radiators before coming inside the schoolhouse. Thirty-seven people were counted missing. The next day, Christmas, the bodies were retrieved from the site, while volunteers dug graves in Hobart's Rose Cemetery. Twenty victims rest there today, under red granite markers. Others are buried in family plots.
Subsequently the state legislature passed a fire code for schools that, among other things, prohibited candles on Christmas trees. The school board rebuilt, a grand school intended as a memorial. It lasted only until 1943, then closed due to consolidation. A roadside marker on Highway 183 marks the spot.
There were 37 counted missing, but only 36 bodies were found. A young mother who escaped the blaze wrote in her little girl's baby book, "Our precious Darling Baby was taken from us Dec 24 1924 at the Babbs Switch school house fire. Mary Elizabeth Edens age 3 yr, 6 mo, 2 days."
Little Mary Edens was thrust out one of the schoolhouse windows--someone having managed to pry loose a grate--by her Aunt Alice, who died of burns. Mary was seen no more. Her family believed that someone, perhaps a childless couple, took advantage of the confusion to kidnap her.
That is exactly what happened. In 1956 the Daily Oklahoman published an article headed, "Is Mary Edens Still Living?" In San Bernardino, California, an accountant and Lions Club member named Elmont Place read the article. He then wrote to Wayne Fite, president of the Hobart Lions Club, "I have, among my clientele, a prominent young businesswoman [she ran a dress shop in Barstow] whose life story has been entrusted to me. . . . She does not know who her father and mother were, nor has she been able to find out anything as to possible relatives."
This situation had to be handled delicately. Over the years the family had paid a fortune to detectives and had been repeatedly disappointed. The two Lions made discrete contacts, comparing recollections, including that the woman in question, as a child, had been "very fond of bacon rinds." Back in Oklahoma, her Aunt Bertha recalled snatching bacon rinds from her hand and telling her they were bad for her.
Mary Edens Grossnickle, as told in her book, Mary, A Child of Tragedy, was reunited with her parents. And she told her story on the Art Linkletter Show on March 27, 1957.
Memorial at site of Babbs Switch Tragic School Fire
Babbs Switch Schoolhouse Fire
December 24, 1924
THEY LAUGHED AT FIRST, AS FLAME SPREAD
Mother Who Lost Babies Says Crowd Joked With Santa Claus
HER BABY RAN BACK
When She Fell, Her Boy Ran Back to Get His Toys, And Didn't Return
(By: Staff Correspondent) Daily Oklahoman, Dec. 25, 1924 Front Page
Hobart, Dec. 25--Burned badly about the hands and face and suffering from injuries sustained when trampled on by the crowd, Mrs. W. G. Boland, mother of three children burned to death at the Babb's Switch school house, gave her version of the tragedy at a hospital Thursday night.
"I was on the committee," she said, "and was under the tree helping to give out the presents when a candle set the tree on fire. I tried to beat it out with a paper sack but did no good. At first the crowd laughed and joked about the blaze"
They joked at First
"Look out Santa Claus, you'll catch on fire"they cried. My boy Dow was acting as Santa Claus. The program was over, all the presents had been distributed and Dow had handed out about 14 of 100 bags of candy and fruit to which the crowd was being treated when the fire started. Dow tried to smother it out with a blanket and then grabbed the curtain from the stage and tried to use it.
The sheeting caught fire and Dow, who was dressed up in a Santa Claus suit covered over with cotton, was immediately enveloped by a sheet of flame.
Ran Back After Toys
I grabbed my youngest boy, Eugene--he is only six years old--and dragged him through the crowd to the door. I stumbled on the porch and fell. I must have fainted for when I realized what was happening I was being trampled on by the excited crowd and managed to get to my feet.
Edward, who is 8 years old, ran back into the building for his toys and never came out. When I lost my boy last summer in the hospital I thought that was the hardest thing that could come to me but you cannot know how terrible this is.
