Archive for Sunday, December 18, 2011

100 years ago: Mother tries to save baby after stove explosion

December 18, 2011


From the Lawrence Daily Journal-World for Dec. 18, 1911:

"After one of the bravest struggles that ever a mother made to save a child's life, Mrs. L. C. Hemphill passed away this morning at Simmons hospital. The seven months old son died about three hours earlier.... About three o'clock yesterday afternoon Mrs. Hemphill was at her home one-half mile south of Reno. With her in the kitchen was the seven months old son, while another child, a boy about five years old, was playing outside the house. Mr. Hemphill was working in a field about two miles away. The fire in the kitchen had gone out, and Mrs. Hemphill started to light it. She thought that all of the coals were out of the stove so she put in some kerosene to start it. In a moment she knew her mistake. No sooner had the kerosene been poured in than it touched some coals and the inevitable happened -- it exploded. In a moment Mrs. Hemphill's hair and clothing were one mass of flames, while the fire reached forth to the baby, playing there. The flames were fast spreading over the house.... Across the road about 75 yards away there is a pond. That was the very thing, the mother thought. Her own life was gone, but the baby, the little thing in her arms crying, while the flames devoured its clothing.... There are two barbed wire fences before one can reach the pond, but the mother did not stop for these. How she got over them no one knows.... First she threw the baby in [the pond] and then she went in herself.... The other child was running after her crying, 'Mama, don't burn up. Please mama, don't burn up.' When he saw his mother and brother in the water the little fellow ran a half mile to Reno. It was from the child, who arrived at Reno exhausted, that the people first knew of the story. 'Mama's burning up,' he said. 'Please don't have mama burn up.' Neighbors at once went to the scene of the fire.... Mrs. Hemphill and the child were taken at once to Simmons hospital [in Lawrence] where everything possible was done, but it was too late. The bodies were charred, the suffering fearful. At half past ten last evening the baby died and at three this morning his mother passed away. Mrs. Hemphill never lost consciousness up to the moment that she died. She told how it happened. 'I saw that I would not live. That there was no one to help me and that the flames had too good a hold on me. I made up my mind then to simply lie down on the ground and die. But then I saw baby.... The pond was the first thing I thought of. I knew I had to die, but oh the baby.' Mrs. Hemphill was a nurse before her marriage at Rosedale hospital. She was a singularly capable young woman.... Never has a mother made a braver fight to save a child's life than Mrs. Hemphill. Those who know the surroundings and about the fences cannot imagine how she ever managed to get over these obstacles. Think of what that must have meant, when her clothing and body were on fire.... The funeral will take place tomorrow at noon."


Sarah St. John 6 years, 4 months ago

All-time saddest OHT yet in my opinion. It was hard to even type it! I suppose running actually fanned the flames (as they always taught us in grade school.... remember "stop, drop, and roll!") but with things as they were, probably not much could have been done. Very sad for the other child to see, and oh the suffering. Conscious until she died!

I tried to find her in the listing of graves in the Reno cemetery but no luck yet.

bearded_gnome 6 years, 4 months ago

I know this did have to be hard to type Sarah. thank you.

Tony Holladay 6 years, 4 months ago

I think she was from Leavenworth county and may be burried there.

bearded_gnome 6 years, 4 months ago

wow! Sarah, this is indeed the most intense, saddest, Old Home Town!

please, let's try to find out about Mr. Hemphill and the "little fellow" five-year-old Hemphill.

what happened to them after this? did the father go on, or did the grief consume him?

did "little fellow" go on to live a full life? was he in our community? he would've been born 1906+-, so I suppose there's a slight chance he's still alive now, 105 years old?

what a horrific thing to witness at age 5.

bearded_gnome 6 years, 4 months ago

I am impressed None2, thanks. my cousin, much older than me, is Lynne, male, still lives in either Scott City or Garden City KS. yes, it was a male name.

Sarah St. John 6 years, 4 months ago

none2, I do believe you've hit pay dirt with the Gragg connection. Just found this:

"FUNERAL THIS MORNING. The funeral of Mrs. L. C. Hemphill and her child who lost their lives from burns in a fire at the Hemphill home Thursday afternoon was held this morning at the B. H. Gragg home at 1041 Mississippi street. Rev. W. A. Powell was in charge assisted by Rev. Olinger and Rev. Maughlin. A large number of the friends of the family were in attendance while the floral offerings were many and beautiful. The bodies were taken to Reno where the interment took place this afternoon."

Sarah St. John 6 years, 4 months ago

Thanks for summarizing all this, and for the links!

"So in summary, this heroic mother was Mabel (Gragg) Hemphill, and her dear baby was most likely the toddler, Harold HempHill."

This is the only part I'm not sure about, since the story seemed definite on the point of the baby being seven months old. But it could have been a younger, as-yet-uncensus'd baby, I suppose? But then it still sounds like there's one more son unaccounted for in the story. Hmmmmm.....

I think I am going to have to make a trip up to Reno's cemetery whenever this rain lets up!

TheEleventhStephanie 6 years, 4 months ago

There's a family around town still with that same (unusual around here) last name. Call 'em up and set the record straight!

Sarah St. John 6 years, 4 months ago

p> says there are 12 Hemphills just in Lawrence. I wonder if they're all related!

(There aren't any listed in Reno anymore, though....)

Xwards 6 years, 4 months ago

However, there is a Hemphill Road, just northeast of Reno....

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