Flames, In Gauze And Crinolines, The Gale Sisters Last Dance Together, Sept 14, 1861

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Feb 14, 2012
Central Pennsylvania


From a British circular, it's a little eerie that so too were the Gale sisters- British ballerinas performing in Philadelphia, September of 1861 when all four perished. Surrounded by worn flames. Hazardous, deadly clothing- with crinolines leading the charge to the morgue, were clamorously denounced internationally.

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While war spawned tragic headlines from far off battles, victims of another war literally leaped from the famous Continental Hotel in Philadelphia- in flames. We have other threads on the Crinoline Wars, it's not exactly a one thread topic. This horrendous tragedy was compounded by tights worn under dancers crinoline- topped with gauze.

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1865 image, a Russian ballet dancer, wearing the crinoline-extra-wide tutu of the day, tights and gauze.

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Frank Leslie's editorials were only one ( strong ) voice lifted against fashion- and frequently those making vast sums from promoting fashion trends. Did not post here but linking other threads.

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Ruth, Zela, Hannah and Addie Gale would never embark on a journey home- three others died in the same, awful fashion- you should forgive the morbid pun.

September 14th, 1861. What an awful night. While calm handling saved all 1,500 ticket holders to Shakespeare's " Tempest ", a ballet performance that night, seven young women died. Headlines screamed of ' Blazing Ballerinas " and were accurate. Most shockingly, four were sisters, a very famous family of athletes- performers from England. The Gale sisters were so, so young and none would ever be older than 23.



Two girls leaped from windows- one was amazingly caught, another fell, horribly wounded beyond her burns.


Frank Leslie's did not have to be dramatic, recreating the scene- carpenter and forever hero Thomas is portrayed in the midst, not losing his head- as did not quite a few others.

Given the mass victims we see in history, in theatre fires, this one was remarkable for people who stayed calm, lent aid, took charge and averted more death. This was noted at the time- but the victims mourned by an entire city. The Gale sisters, Anna McBride, Mrs. Herman and Miss Phillips were unknown and foreign- and taken to a city's heart as they were buried so far from home.

Somewhere exists images of the Gales- they were quite famous and this a famous theatre ( cannon once were dispatched to make an end of a rampaging elephant, when an unsuccessful circus had been booked ). ' Performing ' families were a ' thing ', like another, found on NYPL.
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And crinoline died a natural fashion death, like beaver hats and fur muffs.

The inscription on the Gale sister's Monument at Mount Moriah Cemetery in Philadelphia:


Stranger, who through the city of the dead

With thoughtful soul and feeling heart may tread,

Pause here a moment – those who sleep below

With careless ear ne’er heard a tale of woe:

Four sisters fair and young together rest

In saddest slumber on earth’s kindly breast;

Torn out of life in one disastrous hour,

The rose unfolded and the budding flower:

Life did not part them – Death might not divide

They lived – they loved – they perished, side by side.

O’er doom like theatre let gentle pity shed

The softest tears that mourn the early fled,

For whom – lost children of another land!

This marble raised by weeping friendship’s hand

To us, to future time remains to tell

How even in death they loved each other well.

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Feb 14, 2012
Central Pennsylvania
I cannot imagine a more painful death. I will take a hoop any day!

Well, hoops were included at the time? Sorrysorrysorrysorry. It was a huge ' thing ', fashion vs safety- reading era accounts, periodicals, women's ads- all of it, it is tough ascertaining who was at fault? WERE women willing to take the risk, to look a certain way? Were most aware of it and convinced ' not me '? Too trusting that something sold to them would not possibly be harmful?

The industry did not answer the safety issue- as in, at all. Hoops were skewered in the press as not only dangerous but socially gauche, intrusive, an outrageous fad ' someone ' should do something about! Well, they also aided the whole extreme figure element, were considered chic by many and were an industry. In 2017 no one remembers the Crinoline Wars. Men loathed them, mostly. Honest. Try kissing one's wife, from a distance? Or dancing with her, for that matter! In some households, husbands finally hauled off and forbid maids and ' help ' wearing them- scrubbing floors in crinolines? Ouch.

Some death-by-fire accidents were too awful to think about even today- cannot remember which country it was, around 200 women, standing close to each other, wearing hoops for some elegant gathering, perished. One dress caught fire, no one could get those things off, you know?

Hang on, as awful as some of the stories are, links here somewhere. Really am not ' dissing ' the whole thing, or how we remember our ancestors who wore them. It was a shock realizing what a hazard they were and seeing it was not just another fashion trend but a kind of contentious trend, when we always thought it just an iconic symbol, and a pretty one.