According to Clyde Hudson, the flames spread on the ceiling and were threatening the building before the crowd realized the danger.
Ceiling Caught From Tree
The ceiling must have caught from the tree before it was pulled over. I realized the danger at once and by the time I had gotten out, the whole crowd was on its feet and in a mad rush for the door. I ran around to the north window. Aubrey Coffey had kicked one window out and I went to tear the guard from another window but only managed to loosen one corner. At that time Jay Reville, 17 year old boy, was trying to squeeze through the window Aubrey had kicked loose. He was calling for help and when I pulled him through the opening flames were all around him.
Hand and Heads Stick Out
I left him and ran to the door, it was blocked and the people were madly fighting their way to the outside. There I stayed pulling whom I could from the tangled crowd, until the fire began to come out so far that I was forced back.
Heavy black smoke was pouring from the building and I had to send down as I worked in order to get my breath. When some men I helped try to pull a boy from the bottom of the pile, he was already half way out of the door but all out strength was not enough to free him. The flames were pouring out over us then and we had to leave him. There he burned halfway on the outside. During the whole time I was at the door I saw only one foot sticking from the pile of people. It was mostly hands and heads.
Flame Squirmed Like Reptile of Fire, Red Tongue Licking Room
Fire Dancing on Blackened Wood, Sputtering, Dying; Black Ashes On Dirty Snow---and Death
Hobart, Dec. 25,--(Special) ---"Silent night, silent night." Cries of Christmas merriment as Babb's Switch folks came for miles to the country school house to celebrate His birth.
Then the crescendo--flames pierced the blue-cold night. Harsh screams sobbed on the winds. Hands clawed at mesh-screened windows that would not give. Cries of anguish. A sob, a low curse and --God, this is awful.
The program was over. The last boy had declaimed his Christmas verse and the last duet has been encored and left the stage.
Santa Claus, Dow Bolding--in his be-whiskered masque, wended his way through the aisles laying presents on the knife scarred desks. "oh's" and "Looky what i got," played a rippling tremor of excitement in the one room school.
An innocent candle's flame chased by a chilled gust of wind that crept through the thin boarded room stabbed at the tinseled Christmas tree. Stabbed twice and then caught by an insignificant silvered thread pressed home its message of horror.
The holocaust was on. A single line of flame traveled up and down the tinsel strands on the tree. The dry, stalwart cedar bowed its head in shame. Lives lived years then. Frantic men grabbed at the flaming enigma of Christmas. A chair was dashed where the blaze had kindled the sharp nettles of the tree into burning activity.
The massive Christmas idol was pulled from its perch to the splintered school room floor. A cheap cotton stage curtain--a few moments ago hiding stage-frightened youths-was turned into a writhing fire reptile. Burnt cedar smoke mingled with men, women and children fighting over desks to gain the hostile exit.
Licking, licking with the appetite of a gourmand the unsustained blaze stripped desk varnish, ate at the walls, and tread after the mob of humanity snarling, kicking, biting to gain the lone door.
Her face pressed against the meshed window Vesta Jackson looked out on her brother Andrew Jackson, and pleaded in a din that he could not bear to break through the barrier that separated her from the cooling snow haven outside. Others pushed against Vesta and beat on window panes that broke. But the mesh--it clung to Vesta's cell window. Her brother, who was one of those first to escape the room tore at the wire. Fingers bleeding he smashed his large fist time after time into the wire. With each rebound of the fist the hope crept from the soul of the girl.
Vesta died in the arms of her sweetheart, Aubrey Coffee. When rescuers stepped gingerly into the charred ruins they found Vesta and Aubrey and the other members of the Coffey family together.
The milling mob at the door crawled, got on each other's shoulders to fight through the narrow exit. On the outside those escaping from the inferno fought to get back to sons, daughters and wives.
Two elements clashed. Those in the rear in the school house mob was pushed into the crackling furnace. Burned body stench sickened the night air.
Several men with Jackson literally jerked men, women and children from the flames that nipped at clothing and burned time scars into the flesh.
