A Great-Grandmother Lost to a Cooking Fire

1-Mike Staton
Hello, I’m Mike Staton, the author of this piece.

My cousin John Snyder sent me the obituary of my Great-Grandmother Bertha Franks, 67, of Apple Creek, in Wayne County, Ohio.


I never knew Bertha. She died tragically decades ago, on Wednesday, September 30, 1942, a victim of a stove fire. The tragedy happened a few days earlier, on Sunday, September 27. I hate that she suffered excruciating pain for those last three days of her life before she succumbed in Kenney Hospital, Wooster.

Bertha was getting ready to do some cooking on one of those old-style coal stoves. She was preparing to light the stove. The obit says coal oil; a news story, kerosene. Bertha didn’t know there were live coals in the stove. When the coal oil or kerosene touched the live coals, the stove exploded. She was badly burned about the face, neck and arms, according to newspaper accounts. The description leaves me to believe Bertha was leaning toward the stove when the flames engulfed her. One of her daughters-in-law, Mrs. Elmer Franks, extinguished the flames.

Bertha Franks obit1
The Wooster, Ohio, newspaper that wrote up an account of my Great-Grandmother Bertha tragic death in 1942. She was killed when she caught on fire as she lit her coal-burning stove.

My mother Jackie was 10 years old when her Grandma Bertha passed away. I’m familiar with a few stories about Bertha. On weekends mom and her dad Earl (everyone called him Frog) would motor in the family Ford from Rittman to Apple Creek to visit Bertha and Frog’s father Ira. Mom always had kind words about her only living grandmother (the other one, Icie Belle Kurtz, passed away in 1920, along with her maternal grandpa, David Elmer Kurtz). As I reacquaint myself with my memories, I recall mom telling me Bertha was a patient woman who put up with Ira’s drinking ways.


The obituary says Bertha had seven surviving children. Grandpa Frog was extremely close to a sister who died in 1926, just 20 or 21 years old. Not yet married, Hazel was a passenger astride a motorcycle that crashed and stole her life.

I don’t remember much about my Great-Grandpa Ira, except for this morbid fact. In doing research, I see he died in 1955 (he was born in 1876, one year after Bertha’s birth). Grandpa Frog took me to his father’s viewing. I distinctly recall him bringing me up to the casket. I was just three years old, maybe four if Ira died after November 20, my birthday. It’s one of my earliest memories. In fact, I’m a tad stunned as I write this. I thought Ira had died several years later. He was the son of Jesse Franks, who was born in 1831 and died in 1906, and Mary Ann Fox, born in 1845 and who died in 1923. Bertha Alva Montandon was born in Switzerland in 1875. A cursory look at the Ancestry website doesn’t disclose names for her mother and father.

Bertha and Ira are buried in Apple Creek Cemetery.

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I’m the author of a fantasy trilogy — Larenia’s Shadow. The trilogy consists of The Emperor’s Mistress, Thief’s Coin and Assassins’ Lair. All three are available on websites of Amazon and Barnes and Noble. If you haven’t read them yet, you should give them a try. Lots of action and a fair amount of romance. Before you know you’ll be seduced and reading all three.


20 thoughts on “A Great-Grandmother Lost to a Cooking Fire

  1. Such a sad tale, Mike. I hate it that your great grandmother had to suffer, but things were definitely different in those days, including, I expect, medical care. How wonderful that you have such a rich family history. I always look forward to your sharing it with us. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was thinking the same thing, Linda. Someone suffering Bertha’s kind of burns nowadays would most likely survive. Same with my broken hip in 2010. Had I been a 58-year-old dude in 1930s, I would have probably died before my hip healed, and even if I did manage to survive, I’d probably have a severe limp or be in a wheelchair.


    1. It’s all history, Abbie, whether intimate family history or America history, like Lincoln’s assassination or the shooting death of Huey Long in Louisiana back in 1930s. History’s fascinating. Good writers can bring it alive for readers. I’m still learning.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Agree. They’re treasures. Yesterday and today, family genealogist John Snyder has been FB sharing 19th and 20th century newspaper clippings that detail the lives of our extender family ancestors — birthdays, celebrations, marriages, family reunions, vacations, death notices and obits, everything newspapers used to do in their columns. Fascinating treasure trove.


  2. How wonderful you have many vivid memories and various ways to discover your heritage! I haven’t done as much research this year as early last year, but I still plan to dig into my ancestry in the coming months. I’m blessed to have a neighbor who loves geneology and is a member of many websites. She was a big help to me last year and promises to lend her expertise and assistance again when I’m ready. So sorry for the tragic circumstances of your great-grandmother’s death — tragedies seem to happen in many family lines. Thanks for sharing your history with us, Mike — your post motivates me to continue my research.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ancestry study can be full of very sad bits and what happened to your G Grand mother was pretty horrible. I think it has to be even more so when you have newspaper copy like that to read the details from. However, bypassing the sad bits, I’ve found a lot about my family that’s been great to know and I’m sure you’re like that, too, Mike.


    1. Agree, Nancy. Seeing the obit resurfaces the memories of the talks I had with my momma regarding her Grandma Bertha. Nice to think again of those talks, since my mom too has passed away.


  4. That’s a very sad story, Mike. But in a way, you’re lucky to at least have learned about it. My family doesn’t talk much about the past. They certainly don’t have any newspaper clippings. It’s very surprising you remember being three years old. I’m impressed!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m fascinated by history in general. Not sure what came first, my fascinating with the roots of my family, or national and world history. It’s a chicken and egg question for me. The two are meshed together.


  5. Must be like searching for gold and finding it when you are able to dig up gems of family history! Just had a discussion today with a cousin about genealogy. Your family has a rich history. Thanks for the inspiration of doing and the satisfaction of finding family stories.


    1. All the clips my cousin John Snyder put on FB… all the relatives, many I’ve never met, are delighted to read the old news clippings. I once wrote a blog post on just that… why weekly newspapers are priceless. Truly, those newspapers record families’ history — births, birthdays, other parties and get-togethers, reunions, vacations, marriages, death notices.


  6. Your story resonates with me, Mike. My grandmother died after her clothes caught fire when she was lighting the oven of coal oil stove. She was thirty. I’ve written a little about her, but you’ve inspired me to pull the piece out and expand it. Thank you.


    1. Wow. I’m so sorry to hear about your grandmother, Kathy. I wish I had looked back at this column earlier, and seen your comment. I’m glad you’re going to build on your piece about your grandmother.


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