CASWELL-L ArchivesArchiver > CASWELL > 2001-04 > 0987793058
From: Tom Caswell <>
Subject: [CASWELL list] Danforth's fluid also killed a Caswell (second try)
Date: Fri, 20 Apr 2001 12:57:40 -0600
One of the epitaphs in a previous message reads: "The grave of Ellen Shannon
in Girard, Pennsylvania, Who was fatally burned March 21, 1870, by the
of a lamp filled with "R.E. Danforth's Non-Explosive Burning Fluid"
Danforth's fluid was responsible for more deaths than one. The third child
of my great-grandfather, Judge Thomas Hubbard Caswell, was killed in
1872 in the aftermath of a similar explosion. The following excerpt from my
biographical sketch of Judge Caswell recounts this story, researched from
newspapers of Nevada City, California and the letters of a neighbor:
"A Terrible Accident
On November 28, 1872 (Thanksgiving Day?), young Earl was to be the victim of
tragic accident, becoming the third son to die in childhood, less than a
his thirteenth birthday. As the oldest son in the family, Earl had a number
household chores to perform. One of these was to start a fire in the
kitchen stove to take the morning chill off the house. On that fateful
morning, Earl followed his usual routine, placing papers at the bottom of
stove, then pitch pine kindling and finally heavier oak firewood above that.
the papers, but they appeared to burn out without catching the wood on fire.
Reluctant to remove everything and repeat the whole process, he found a
can of "Danforth's non-explosive fluid" to pour on the uncooperative wood.
sooner had he started to pour than two facts became terribly apparent:
first, the fire
was not, as he had supposed, completely out, and second, the name of the
used was tragically inaccurate. There was a "tremendous explosion" which
enveloped young Earl and the entire room in flames. Judge Caswell, hearing
explosion and screams, rushed to the kitchen and started tearing his son's
clothing off, at the same time carrying him into the bedroom where his wife
smothered the flames with a blanket. The Judge himself suffered severe burns
his hands, arms and legs, but his courageous efforts proved to be in vain.
was immediately sent for, but told the parents that in view of the severity
burns, there was nothing that could be done. They could only try to make the
as comfortable as possible for the few remaining hours he had left on earth.
Family friend and neighbor Mary Searles described the scene: "He (Earl) died
after 12 hours of suffering. The neighbors rushed in and saved the house by
exertions. I went up and finding Mrs. Caswell quite overcome by the shock, I
her place with the poor suffering child, as well as I could, and staid with
that night. I had always thought a great deal of the boy, and I could not
leave him to strangers care, though there were plenty ready to do all they
them. It was a terrible sight and a sad task to care for the patient
boy, and try to calm the almost frantic mother and the father, who was
helpless from his own burns. It took me several days and nights to get over
that I could think or dream of anything else."
When I read the reference to "Danforth's non-explosive fluid," I was
reminded of this
If any of you are interested in the complete biographical sketch, which I
"Glimpses into the life of Thomas Hubbard Caswell," I'll be happy to send
you a copy. I
have it in PDF format, which I can attach to an e-mail. I had intended to
send it with
this message, but just learned the hard way that attachments aren't
acceptable via Rootsweb.
I hope this will be of interest to some of you.
Thomas Hubbard Caswell III