Fire in Bradford.

Submitted by PHGS Members Kim and Bill Painter

Bradford Era Tuesday Morning March 16, 1926


Five Members of Family Victims of Flames 


Superhuman Efforts of Mother Who Makes Supreme Sacrifice Alone 
Saves Lives of Three Injured Children 

Early Morning Blaze Destroys Home and Traps Sleeping Family with Heavy Loss of Life.

Gazed at by curious onlookers, a small mass of charred timber and a scattered pile of ashes last night marked the spot in Simpson where, early yesterday morning where fire and Tragedy had stalked hand in hand with the Grim Reaper.  Snuffed out the lives of five members of the family of Samuel Towner and seriously injured owner and three of his children.  Only the superhuman efforts of a mother, which resulted in the death sacrifice of Mrs. Towner saved the lives of the three children who are now at Bradford Hospital. 

Mrs. Mittie Towner, 44 years old, died fighting that her children might escape the flames, which swept through the little home.  Four of her children met death with her.  They are John, 12 years old; Leonard, nine; Clinton, six; and George, two. 

Leaps From Window 

Towner, the father, broke a window in the house and dropped to the ground when it was discovered that the flames had cut off all other means of escape.  He broke his arm in the fall.  Mrs. Towner remained in the tender like structure and dropped two daughters, Erma, four and Venus, eight, to safety.  Monroe, the 15 year old son, also dropped to the ground.  Towner and the three children who escaped from the building all were burned and are being cared for at the hospital. 

Two older daughters, Mrs. Bertha Thomas and Miss Stella Towner, were away from home when the fire broke out. 

How the blaze stated must remain a mystery.  An overheated stove caused it, neighbors think, but there is no proof.  The flames were first discovered by Walter Parks, a pumper on a nearby lease, when he was on his way to work.  He saw the fire at 3:45 o'clock.  Parks immediately sounded the fire whistle on the gasoline plant, summoning inhabitants of Simpson to the scene.  A typical oil country structure built with speed and with no thought of permanency, the little home was soon a mass of ruins and the bucket brigade formed by the neighbors did little or no good. 

Towner who was employed as a teamster by the South Penn Oil company, discovered the fire in the house.  Awakened by a smell of smoke he rushed to the door of the bedroom to find the house a mass of flames and escape cut off from every side. Breaking a window he jumped to the ground, followed by his eldest son. 

Mrs. Towner refused to leave her children.  Grabbing Venus and Erma, she dropped them to the ground and then returned into the rooms again for her other babies.  Towner and neighbors shouted to her to leave the building; that she would not survive the danger much longer, but the mother refused to desert her children.  After she had gone into the flames following her rescue of her two daughters, she was not seen again. 

Towner and the children who escaped the fire were rushed to the Bradford Hospital by Eddie Conwell and William Thompson of Simpson by automobile. 

Neighbors remained about the building and searched the ruins as soon as the heat of the building permitted.  Charred beyond recognition, the body of Mrs. Towner was lying across a bed spring while her four children were huddled nearby; lying in the same position they had been when they were first overcome. 

Frank McAllister took charge of the dead bodies.  Tomorrow after noon at 2 oclock funeral services will be held from his parlors here.  Rev. S.A. Keen will officiate and the fire victims will be laid to rest in Rose Hill Cemetery, Smethport. 

Notes:  The town of Simpson is now called Cyclone, Pa in McKean County.  They are all buried in a mass grave at Rose Hill.  There is a large stone with Towner on it below the third row into the cemetery on the right had side.

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