Little Grace Arrants, the adopted daughter of Frank H Arrants and wife Estelle Peebles Arrants was born 9 October 1915, but did not live to reach her eighth birthday. She perished in the tragedy of the Cleveland School Fire 17 May 1923. 
ENTIRE FAMILIES PERISH AS PARENTS AND CHILDREN BATTLE TO REACH EXITS.
MANY LEAP FROM ROOF WHEN OVERTURNING OF A LAMP ON STAGE AT ENTERTAINMENT PRECIPITATES FIRE AND MAD PANIC.
SOUTH CAROLINA SCHOOL HOUSE FUNERAL PYRE FOR COMMUNITY.
Camden, S. C., May 18 — Seventy-four persons, many of them school children, lost their lives last night in a ghastly fire which swept through a country school house six miles south of here.
They were burned, suffocated and trampled to death in a mad, terrified scramble for the one exit that led from the top floor of the flimsy wooden structure.
Death List Expected To Grow. Perhaps a score of others are so badly burned they may die, and many who were successful in their frenzied dash for the stairway are suffering from injuries or varying degrees of seriousness. The terrible tragedy occurred at what is known as the Cleveland School. Those who escaped today told the horror details of a night of horror. Between 150 and 200 persons were gathered in the school house for graduation exercises. The school house was of the old fashioned country, wooden type, with a stairway in the rear and lighted only with kerosene lamps, located in a comparatively isolated community with no other houses or building nearby. The audience was made up of fathers, mothers and children, the latter dressed in their “Sunday best” for the biggest community event of the year. About 10:00 P. M. after most of the exercises had been completed and the superintendent of schools was presenting the ribbon-bound diplomas to the graduates of the eighth grade, there was a terrific explosion. It came from a smoky kerosene lamp swinging in the rear of the hall from the ceiling. Burning oil was scattered over the back part of the big square room and flames appeared instantaneously, catching readily at the dry wood. The only staircase was in the rear and almost before those in the room realized what had happened escape was virtually cut off. The flames immediately surrounded the stairway.
Leap From Windows. Those in the rear of the room dashed through the blinding smoke and jumped from the windows to safety below. Those nearest the platform and in the front seats of the hall were not so fortunate. With no windows from the platform and the smoke and confusion growing worse every second, there resulted a mad, terrified scramble for the one hope — the stairs. It was sheer panic and it paid the usual price of panic. Women and children, gay in their white graduation costumes were knocked down and trampled under foot ant the interior of the hall became in a few minutes a screaming, milling mass of horror-stricken people, intent upon but one thing — escape. Some of those who escaped said later the doors of the auditorium “opened the wrong way,” and that a score of persons got jammed against a closed door and thus held up escape for many.
Warning Ignored. The Superintendent of Schols[sic], on the stage with diplomas in his arms, made a futile attempt to stem the tide of panic. He shouted that all could get out safely, if they took their time, but his voice was lost in the screams of the women and the children. The superintendent and those of the graduating class, being furthest from the stairway, are believed to have perished. The flames spread through the dry wooden building with almost unbelievable speed. Within a few moments after the explosion the whole rear portion was blazing high, and the flames, fanned by a stiff wind, began to eat into the flooring.
70 In Inferno. Then, the second floor collapsed and down into that raging inferno of fire and burning embers went all who were left — established at about 70 persons. The first of hose who escaped by jumping out of the windows dashed across fields for the nearest farm houses for telephones by which to summon aid. Practically the whole countryside was at the school house, however, and some houses were locked. Telephones are not many any way, in the community. Camden finally was notified and chemical fire apparatus was sent on the run. When it arrived it was too late — the school house was a mass of burning embers, smoking and black — the funeral pyre of half this little community. When the Camden firemen arrived they looked upon the mass of ruins around which stood weeping mothers, frantic fathers and wailing children, looking for their loved ones. There were a score of persons lying groaning on the ground, suffering from broken limbs and fractures suffered in leaping from the windows.
Night Of Terror. The darkness was lighted only by the ruddy glow of the smouldering fire and in the intense heat and amid confusion the work of finding out who had escaped and who had died continued throughout the night. Dawn this morning found a wearied, blackened crowd on men working feverishly. At 8 o’clock they had succeeded in pulling 74 bodies from the ruins. The work of identification has not been completed because of the confusion and the stunned condition of those who escaped. Several whole families, however, have been wiped out. “There was no one to blame,” said the chief of police here. “It all happened so quickly and the panic was natural.” All of the victims were either graduates, students of the little school or parents and friends.
- Grace Arrants’ name appears on a list taken from the plaque on the memorial on the Site of the Cleveland School
- The Syracuse Herald New York, 18 May 1923
has been written in parts by Beth Terry Murray. She has approved our posting some of them here. They will come in the parts as written. Enjoy.
My Daddy was killed in an accident…
For those of you that might be wondering what type of accident my daddy was killed in, then here is your answer. He had been using a drill earlier in the morning of October 3rd and it flew out of his hand because of a short in it. My daddy was used to being a jack of all trades so at lunch he went to the truck and “fixed” the drill. I can see him in my mind as I had watched him “fix” things many times. I’m sure he wiggled the cord, maybe even found a place where there was wire exposed and used electrical tape to fix it. My guess, not sure about that at all. Anyway, he wanted a color tv which were not cheap back in those days, so he was doing extra odd jobs for different people.