Two gasoline lamps freshened the fire's breath when they exploded
It was the end. Sidewalls in the school house crumbled. The Red devil of the night sucked at the front door. The devil was full. Human cries dulled--slowly--then stopped.
Tiny flames danced on the blackened wood-sputtered sometimes and then went out. A smoke veil mauiled Babb's Switch funeral pyre and in a spiral loop wound Heavenward for forgiveness from Him.
MASS WRITHED, CLAWED, CRIED, TO BREAK OUT
Hero of Fire Plunged Into Tangle of Bodies, And Pulled Many Out
HE SAW SISTER, DIE
Ghastly Stampede at Door is Described by Man Who Crashed Out
by Staff Correspondent of Daily Oklahoman printed Dec. 25, 1924, front page
Hobart, Dec. 25--A vivid story of the BBB school fire, which snuffed out the lives of thirty three persons at a Christmas entertainment Wednesday night, was told Thursday by Andrew Jackson, Kiowa County's Christmas eve hero.
I was standing at the rear of the room when the fire started. Paper decorations on the tree caught from a candle near the top. Some man, I don't know who, attempted to beat the blaze out with a chair. Falling Orville Peck, one of those who lost his life seized a blanket or a cost and attempted to extinguish the fire.
Tree of Dry Cedar
The blaze continued to spread and someone pulled the tree over. It was dry cedar and in an instant the whole thing was aflame.
The sheetings used for a curtain across the front of the stage caught and at once it seemed the whole room was a fire.
I was near the door and ran to the outside and tried to break through one of the heavy screens which held prisoner my sister, Vesta, who was burned to death. It was bolted from the inside and I could not budge it.
Pulled Them Out Door
Running back in the door I began to pull as many people as I could from the jammed passage-way. The ones managing to get on the outside were screaming so that I couldn't hear any screams or cries had there been any from the inside. By that time it was a solid mass of flames. Men, women and children were crawling over one another and between each other's legs in an effort to escape a horrible death.
Flames Were Shooting Out
It seemed no time until the fire had envelope the people who were trying to get through the door. Flames were shooting out and we could help no further. We could plainly see burning bodies through the doorway. There was no struggling then. I think perhaps the heavy smoke had suffocated those who were caught in the jam. I was not the only one to help free those who made their way to the door. Clyde Hudson was there. W. L. Haney managed to get out and he helped too. There must have been others.
Saw Sister's Face
It was all over in such a hurry I cannot recall all of the details as they took place. Vesta, my sister was with her sweetheart Aubrey Coffey. When I saw them they were by the window but in the mad rush when the fire became unmanageable they must have been cut off from the door. Two gasoline lamps hanging on the sidewalls of the clapboard school building exploded when the flames rose roofward and aided in the conflagration, according to several who escaped from the school house.W. L. Haney, youth who sustained burns about the face and hands gave the following version of the tragedy:
Couldn't Beat It Out
The program had been given and Dow Bolding who was acting as Santa Claus had almost finished giving out the presents when the tree in the corner of the room took fire. Someone tried to beat it out with a chair and then one of the other boys tried to smother it with a coat. They both failed--and the tree was pulled over to the floor. Almost at the same time it blazed up, the curtain across the stage took fire. The first flash singed my hair and burned my face. The fire became a swirling mass of flames, before anyone had time to realize what was happening. I joined the crowd trying to get to the door but was trampled to the floor just as I grabbed the door facing with my left hand.
Cries of Don't Crowd
There were cries of don't crowd and men let the women and children out first, but my face and head was being bruised and I continued to struggle through the door. I was burned before I finally did get out. I tried to help the others struggling at the door, but within a few minutes the flames were shooting more than three feet from the building and I had to stop.The congestion at the school house doorway was caused as much by those on the outside attempting to enter to save loved ones as by those struggling to escape the furnace behind them. Luis F. Eden
after crawling under the legs of the jammed crowd at the door to fresh air on the outside could not find his 3 year old daughter, Mary Elizabeth. Eden rushed back to the building but the crowd repulsed his efforts to get to his baby. She burned to death.
