[Sca-cooks] Falling into the fire (was Re: Childsafing)

Christiane christianetrue at earthlink.net
Fri Aug 15 13:02:22 PDT 2008

Master A. wondered:
>On a marginally related note, I remember always being mystified by the  
>claims that such-and-such-a-child or woman in some historical setting  
>died after "falling into the fire". But add things like corsets on the  
>victims and thermal updrafts in a large fireplace, not to mention  
>smoke and carbon monoxide, and it starts to seem like a more viable  

I had wondered about that too ... I was reading "Plain & Fancy," which is about American women's needlework in the 17th and 18th centuries, and it referred a lot to the 18th century Philadelphia Quaker diarist Elizabeth Drinker, who noted the death of a toddler who fell into the fire and died of burns (this was in the chapter about sewing for the home and for families). 

Then I recalled the kitchen demos at Pennsbury Manor and the Isaac Potts house at Valley Forge (where Washington stayed), and their fireplaces. Pretty much, these fireplaces are huge and deep (you can stand inside them), with no fireplace guards, and the hearth in front of the fireplaces would have little piles of hot coals raked out for Dutch ovens and other pots to use as a heat source further from the fire. Fireplaces in most homes weren't that much different in construction and use; smaller, but not much smaller, and still with a hearth you can walk across, and that takes up much of the floor space in a tiny room (like the working class person's house in Washington's Crossing Park). So imagine if you were a klutz and stepped on a marble, a toy, a piece of food, or even an errant piece of wood or a hot coal ... and there are some piles of hot coals and ash on the hearth. Or you're a toddler just wobbling around and not being well watched. And you're wearing linen or cotton instead of the recommended wool.

I'm just surprised there weren't more deaths like this recorded!


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