Thursday, July 2, 2020

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 15: "Fire" - Joseph P. Hudson Jr.

The Hudson Family,
circa 1921.
Everyone's family trees are full of stories about devastating fires, and many childhood memories feature the iconic scene of telling stories around a campfire. The story that I'm going to share here could have potentially been quite devastating; but fortunately, crisis was averted by the quick actions of my great-grandfather, Joseph P. Hudson Jr. This is definitely one of those "we'll laugh about it with the grandkids" moments, and Joseph's grandkids still chuckle whenever this story is told.

Christmas trees were first made popular in England in the mid 1800s by Prince Albert, the German-born husband of Queen Victoria, and made their way into the typical American Christmas scene soon thereafter. The good thing about these trees was that there were no aggravating strings of electric lights with a single blown bulb that immediately caused the whole string to short out, as electricity had not yet been harnessed for power. However, a Christmas tree is just not a Christmas tree without a light source, so the Victorians decided that the best way to achieve this effect was to put actual burning candles on their nice, dry, flammable Christmas trees inside their nice, dry, flammable homes.

While electricity in homes had been present in some parts of the US for over forty years by the 1920s, many poorer families did not have it in their homes, and relied on candles or gas lighting. The Hudsons were just such a family, living in the Louden Heights area of Charleston, West Virginia. Like many families during that time, they made the selection and decoration of the Christmas tree a big event. Presents were few, but they could have a good time selecting the perfect tree and trimming it with home-made decorations.

A typical Victorian
Christmas tree.
My Mamaw Edna, Joseph's youngest daughter, told a story about one such Christmas that could have gone very, very wrong. Like most families during that time, they included actual burning candles in their Christmas tree trimmings. And like most families of their socio-economic status, their house was made of wood. One night the Christmas tree caught fire from one of the candles, and quickly started to spread. In a matter of moments, the entire home could have been up in flames, and the family would have lost everything. But fortunately, Grandpa Hudson acted quickly. And fortunately, it had snowed that night.

I never thought to ask whether the tree was a large tree that stood on the floor, or a smaller tree that sat on a table. Either way, as the flames started to spread, Grandpa Hudson picked up the entire tree and threw it out the front door, right into the several inches of fresh snow in the front yard. The fire was quickly quenched, and the Hudson homeplace was saved. 

I'm sure it was a very frightening thing to witness at the time, but everyone who heard that story could not help but laugh at the image of someone picking up an entire Christmas tree and throwing it out the front door. And thankfully we have much safer ways of trimming our trees today.

~ ~ ~

My descent from Joseph P. Hudson Jr. is as follows:

Joseph P. Hudson 1881-1954

Edna Josephine Hudson 1921-2011
Daughter of Joseph P. Hudson

Joseph Wayne Kessinger 1958-
Son of Edna Josephine Hudson

Allison Quinn Kessinger
You are the daughter of Joseph Wayne Kessinger


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