04 July 2020

July 4th Holiday was Often Deadly in the 1900s

Loretta Gillespie, from
Salt Lake Herald July 9 1909

Following the 4th of July holiday, the local SLC newspapers of the 1900s printed a list fires, injuries, and people who died of mishaps. 

The year 1909 was an especially tragic year in which two little girls died of massive burns caused by fireworks at home.

Pictured here is Loretta Gillespie. She was 8 years old when she attended a children’s 4th of July party in the Liberty Wells neighborhood. During the party, some children lit a couple sparklers (inside the house!) and her dress caught fire. 

The host of the party rushed to her aid but when he arrived, she “was a pillar of fire, the flames rising two feet above her head.” He seized her and rolled her on the ground, extinguishing the flames. Two doctors quickly arrived, and she was taken to LDS Hospital, where she died four days later.

Another tragic death of the 1909 4th of July was 5-year-old Mary E. Saville who lived in the Avenues. A firecracker was thrown at her by a nearby boy and it ignited Mary’s clothing. Her father, J. Maurice Saville, was also burned while he attempted to smother the flames. Mary died the next day.

Five-year-old C. Geneva Frost of the Marmalade neighborhood was also the victim of boy with a sparkler, who, according to family history, intentionally set Geneva’s dress on fire. Geneva was badly burned from her neck down to her knees, but she survived. Geneva lived until the age of 96.

Many other burns, eye injuries, hand injuries, and building fires throughout SLC were also reported following the 1909 4th of July.

Sources: SL Herald July 6 1909 & July 9 1909; SL Trib July 6 1909; Frost family history.

The Salt Lake Herald July 9 1909

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