A Hero Dies Saving His Parents

by James Rada, Jr.

The Stackhouses lived the simple life of a hard-working family. They didn’t have much, but their family was happy. Christmas 1937 had been one of those happy times, with the family getting together to share gifts and hearty meals.

Early in the morning on December 27, 1937, the happiness of the season was destroyed.

Twenty-six-year-old Bernard Stackhouse lived with his parents in a four-room home in Catoctin Furnace. Something woke him up that morning, and Bernard realized that the house was on fire. His first thoughts were to get to safety, but then he didn’t know if his parents were awake or not. It was around 1:00 a.m.

The Catoctin Clarion reported, “After heroically warning his parents, who were sleeping in a room above, young Stackhouse found his exit blocked in the rear by a stone wall and in the front by a searing sheet of flames. The cries of the victim were audible to his parents standing helplessly without.”

Louise McPherson was up late on December 26, 1937. She remained awaked as the late night turned into the early morning of December 27. That was when she wondered at what seemed to be light flickering in the night. She looked out her window and saw that a quarter mile away a building was burning. She thought that it was the barn on the Stackhouse property and called the fire into the Guardian Hose Company in Thurmont.

The fire company, which was incorporated two years earlier when it joined the Frederick County Volunteer Fireman’s Association, was using a 1933 Hudson sedan for one of its fire trucks. Mayor William Stoner (who was also a member of the fire company) had been the previous owner, and the firemen had it converted to a fire truck and added a 40-gallon chemical tank to it. The other truck was a 1927 chain-driven Mack pumper.

When McPherson hung up the phone, she “rushed to the scene but the conflagration had already demolished the greater part of the structure, together with the personal belongings of the family,” reported the Catoctin Clarion.

Carl Stackhouse and his wife were outside, but they were in a panic, because their son hadn’t gotten out and they had stopped hearing him yell from inside the house.

When the firefighters arrived on the scene, they poured water onto the flames, but the site remained too hot to enter to try and find Bernard’s body. It was not until 9:30 a.m. that firefighters were able to rake out the debris and find Bernard’s body.

Everyone’s worst fears were confirmed. Bernard had burned to death after saving his parents. The Stackhouses were taken to a neighbor’s house, where they received first aid.

The body was viewed by Stoner in his role of Justice of the Peace and Dr. M.A. Birely. Stoner said that a coroner’s inquest would not be necessary and listed the cause of death as accidental burning, which Birely supported.

According to the Catoctin Clarion, two theories were put forward as the cause of the fire. The first was that Bernard had been smoking, and his cigarette caught something on fire. The second was that a new stove that the Stackhouses had received as a Christmas present had overheated and caught something on fire.

Besides his parents, Bernard was survived by three sisters and two brothers. His younger brother, Warren, also lived in the house, but he had luckily been away from home, spending the night with relatives.


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