Outsiders Couldn't Get In
It was crowd against a crowd. Excitement against excitement and in the panic those who sought exit from the lone doorway were forced backward by those seeking to effect a rescue.
The five children of Mrs. Rhoda Bradshaw, victim of the Christmas catastrophe were being cared for by Hobart people
The three Clement sisters, two of whom are school teachers, are dead. They were supporting a widowed mother. Mary Louise Clement taught in Fort Worth, Texas, and was home for the holidays. Two missing children, Lilly and Lee Revill, were left at home by their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Jim Revill who went to Fort Worth, Texas for Christmas. The parents are expected to return to Hobart Friday to identify the charred bodies of their children.
Babb's Switch is Hobart's suburb. Families in Hobart are related to those suffering in the school house blaze. To Hobart the tragedy aimed at its own people. The school house is two miles east and four miles south of Hobart. So Hobart worked Christmas day and forgetting cold Christmas dinners helped relatives identify the bodies at the morgues. Many Oklahoma cities responded without call to aid the suffers at Babb's Switch. Contributions poured into telegraph offices at Hobart. Condolences were received from legislators, state officials and cities outside the state.
Above picture from The Oklahoman printed Dec. 27, 1924, Front Page
Article following was written by Staff Correspondent
Bleak Graves Make Somber Scar Atop Snow-Covered Hill
Eight of Babb Switch Dead Are Buried Friday, Remainder Will be Buried Today, Twenty To Go in One Grave; Union Service For All Is Held In City Auditorium At Hobart
Hobart, Dec. 26--Five graves, dug from the frozen ground of a little cemetery near here were filled with eight dead Friday; seven more graves will be filled Saturday. Like scars they lay--these somber trenches atop the snow covered hillside; and scars they are--scars on the heart of a community not yet able to sound with full depth of its grief.
Winding down from Hobart they came, melted snow slushing under wheels and tramping feet. Into the cemetery the procession crawled; and there, a brief message of condolence.
In one grave went the bodies of Mary Lola Clements, Gladys Clements, Juanita Clements Stevenson and Mary Juanita Stevenson, the 3 year old child of Mrs. Juanita Clements Stevenson. Mother and babe were buried in the same casket while the sisters were buried on either side.
Mute Message to His Beloved
In the casket with Gladys Clements was a wreath with a card attached which bore simply a name--Claude Bolding-a mute message from the man who on Christmas day was to have married the girl and who when she was buried lay in a hospital in a critical condition.
In another grave had been placed, another bride-to-be, Vest Jackson and not far off an open grave awaited Aubrey Coffey, her fiancé who died with her.
Three others were buried during the afternoon. They were Mrs. Florence Terry Hill, teacher of the little school, Lee Revill, and Lilly Edna Revill, children of Jim Revill who with his wife and four other children were visiting at Waco when the two children were killed.
Total is Now Thirty-Five
The death list was increased to thirty five Friday night with the death of Mrs. J. P. Noah, 55 years old; who had been burned about the head and face. Mrs. Joe McNutt is the only one among the injured who is in a serious condition. She was trampled during the rush for the exit.
Most heads were bowed as the ministers spoke words of comfort but toward the front of the city auditorium, where the funeral was held, sat the grandmother of one of the tots who perished in the fire. Her gray head was tilted back, and as her hungry heart drank in the consoling words, a wandering sunbeam chanced upon her face, finding haven for a moment in a dropping tear.
Few eyes were dry. Few words were spoken, and in the hush which gripped the auditorium was heard the whisper of a child.
Then--A Mother's Wail
There had been no sound from the audience until the choir lifted its voice in the old hymn, "Rock of Ages." There was a woman's wail--the cry of a mother's breaking heart. Tearless, and without other outward show for two days she had borne silently the agony of her soul, but the service was too much. Her slight being a tremble, she wept and would not be comforted." And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death nor crying," and the minister. "Neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away." "Life is uncertain," he continued, "death is sure."
