In this week's episode we take another look back into Oklahoma history as we explore the tragedy at Babbs Switch.
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On a cold winter's evening in 1924 it was a time of celebration as the community of Babbs Switch gathered for a Christmas Eve party. About 200 men, women and children crowded into the one room schoolhouse. It was standing room only for the Christmas program. Songs were sung, speeches made, and fellowship was had. At the end of the program who would appear but Santa Claus handing out gifts to the children.
And then came the fire. It spread rapidly and within a few minutes the school was an inferno. All rushed to get out the single door, but it would quickly become jammed by the crowd. Many were trampled trying to escape the flames. Some tried to get out the windows, but they found that way barred.
The dead and injured were driven to Hobart, Oklahoma, the nearest sizable town.
When Christmas Day arrived it was found that 32 had died. Four more would pass away from their injuries later, bringing the total to 36. Most of the dead were children and whole families were lost.
So what happened? How did a Christmas party end in such tragedy.
The fire was started by the Christmas tree. It was lit by candles. Someone bumped tree and it quickly caught the paper decorations and dry needles on fire. The ceiling had been freshly painted for the occasion with white oil paint, which made the fire flashover once it reached the ceiling The light wooden construction of the schoolhouse offered no fire protection. There was no fire fighting equipment in the building or running water anywhere near the school. The windows had heavy screens on them to prevent vandalism and wind damage, so people couldn't get out that way. And the main door opened inward. As the crowd rushed the door it was hard to get open.
Some good came out of this sadness. Publicity over this fire lead to stricter fire safety measures and regulations for schools and public buildings around the nation.
So if you would take a moment next time you exit a public building and the doors open outward and give a though to those at Babbs Switch.
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Site of Babbs Switch Tragic School Fire On Dec. 24, 1924, 35 people lost their lives while attending a Christmas party in a one room frame school house. The fire was started by a candle on a Christmas tree. A school building was built here in memorial and a model to point the way to safer county schools the nation over. The school was discontinued in 1943. Was dismantled and sold. In Memory of W. T. Curtis, Mrs. W. T, Curtis, Edna Curtis, Francis Curtis, T. C. Coffey, Mrs. T. C. Coffey, Maudie Coffey, Orley Coffey, Dow Bowling, Maggie Bowling, Edward Bowling, William Biggers, Walter Biggers, John Duke, John Hebeasperger,Mrs. Rhoda Bradshaw, Mattie Mae Bryan, Earnest Peterson, Obil Peck, Ciryl Peck, Paul Peck, Vesta Jackson, Alice Noah, Lee Reville, Lillie Edna Reville, J. T. Goforth, J. B. Goforth, Juanita Stephenson, Mary Juanita Stephenson, Gladys Clements, Mary Lois Clements, Miss Isabell McNutt and the teacher Florence (Terry) Hill Babbs Memorial School 1925 Located 4 miles south of intersection state highway 9 and U.S. 183 (South of Hobart, Oklahoma) More at blogoklahoma.us #oklahoma #oklahomahistory #okhistory #kiowacounty #memorial #babbsswitch #history #historicalmarker