Monday, 31 August 2015

Rachel McKee's Fiery Death

Recently, I've been reviewing people and documents within my tree. Among those that I reviewed was Rachel Esther (McGinn) McKee, my great-great-grandmother Sarah Jane (McGinn) Meagher's sister. She had passed away on August 13, 1907 in Boston, aged 27.

I took another look at her death certificate and noticed something that I had not noticed prior. The cause of death for Rachel on her death certificate reads, "Multiple Burns of 1st & 2nd degrees (Accidental)." Also, she had passed away at the Boston City Hospital Relief Station. 

Wanting to know more, I inquired yesterday as to whether any articles about the circumstances surrounding Rachel's death existed. Sure enough, there were! Shirley from the Random Acts of Genealogical Kindess Facebook group sent me an article from the Boston Journal while Kate from the Massachusetts Genealogy Network Facebook group sent me an article from the Boston Herald.

Both articles featured a picture of Rachel, whom I did not have a picture of prior. What was nice about the article printed in the Boston Herald was that it gave a bit of detail about Rachel's early life. What's interesting about these two articles is that while they both detail the events surrounding Rachel's death, the account given in one article somewhat contradicts the account given in the other. 

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Boston Herald
Wednesday, August 14, 1907


Snap Match Sets Fire to Skirt of Mrs. Rachel McKee of East Boston.

   The fatal snap match claimed its first victim in a long time last evening, when Mrs. Rachel McKee, who as a girl was the belle of East Boston, died at the Relief Hospital as the result of stepping upon one at her home, 51 Maverick square. 
   Mrs. McKee stepped from her kitchen to the dining room at about 2:30 o'clock and struck the match with her heel. The flimsy material of which her skirt was made was transformed into a mass of flames. A light kimona which she wore also took fire. 
   Her screams brought Mrs. Phillip McLaughlin, who lives on the floor beneath, up the stairs. Mrs. McLaughlin seized a quilt from the bed in an adjoining room and rushing into the dining room threw it about the flame-enshrouded woman.
   She fought desperately to quench the fire, and in her efforts her own clothing was ignited. She was terribly burned about the face and arms and her face and hair were scorched. 
   Edward Martineau, a plumber with a shop on the ground floor of the building, came to her assistance. Later she was taken to the Relief Hospital. 
   At that institution Mrs. McKee suffered until just before 7 o'clock, when her pain ceased long enough for her to talk with her husband, Frank McKee. A few minutes afterward she died.

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Boston Journal
Wednesday, August 14, 1907

Woman Steps On Match And Is Burned To Death

   Mrs. Rachel A. McKee, the wife of Frank W. McKee of 51 Maverick square, East Boston, was burned so badly at her home yesterday afternoon that she died early last evening at the Relief Hospital. 
   The McKees live on the top floor of the three-storied brick dwelling house at the above address. No one was in the house at the time of the accident except Mrs. McKee and Mrs. Philip McLaughlin, who lives on the second floor. Mrs. McLaughlin told a Journal reporter that she heard screams from Mrs. McKee's apartment, and running upstairs saw Mrs. McKee enveloped in flames. Mrs. McLaughlin got a mat and did her best to extinguish the flames, but the kimona that Mrs. McKee wore had been burned from her body. Mrs. McKee ran down the stairs into the street, and some men who were passing secured a blanket from the undertaking establishment of Michael J. Kelly and wrapped it about the woman, whose clothes had been burned from her body. Oils were also procured from the undertaker's, and the woman, who was conscious, was made as comfortable as possible. A plumber next door, Edward Martineau, called the police on his phone, and the ambulance took the unfortunate woman to the Relief Hospital. 
   The police report has it that the woman was lying on a couch when she was burned, and that the couch was the only article of furniture burned in the room, but the woman told her husband a few minutes before she died that she stepped on a match and the match ignited her komona.

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Copyright © 2015, David J. McRae


  1. Interesting. I wonder if she was smoking on the couch and told the match story to cover it up?

    1. Hmm. Never thought of that. Interesting theory.