Speaks Words of Consolation
And from Revelation he continued, "These are they which came out of great tribulation and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."
By proclamation of the mayor all business in the city was suspended during the entire afternoon. Citizens from all the countryside for miles around Babb and the people of Hobart filled the city auditorium to overflowing. Scores who could not find room in the building stood about on the outside.
Identified Beyond Doubt
At 4 o'clock separate service for Mrs. Florence Terry Hill, teacher at the ill-fated school, was conducted by Rev. C. W. Esten at the Presbyterian church. The young school teacher had been identified beyond a doubt and the individual service was held at the request of her mother.
Plans for burying others of the dead Friday were abandoned due to the inability to get the graves finished. The remaining twenty six persons will be buried Saturday morning at 10 o'clock.
NEW FIREPROOF SCHOOL MAY BE BUILT IN ASHES
15 Little Desks Will Be Absent When School At Babbs Begin
MANY AID IN RELIEF
Death Toll Remains at 35 - Two More Deaths Are Expected Soon
Hobart, Dec. 27--(Special)--A monument to those who died there will be erected upon the ashes of the Babbs Switch schoolhouse in the form of a permanent fireproof school building if plans of Mrs. William Alexander, superintendent of schools of Kiowa county, are carried to completion.
I conceive of no more fitting memorial, declared Mrs. Alexander, Saturday night. If in this terrible sacrifice they have paved the way for the safeguarding of those who are left they will not have died entirely in vain.
No attempt to re-open school will be made for at least three or four weeks, Mrs. Alexander said. There is a vacant house near the school grounds which probably will be rented for temporary use until more permanent quarters can be provided. Application has been made to the state text book commission for a new supply of free text books to replace those destroyed in the fire. Nothing further will be done until notification that these books have been shipped has been received, Mrs. Alexander stated.
Eighteen Pupils Remain
Scarcely more than one half of the number of desks used in the death building will be necessary when school resumes. Thirty-three pupils were enrolled in the last report submitted the county superintendent. Eighteen remain to answer assembly bell when a new teacher shall convene classes.
With their teacher, Mrs. Glenn Hill, who gave her life in futile attempt to save her tinier charges, the pitiful broken bodies of the other fifteen rest in the Hobart cemetery.
Approximately $15,000 will be needed for relief work, according to Walter B. Stephens, chairman of the relief committee. Contrary to a report emanating from Oklahoma City, there is no Red Cross organization in Kiowa county and the burden of relieving the fire sufferers rests upon citizens committees and upon the United Charities organization. Although no direct solicitation for outside help has been made, many communities in the state have joined voluntarily in the relief work.
In addition to contributions made by citizens and firms of Oklahoma City, the Cordell commercial club has sent $502.50; Frisco railway, $500; Roxanna Petroleum company, $250; Carroll-Bough-Robinson wholesale grocery firm, $100; Knights of Pythias grand lodge $100; Ku Klux Klan, $100; Marland Refining company, $100; Magnolia Petroleum company, $100; Baker Cotton Oil company of Altus, $100; Mountain View commercial club, $100; Cities Service Oil company $50. The Rock Island railroad has contributed to the relief fund also, as have others, names of which have not been made public.
Death Toll At Thirty-Five
The death toll remains at thirty-five, following the death of Mrs. J.P. Noah, Friday night. Two other deaths are expected momentarily, however. The burns of Miss Ethel Hill have become infected and little hope is held for her recovery. Mrs. Joseph McNutt also is near death.
Christmas fire brings tragedy, mystery
By GENE CURTIS World Staff Writer
Printed in the Tulsa World
Fire turned a fun night of singing carols, enjoying refreshments and exchanging gifts into tragedy at a Christmas Eve celebration in 1924. It also created a mystery that wasn't solved for 32 years.
