Eighty years ago today
The two-story brick apartment building at 1414 Thirteenth Street in Lubbock, Texas, no longer exists. In Google Street View, you can see that there’s a parking lot there now, where the apartment building stood, in March of 1934.
The apartment building where a widowed woman, Nettie Hyburnia (Cottrell) Holley was the manager, in March 1934.
Where she and her one surviving child, Myrtle, had been living in a less desirable basement apartment.
Where, when a first-floor apartment became available, Nettie was thrilled that she and Myrtle could move into the better apartment.
Where, on Wednesday, the 7th of March, 1934, she took gasoline-based cleaning supplies up to scour the bathroom fixtures.
Where she opened the bathroom window because of danger from the fumes.
Where the air from the window drove the fumes out to the living room, where there was an open fire.
Where, just after 11 a.m. that Wednesday, the fumes from those cleaning supplies ignited … and exploded … trapping Nettie in the burning bathroom.
Nettie — my grandfather’s older sister — had never had an easy life.
As one of the older girls out of a family that ultimately had nine children (seven surviving to adulthood), Nettie surely had lots of responsibilities. The family moved often when she was young — to Wichita County,4 briefly to Utah where a younger sister was born and died as an infant,5 possibly a brief stint in Colorado,6 back to Texas and Wichita County.7 Her parents’ marriage was stormy, eventually ending when Mattie took the younger children and moved to Oklahoma.8
Nettie left home before then. She married Henry Dixon Holley around 1906,9 and gave birth to her first child, daughter Mary, on the 7th of April 1907. But Mary was born with hydrocephalus and lived only seven months. She died 3 November 1907 in Iowa Park, Texas, and was buried in Wichita Falls.10
A second daughter, Myrtle, was born on 2 March 1909 in Wichita County.11 This second child was healthy — and you have to think that Nettie thought life was finally going to be what she wanted it.
But it was not to be.
Little Myrtle was only six years old when her father died of tuberculosis.12
Nettie found herself a widow with a child to support.
By 1920, she was working as the manager of the telephone office in Mountain View, Kiowa County, Oklahoma. She didn’t own her home; she was boarding, along with her 10-year-old child, in the home of Mary Biggs.13
By 1930, she was back in Texas, living in rented quarters in Post, in Garza County, just south of Lubbock, where Myrtle was working as a bookkeeper.14
And by 1934, she and Myrtle were living in Lubbock.
In that apartment.
At 1414 Thirteenth Street.
Where the gas fumes exploded into flames.
Where Nettie was trapped.
The family story is that she managed to get out onto the fire escape.15 The newspaper report didn’t say how she got out, just that she was badly burned and taken to the hospital. That Myrtle — who wasn’t home when this happened — had been called to her bedside. And that Nettie was fighting for her life.16
It was a fight she couldn’t win.
Just about 6:30 a.m. on 8 March 1934 — 80 years ago today — Nettie Hyburnia (Cottrell) Holley succumbed to third degree burns over more than half of her body.17
The last photo you see here is the last photo ever taken of Nettie. That fact alone makes it poignant. But even more poignant is the writing on the back, in the careful script of my grandmother, Opal (Robertson) Cottrell.
She couldn’t go to the funeral, you see. She was in the late stages of a difficult pregnancy; she had to stay behind and only my grandfather Clay Rex Cottrell traveled from Midland for the funeral.
Someone asked my grandmother, years later, for the original of this photograph. She spent money she could ill afford to have a copy made instead. And on the back she wrote, “An enlargement of a snapshot of Nettie made a few days before she was burned to death. I would give it to you but it is one we treasure very much…”
You were loved, Nettie.
And today, 80 years after you left us, we remember you.
- See Texas State Department of Health, death certificate no. 14160, Mrs. H.D. Holley, 8 Mar 1934; Bureau of Vital Statistics, Austin. And see interview with Opal Robertson Cottrell (Kents Store, VA), by Bobette Richardson, 1980s; copy of notes privately held by the author. Opal Cottrell was the grandmother of Bobette Richardson and the author. ↩
- The exact date when the Cottrells arrived in Clay County from Parker County isn’t known. M.G. and Mattie married in Parker County in 1874. Parker County, Texas. marriage license and return, M G Cottrell-Mattie Johnson, 27 Aug 1874; County Clerk’s Office, Weatherford. They were in Clay County by 1880. See 1880 U.S. census, Clay County, TX, population schedule, Precinct 4, enumeration district (ED) 164, p. 492(B), dwelling 17, family 17, M.G. Cottrell household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 12 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 1296. ↩
- See ibid. ↩
- M.G. first bought property in Iowa Park in 1889. Wichita County Deed Book O:64-65; County Clerk’s Office, Wichita Falls. ↩
- See notes of interview with Opal Robertson Cottrell (Kents Store, VA), by Bobette Richardson, 1980s. ↩
- Ballenger & Richards 25th Annual Denver City Directory (Denver : Ballenger & Richards, 1897) 300, entry for Martin G. Cottrell; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 7 Mar 2014). ↩
- See 1900 U.S. census, Wichita County, Texas, population schedule, Iowa Park, enumeration district (ED) 127, p. 238(A) (stamped), sheet 5(A), dwelling 86, family 86, Martin G Catrell household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 29 Sep 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication T623, roll 1679. ↩
- See 1910 U.S. census, Tillman County, Oklahoma, population schedule, Frederick Ward 1, enumeration district (ED) 248, p. 41(A) (stamped), sheet 4(A), dwelling 71, family 74, Mattie Cottrell household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 14 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T624, roll 1275. ↩
- See 1910 U.S. census, Wichita County, TX, population schedule, Justice Precinct 5, enumeration district (ED) 233, p. 73(A) (stamped), sheet 13(A), dwelling 180, family 180, H Dixon Holley household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 14 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T624, roll 1597. The census reported that the couple had been married for four years. ↩
- Wichita County, Texas, Death Register, Mary Holly, 3 November 1907; County Clerk’s Office, Wichita Falls. ↩
- 1910 U.S. census, Wichita County, TX, pop. sch., Justice Precinct 5, p. 233, ED 73(A) (stamped), sheet 13(A), dwell. 180, fam. 180, Myrtle Holley. ↩
- Texas State Department of Health, death certificate no. 14222, Henry Dixon Holly, 17 June 1915; Bureau of Vital Statistics, Austin. ↩
- 1920 U.S. census, Kiowa County. OK, population schedule, Mountain View, p. 142, enumeration district (ED) 98(B) (stamped), sheet 6(B), dwelling 59, family 59, Nettie H and Myrtle M Holley, boarders, in Mary E Biggs household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 15 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T625, roll 1467. ↩
- 1930 U.S. census, Garza County, Texas, Post, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 85-1, page 5-A (stamped), dwelling 101, family 105, Nettie and Myrtle Holley; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 7 Mar 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication T626, roll 2336. ↩
- Email, Cladyne Cottrell Barrett (niece of Nettie Holley) to the author, 29 Sep 2002. ↩
- “Woman Badly Burned Here,” Lubbock (Texas) Morning Avalanche, 8 Mar 1934, p. 2, col. 2; digital images, Newspapers.com (http://www.newspapers.com : accessed 7 Mar 2014). ↩
- Texas State Department of Health, death certificate no. 14160, Mrs. H.D. Holley, 8 Mar 1934. ↩