I will be posting about memorable events at the Trumbull House for the next few weeks. I hope you enjoy the stories. In this post, Biss shares her memories of three fires that occurred in the house – two that she and Dick started.
Biss (Elizabeth Westlin Guion) and their dog, Mack
BISS – Dick and I were cleaning up the playroom which was the living room in the little apartment. We used to put chairs in a line and that would be our train. We had lots of fun in there, too. Anyway, Dick and I decided that it would please Mother and we cleaned up the room. We had a wooden toy box where we put all our toys. There was so much paper and stuff around that we decided to take the toys out and put the papers in there, like a wastepaper basket, and we would burn them. What else do you do with paper? So we did, and of course, since the toybox was right under the window, the curtains caught fire. Dick and I got scared and ran into the kitchen, got quart bottles and filled them with water. I’d run in and pour it on the fire and Dick would do the same thing. We kept running back and forth but the fire kept getting bigger. Mrs. Parks, the housekeeper, happened to come in there and she put out the fire.
The second fire happened in the winter and we had one of those oil burners with holes on top to keep the bathroom warm. Dick and I were sitting on the radiator in the back bathroom, and it was so cold that there was frost on the window. We would take one of the pieces of our Erector Set, put it in a hole to heat it up and touch the frost on the window. At one point, I leaned over a little too far, fell down on top of the oil burner and tipped it over. I had always been taught that if there’s a fire you run out and close the door…..which I did. Dick was still on the radiator in back of the fire, and then the fire started up the curtain. I screamed for Mother and evidently she heard the panic in my voice and she responded immediately. As soon as she got upstairs and realized what was happening, she yelled for Lad to bring the fire extinguisher. As she got to the top of the stairs and started walking towards the bathroom, the door opened and Dick walked out. I put my hands on my hips and said, “How did you get out of there?” As if he had a lot of nerve to get out by himself. He explained that he had crawled between the bathtub and the fire and got out that way and opened the door. Mother had on a very filmy dress on and that caught on fire and I remember she put it out. Mother then took the rug from the hallway and threw it on the fire and put the fire out but the door was scorched where the flames had licked at it.
Lad was living in the attic and he used an oil stove for heat. He lit the stove and then came downstairs to light the oil stove in the kitchen. I was sitting out in the backyard with my boyfriend. Lad noticed that the lights began to flicker, go up and go down, so he dashed upstairs and when he opened the attic door, all he could see was an orange glow. He knew the place was on fire so he ran down and called the fire department. I heard the siren and said to Vinny, “Let’s go to the fire”. As we drove down the little driveway, I could see a haze of smoke drifting across the street, but I didn’t think too much about it. We parked in a driveway near the firehouse so no matter which way the truck went, we could follow it. It turned right on to White Plains Rd. and I said, “If that fire truck turns at Kurtz’s corner, then it’s my house”. So, by the time we got to Kurtz’s corner the fire truck was going up the driveway. I said, “I knew it, I knew it”. When we got to the house, I dashed inside and got Vinny’s picture, Mother’s picture and a clock that Vinny had given me. I had everything I needed, so the rest of the house could burn down. I didn’t care. Now Dad was giving a talk at the Algonquin Club so I decided I had better call Dad and let him know that he better not come home tonight because he might not have a house to come home to. I called and the operator said, “He’s giving a talk right now. Is it important?” I said, “Yeah, I think so.” Dad came to the phone and said, “What did you call me for. I was in the middle of a talk. It better be important” I said, “I just wanted to tell you that the house is on fire and you’d better stay in a hotel down there tonight.” You know, perfectly calm, as if there was nothing to it. Of course, within twenty minutes, Dad came up the driveway. In the meantime, Ethel Bushey had come and she asked me if I had gotten my clothes. “Clothes?” I asked. “No, what for?” She said, “At least you will have something to wear.” So she made me go upstairs and get my clothes. I put them on the lawn. After the fire was out I was furious that I had to put them all back. I was furious because I didn’t give a hoot about my clothes. I had what I needed. There was a lot of water damage but the only part that burned was up in the attic itself. If it had started in the cellar, I’m sure it would’ve gone up fast because it was such an old, dry house.