The fire in the one-room Babb Switch School near Hobart left 36 dead and many injured and also led to a new state law that was copied by all other states.
The mystery involved the one person unaccounted for -- Mary Elizabeth Edens, a 3-year-old girl who had been sitting on the lap of her aunt, Alice Noah, when the fire began. Santa Claus Dow Bolding set off the blaze when he reached into the branches of the cedar Christmas tree for one of the last presents and knocked over a burning candle.
"The candle touched a little limb, and the tree was so dry that one whole side was blazing almost instantly," a witness recalled.
Noah died the next day after telling the girl's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Louis Edens, that she had handed the child to someone outside the fiery building. The parents at first thought the child might have been taken to Hobart by one of the rescuers. But no one could account for her.
The aunt's story was borne out by a count of the missing and dead. The bodies of 36 of the 37 who were missing were found, but Mary Elizabeth's body was not among them.
Mary Elizabeth's disappearance remained a mystery until 1956, when an accountant in San Bernardino, Calif., read a newspaper story about the search for the missing girl and connected it with a woman he knew as Mary Reynolds, a Barstow dress shop owner.
The accountant, a Lions Club member, wrote the Hobart Lions Club president that "I have, among my clientele, a prominent young businesswoman who does not know who her father and mother were nor has she been able to find out anything as to possible relatives."
The Hobart Lions provided information about a scar on the missing girl's foot and pictures that were compared with pictures of Reynolds when she was about the same age.
There also was information that the woman in question, as a child, had been "very fond of bacon rinds." Back in Oklahoma, her Aunt Bertha recalled snatching bacon rinds from the missing girl's hand and telling her they were bad for her.
On the night of the fire, she apparently had been handed to a vagabond couple who took her to a series of nomadic camps in Arkansas and Kansas before arriving in California, where she was abandoned. She later worked for her room and board and finally was adopted when she was 15. The woman who adopted her failed in an attempt to learn about her background.
After her identity was confirmed, the long-missing woman returned to Hobart to get acquainted with her parents and other relatives. She later wrote a book, "Mary, A Child of Tragedy," under her new married name of Grossnickle and told her story on national television.
She told her parents she had early memories of "first one family, then another."
About 200 people had crammed into the small building for the event, which was a typical rural Christmas Eve party until the fire. Attempts by several men to put out the fire failed.
The revelers tried to escape through the only door, the Dec. 25, 1924, Tulsa World reported. However, the door opened inwardly and the crowd trying to get out kept it from being opened wide enough for escape.
The trapped victims broke every window, but heavy screens that had been bolted over them to keep prowlers out kept the victims in. The broken windows also created a draft that fed the flames, farmer Andrew Jackson related after his escape. "Within three minutes the dry wood of the room was a mass of flames that licked at the heels of the frenzied, pawing mob that fought for freedom."
Gov. Martin Trapp launched a campaign immediately after the fire to require strict safety regulations in rural school buildings. As a result, the Legislature passed laws requiring that all doors swing out and banned steel netting on the windows of public buildings. The laws also required proper use of gasoline lamps and prohibited the use of candles on trees in public buildings. Buildings also were required to have more than one exit and more windows.
The new Oklahoma safety laws were copied by the legislatures in the other 47 states.
Boy and Girl, Victims of Fire, Were All Set for Holiday Nuptials
The Oklahoman Dec. 26, 1924, Front Page
In the embers of Babb Switch schoolhouse love lost its fight by two hours, Christmas eve.
Gladys Clements and Claude Bolding were to be married early Christmas morning.
The body of Gladys is in a Hobart morgue. Bolding, painfully burned, lies with a seared heart in a Hobart hospital. A sister and her baby who came from Michigan to attend the wedding, Mrs. Juanita Clements Stevenson and three year old Mary Juanita, lie in caskets flanking the body of Gladys with two other sisters who were to be bridesmaids.
