Woman Burned to Death

The following article appeared on the front page of the Tuesday, February 20, 1894 issue of the Chicago Daily News,


Fearful Accident to Mrs. Sayles in an Erie Street Boarding House.


Meantime Her Dress Ignites and She Receives Fatal Injuries- Dies in Agony.

At 10:30 last night Mrs. Rose Sayles entered an upper room of her boarding house at 195 East Erie street to arrange it for a late-comer who rented the room. In a corner of the room a small gas fixture projects from the wall and swings on a pivot.

Mrs. Sayles lighted the gas at this fixture and left the room for a pitcher of water. She did not notice that the gas-jet was swung over close to the window, but as she left the room a vagrant thread of the lace curtain caught a spur of the flaring gas-light. The next moment a broad sheet of flame traveled up the filmy lace curtain, caught the shade rolled at the top and spread to the folding blinds.

By this time Mrs. Sayles had returned to the room. No one was on the third floor except herself, so her cry of alarm aroused no aid, but she hurried forward and pulled the blazing curtain to the floor. Fragments fell upon the bed and started a new flame and a newspaper on the dressing case burst into fire.

Surrounded by fire, Mrs. Sayles stamped and beat upon the blazing curtain and bed, not noticing that her clothing was afire until the heat of the flames caused her to look down. Then she rushed, screaming, into a front room and strove to beat out flames which were now wreathing around her head. A boarder heard her cries, and running from the floor below, wrapped the unfortunate woman in a blanket and extinguished the flames.

Then it was seen that she was fearfully burned about the body, all her hair was singed off, and she had inhaled the flames, swelling and blackening her mouth and throat.

Her husband, who was in the basement when the alarm spread through the boarding house, hurried for a doctor, while a boarder extinguished the last sparks in the bedroom where Mrs. Sayles had received her injuries. Dr. T. F. Lynott of Clark and Erie streets hastened to the house, but he saw Mrs. Sayles was fatally burned. He did all that could be done to ease the agonies of the woman and left her in the care of her family. At 9:15 this morning she died, after telling the watchers at her bedside how the accident occurred.

Mrs. Sayles was 58 years old and was proprietress of the boarding house at 195 Erie street. Her husband is a carpenter and he was completely broken down by her death. Deputy Coroner Coffee held an inquest at 12 o’clock today and the jury returned a verdict of accidental death. Mrs. Sayles leaves no children, although her husband has two adult sons by a former marriage, who do not reside in Chicago.”

4 thoughts on “Woman Burned to Death

  1. This is horrific and shows the dangers of fire in those days. And with the clothes they wore! Did you ever read my post about my great-great-grandmother and the fire she was in? I had a feeling of such horror when I discovered the information in the newspaper!


  2. When I was very young, we lived in an apartment which, at one time, had been lit with gas lamps. When they were removed many years prior to our living there, the stubs of the gas lines were capped and remained sticking through the walls about 2″. I remember wondering how hard it must have been to have just that one little flame throwing light throughout the room. That same apartment had exactly 2 electric outlets, one for the refrigerator and the other for the washing machine which was also in the kitchen. This was long ago, but not THAT long ago! We moved there in 1959. I moved out when I left for college in 1970.


    • Hard to imagine, isn’t it? During a recent Downton Abbey episode, Bates lit a gas lamp and then put what looked like a glass shade over it. The lamp projected quite a bit of light, but I was amazed at the height of the flame prior to the shade being added. How dangerous it seemed!

      When my dad was 5 or 6, his mother sent him to a gas station for kerosene for their lanterns. The attendant filled the container with gasoline instead and my grandmother’s house caught fire.

      By comparison we have it awfully easy, don’t we?


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