That afternoon he was under a ladies house in Leighton, lying on a piece of tin, which had water under it, whatever the job was he had finished and asked the lady to unplug the drill. As she was going into the house to unplug it, he reached for it, and was electrocuted. His death was instantaneous, and the palm of his hand had been burned where the electricity had entered. Later, probably years later, it occurred to me that this was a man that would not wear a wedding ring because too many electricians had been electrocuted that way. Yet on that day he was lying on a piece of tin, with water underneath, using a drill that had flown out of his hand earlier. Some might say “He had a bad day.”
I would have to say, “It was the day that had been appointed for God to take him home.” That day will come for all of us, I pray each of us will be ready.
A note to all of you that read these posts: they probably were not the most pleasant thing you have ever read, but I did not mean it to be that way. Daddy never felt sorry for himself, he always was very happy go lucky. He attempted to swim across the river one time and almost made it, before giving out. He was always cutting up with someone or pulling a prank on someone, he loved to laugh, and the only time he ever whipped me with a belt I think he cried more than I did. Anytime I was scared at night, I would run across the hall to my mother and daddy’s bed, my mother would tell me to go back to my room, but my daddy who was on the other side would call me over there, hold up the covers and let me lay down with my back to him. He would wrap his long arms around me and whisper in my ear that “everything was all right and he loved me”. He definitely was something special.
In an article on al.com from 2013, another Isbell home was featured. This was the Roberts-Taylor-Isbell home. The article is reprinted below:
Roberts-Taylor-Isbell House ‘just full of history’
The 1854 Roberts-Taylor-Isbell House, the lovely, Greek Revival townhouse on Government Street
near the Broad Street intersection, is one of the main attractions on the Mobile Historic Homes Tour this weekend, and it’s worth the price of admission all by itself. “It’s just full of history,” Roy Isbell said.
The Isbells, who have done a great deal of the work on the house themselves, see their project as a preservation rather than a restoration. The house caught fire in 2009, but wasn’t badly damaged. “The fire is such a small part of the house’s history,” Debbie Isbell said.
Visitors will notice different wallpaper styles in every room, which was very much in style at the time it was decorated. “Every inch of the house was covered in paper,” Roy Isbell said.
To reproduce the original wallpaper in the foyer, Roy and Ray commissioned a stencil, which was copied from the 1890s wallpaper they found under the staircase, then did the walls by hand. The trompe-l’oeil border is also a reproduction from the 1850s.
“It’s not that they couldn’t afford crown molding,” Ray Isbell explained. “Paper was ‘in.’”
When the Isbells bought the house in 1994, it was filled with furniture and memorabilia from the three related families who had occupied it since it was built. The Roberts and Taylors loved to collect things, and the Isbells have set out many treasures for tourgoers to enjoy, from 1930s Shakespeare Club pamphlets in the parlor to the 1875 china in the dining room.
The Isbells have also written a history of the home for the docents to narrate during the tour. A few highlights: Joel Abbot Roberts, a local banker, built the main house in 1854, but the first house on the lot was built circa 1837 by Joel’s father, Dr. Willis Roberts of Georgia. Joel Abbot Roberts’ ledger, on display in the front parlor, shows that he paid $24 for the parlor pocket doors.
Mirabeau Lamar, president of the Republic of Texas from 1838-41, was a family friend who visited often; his portrait hangs just outside the dining room, and the Isbells have a copy of a poem he wrote in tribute to Joel Roberts’ wife, Mary, called “Flowers from the Heart.”
Four generations of the Roberts family lived here until 1897, when the home was acquired by R.V. Taylor; in turn, four generations of Taylors occupied it until 1988. The west wing was R.V. Taylor’s home office at the turn of the century when he was the mayor of Mobile. His only daughter, Helen Buck Taylor, married Captain J. Lloyd Abbot III, who counted among his ancestors Gen. Edmund Pendleton Gaines – for whom Dauphin Island’s Fort Gaines is named.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what guests on the home tour will learn about Mobile history and the Isbell House’s place in it. If you’re from Mobile, you may even discover some anecdotes about some of your relatives. The Roberts, Taylors and Isbells had quite a few cousins, including Herndons, Toulmins, Langdons, Pillans, Inges, Wallers and more.
“This house was never the grandest in Mobile,” Ray Isbell said. “But at the same time, it has so many original features to it.”
The Taylors had been quite wealthy, but were wiped out in the 1929 stock market crash, he said, and after that, couldn’t afford to do much in the way of renovations. “The true value of the house is that so little of it was changed,” he said.
and she won!
Beverly Curtis Foust is the winner of our LIKE US AND WIN promtion.
Beverly is entitled to a family history researched in time for Christmas, and one family photo restored if she chooses. Beverly, please email information on your family back to 1930, if possible, and we will take it from there.
Our email is:
Related posts: Like us to WIN!