Sweethearts from the teenage, they went to the schoolhouse to commune with the spirit of Christmas. Hand in hand they sat on a back row and whispered the sweet nothings of love through the Christmas tree ceremonies. Dow Bolding, Claude's brother, was playing Santa Claus. As he neared the couple the tree caught fire. Pandemonium reigned. The girl's hand gripped her sweetheart's tighter as the blaze leaped higher. They fought together for doorway to love's path.
The crowd smashed the two hands apart. Bolding looked for his Christmas bride. She was trampled by uncouth feet. He crawled toward her and was pushed backward toward the door. A shove from behind sent him out into the snow with several others.
Love looked back into the flames longingly for an answer to his call.
No call came.
Our Lady of the Angels
A historical perspective on school fires
By Thomas M. Cunningham
WTC Staff Writer
In the early 1900's, the once tiny one-room, single story schoolhouses started to transform into multi-room and multi-story buildings. These structures were built with little or no fire protection or life safety features incorporated into their design.
The reason for this is simple, the technology just did not exist. Another reason for having these factors left out was that most standards and model codes did not exist at the time or that their scope was limited. An ever-increasing population within the community soon contributed to classrooms becoming overcrowded, which gave the appearance of "human stockyards"¯. These facts combined with the lack of fire protection and life safety features added up to a deadly combination referred to as the "Disaster cocktail", which had already been stirred.
During a rather routine school day, one of these schools became a deathtrap for teachers and students alike. When everyone in the school became aware that a fire had started within the school, it was too late for escape. The fire had started on the basement level and made its way up through the brick and wood structure rapidly due to the use of "balloon"¯ construction. Within moments exiting the school was useless due to heat, smoke, and flames. Conditions then deteriorated rapidly and students began to panic.
Children began to trample other children in the hope of escaping the now raging inferno. Some children fell dead were they stood due to either toxic smoke gases, extreme radiant heat or burns received by the oncoming flames. Fire exits could not be reached or were locked. Panic set in and the teachers could not maintain order. Although all of this was transpiring at a maddening pace, one teacher was successful in getting her students down an exit stairwell. As the school burned, horrified parents rushed to the building and witnessed children trapped at the windows. The onlookers witnessed the smoke and fires greatly intensify within the structure. As the citizens of this community witnessed this horror, inside the children's bodies began to pile even higher. The fire department arrived, but due to the fire having gained such a big advantage, any action taken could not have prevented the loss of more young lives.
As a result of this fire having taken place in a school full of children, Americans began to examine, study, and institute fire protection and life safety standards for school structures. New fire laws and standards for construction were enforced. This combined with a new attitude towards establishing safer schools for children was soon to be realized. Unfortunately, loss of life in fires involving school buildings would not end with this blaze. A fire 50 years later at the Our Lady of the Angels¯ catholic school in Chicago, would not only claim the lives of the innocent, but, would change once again the standards which our schools would be built and maintained.
The fire and outcome told in our introduction was taken from accounts given of the Lake View Elementary¯ school fire. This fire occurred in Collinwood, Ohio in the year 1908 and claimed 175 lives. Other fires involving schools would occur and would claim the lives of both children as well as adults.
On December 24, 1924, grade school children were performing an annual Christmas songfest at the Babb Switch School in Hobart, Oklahoma when fire erupted. A candle placed on the top of a Christmas tree, located on the schools stage fell into the tree branches causing the tree to burst into flames. Parents seeing the fire rushed the stage to rescue the children. The children unaware of why everyone was rushing at them began to retreat. This caused the tree to topple. The play had been taking place in the rear of a one-room schoolhouse, which happened to be the farthest distance from an exit. The fire then forced the children farther to the rear of the stage. This led to the children becoming trapped with no avenue for escape. Parents grabbed children and ran through the flames towards the only exit door. Men arrived and began pulling bodies through the exit door. The door had become jammed due to the onslaught of humanity. Within minutes the building was incinerated along with the loss of thirty-six lives.... most being small children.