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Two Children
in Fireworks Fire

Lincoln Sentinel-Republican, June 30, 1953

The following account of a tragic accident appeared in a Sylvan Grove paper [Sylvan Grove News] carrying the date July 6, 1905:

On Wednesday afternoon, June 28, the people of Sylvan Grove were startled by one of the most horrible catastrophes that ever befell a small town. Usually the fatal results of fireworks are not seen until on or after the Fourth of July, but already Sylvan has had such a terrifying exhibition in the deadly work of patriotic explosives that doubtless there will be little desire for the final display of pyrotechnics hereafter.

In the south window of Raffety Brothers’ store there was the usual amount of Fourth of July goods which the careful merchants had thought to guard by arranging a double counter running to the window. Unfortunately three small children were back of the second counter where one of the clerks was showing the goods. Two of the children were daughters of William Mahoney of Pottersburg, the third was their cousin, Luella, daughter of Ernest Andresen of Denmark.

When the deadly stuff began to explode the clerk hurried the children away from the fire while they were yet unharmed. He started them toward the door in safety, then hastened with the other clerks to the rear of the store after water to extinguish the fire.

Bewildered by fright and blinded by the fire and smoke of the deafening explosions, Susie and Honora Mahoney ran up between the two counters to the window, while the little Andresen girl ran into the passage to the door and escaped uninjured. The misfortunate Susie and Honora, seeing their mother on the outside leaped into the window in the midst of the fire and tried in vain to break the window, while the frantic attempts against the unyielding glass was continued until the despairing children left the window lost in flame and smoke within. In the meantime the Raffety Brothers and clerks, ignorant of the human distress so near at hand, were working with all possible strength and rapidity to save the building.

It was not long before the figures of the fated children, rapped in cruel flames, darted into the open air from the north door. The sight of those two innocent victims of the fire, was enough to wring the stoniest heart and melt into tears those whose eyes had long been unused to such evidence of pity.

As soon as the children were seen men rushed to their rescue and extinguished the fire in their clothes. They were carried immediately to Mr. Mollenkamp’s rooms, where they had all the medical assistance that could be procured and the careful attendance of kind friends. A telephone message was sent to Mr. Mahoney who came as soon as possible to the bedside of his suffering children, where the scene was one of the most sorrowful ever witnessed and was only made more touching by the pitiful pleadings of the little ones in their tender solicitude for their parents.

Although every available means was used to spare the lives of the two children, they gradually succumbed to the fatal injuries received in the fire and explosions, enduring the pain of the frightful burns with angelic patience and martyr-like endurance, they clung to life until 6 o’clock Thursday morning when unwelcome, yet merciful, death unlocked the door and with gentle hand, led the eldest, Honora, into a quiet peaceful rest of a new and glorious life and at noon, six hours later, ushered the little sunbeam, Susie, into the same fair land where a number of sisters and a brother waited in the presence of the loving Father.

The Sylvan people showed immeasurable kindness toward the family stricken by so great a calamity and the Raffety Bros., in whose store the sad accident occurred, hesitated at nothing that could be done for the bereaved ones.

The problems of fare cannot be solved; just why such an accident should have happened cannot be explained. It is true, however, that accidents of this order are sadly frequent and will continue as long as the Fourth of July is celebrated by the use of modern fireworks.

In the case of Sylvan’s disaster there should be no blame attached to anyone, for the catastrophe was purely accidental, and no one was responsible for the sad results. For rather than have had such a tragedy occur, any man would have risked his life had he been aware of the immediate peril of the young lives involved.

It is to be earnestly hoped that this will be the last of fireworks in Sylvan Grove, and that the sale of the dangerous goods will be suppressed throughout the country.

The above story recalls to Mrs. Chris Lehmkuhl of Denmark very vividly an experience in her life she is not likely to ever forget as she was the Luella Andresen mentioned in the article. Fireworks were banned from sale in Sylvan Grove after the accident, and as far as Mrs. Lehmkuhl knows the ban was never lifted.

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