Harrisburg, PA Bonfire Catches Girls Dress on Fire, May 1905

Small Girl Was Burned

Little Ruth Harvey’s Clothes Caught Fire From Bonfire at Her Home

Ragman’s Heroic Effort

“Dutch Charley” Extinguished Flames With His Hands But Child Died Seven Hours Later

Mrs. Thomas J. Harvey of 1980 Kensington street was cleaning house yesterday and all of the rubbish gathered together from the first floor was carried to the rear yard where a bonfire was started and the greater part of it was burned.

Her small daughters, Ruth Ellen, aged eight; Sallie, a year younger, and Mary, two years older, all gathered about the fire and helped pile of the loose papers and bits of refuse that the slight breezes blew about the yard. It was great sport to see the flames eat up the pile of rubbish and the children enjoyed the fun to the fullest extent. While they were playing about the fire they were joined by their small cousin, Walter Dunkle, who lives nearby.

Fun About Bonfire

The fire burned merrily for possibly an hour when at 10 o’clock everything seemed to have been consumed. No smoke issued from the little heap of white ashes and half burned paper and twigs, which the children had gathered from the yard to add to the size of the blaze, and the children were looking about for some other means of amusement when it occurred to them that the remains of the fire should be carried from the yard.

Accordingly each of them took up an armful of the debris carrying it out of the back gate walked across to a slight embankment on Rudy street where they threw it. Several trips had been made when the other children heard little Ruth scream in great agony and turning about saw her throw her armful of rubbish to the ground. The papers and twigs were blazing fiercely.

Dress Was Blazing

The dress of the child caught fire as the burning rubbish fell to the dirt and the girl frightened out of her wits shouted wildly for help. The terror-stricken children were unable to do anything immediately and with the fire eating up her clothes and enveloping her face and hair, the child began to run for her home.

On the embankment was a ragman known only as “Dutch Charley.” He was looking over some of the rubbish dumped over the hill from Rudy street and seeing the awful predicament of the small girl ran to her side before she had proceeded far and with his hands beat out the flames. He succeeded in extinguishing the fire, but not until the child was fearfully seared about the back, both arms and the upper part of her legs.

In rescuing little Ruth the rag picker was burned about both hands and wrists and his clothing was also scorched. Forgetting his pain he picked up the suffering child and carried her to her home.

Death of Little Girl

The police ambulance was summoned and the little girl’s father who is a yard fireman of the Pennsylvania Railroad was sent for. The child was hastened to the Harrisburg Hospital and suffered great pain. There it was seen that the extent of her burns was so great that there was but a bare possibility of her recovery. Everything was done to relieve her pain but death resulted last evening at 6 o’clock, about seven hours after the occurance (sic) of the accident.

Ruth was a pupil at the Swatara township schoolhouse and was unusually bright for her age. For several weeks she had been in ill health. Arrangements for the funeral will be made to-day. Rev. W.H. Stevens, pastor of the Epworth Methodist Church will conduct the services.

Patriot, Harrisburg, PA 20 May 1905


What happened to the Ragman?

Sad sad story. May the Gods bless the Ragman and this poor Child, RIP both.