[Return to Home Page] [Subscriptions] [Newsstands] [Contact Us] [Archives]

Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 6, 2005

Home Safe Home

At a recent Altamont garage sale, we found a scrapbook put together during World War II. The cover — in red, white, and blue — says "Home Defense Against Accidents."

The entire book is filled with news clips and pictures of accidents.

The first entry is humorous — Chick Young’s comic strip "Blondie," from 1943. Blondie sets her sewing basket down on her husband’s easy chair, en route to answering the telephone. A huge "YEOW" follows, and the final panel shows her plucking pins and needles from her husband’s bottom.

The other entries are not funny.

Just beneath the comic strip is a two-inch high, column-wide news clip headlined "Child Killed By Horse Medicine." It relates how a four-year-old’s "fondness for pop" led to a tragedy.

"The family horse was treated by a veterinarian last week, and medicine was mixed and left in a soft drink bottle, to be administered to the animal," the news item says. The boy drank it, told his parents it tasted "bitter," and was rushed to the hospital too late.

A one-inch item headlined "Child Killed At Play," tells of a nine-year-old who, while playing in a swing, became entangled in the rope and accidentally hanged himself.

A one-sentence article — "Killed In Fall" — says an 82-year-old man was killed in a 20-foot fall from a ladder he had mounted to remove a bee’s nest.

A more prominent article that takes up most of a page is headlined "Grandson of FDR Kills Pal at Play." It describes how the President’s 10-year-old grandson tripped over a .22 caliber rifle in his home and, as the gun fell, it discharged, killing his 11-year-old best friend.

The boys had been playing with bows and arrows at the 168-acre suburban estate, Mist Valley, and "were running into the house to get more arrows when young Roosevelt tripped over the gun," the story said.

A similar, local accident had a happier ending. While at the summer home of his parents in Rensselaerville, a 13-year-old Albany boy, was accidentally shot with a .22 caliber rifle by a playmate who didn’t know the gun was loaded. The bullet penetrated the boy's stomach and emerged from his back; he was reported to be "in fairly good condition" the next day.

Another local story — "Kitchen Flame Causes Death of Area Woman" — tells of how a 35-year-old was preparing something to eat at the stove. "As she struck the match, a flash of flame enveloped her," the story said.

Another clip tells of a fatal poisoning from improperly preserved home-canned food and warns to "take proper precautions against botulism."

Yet another story reports, "A victory canning project that went slightly awry laid up five persons with burns today." It tells of a 28-year-old "patriotic housewife" who was canning 12 quarts of beans in the kitchen "when, without warning, they exploded." The "casualties" included the mother, her two children — ages six and three — and two relatives.

A full two pages of the scrapbook are taken up with an article on glossy paper titled, all in capital letters, "Home Is A Deadly Place." It has pictures — of a toddler playing with sharp scissors, of a "typical boy’s room with home-made radio receiving set overburdening electric outlet," and of "light switches near sinks that may cause electrocution if touched while one hand is in water."

"Manpower is America’s greatest shortage today," the article says, "and yet every week since Pearl Harbor the equivalent of an entire war production plant personnel has gone out of action every single day because of carelessness. This seventh column killed 30,500 people in their own homes."

We don’t know who assembled the scrapbook over 60 years ago; there is no name or hint of identity. It captures an era, though, when the country's efforts were focused on winning a war.

The toll of deaths from household injuries far exceeds the lives lost in war. And the deaths go on.

It saddens us to report news today like the news clipped and saved those many years ago. So we’ve done something unusual this season with our Home, Garden, and Car Care issue: We’ve devoted it to safety.

We hope you’ll read it. We don’t know if it will do any more good than the 1940’s "Home is a Deadly Place" article; we’ve taken a practical but more positive approach.

We’ve followed the lead of the state’s health department, which maintains that injuries are not accidents but, rather, can be predicted and therefore prevented.

"The tragedy of injury is that most of the resulting deaths, disabilities, and disfigurements need not happen at all," the health department says. "With injury, there is a direct connection between prevention and outcome."

Each week, an average of 164 New Yorkers die from injury and another 3,023 are hospitalized. Simple and conscious changes can make a difference. For example, free kits are available to convert window blinds with cords that could otherwise strangle a small, curious child.

Much of the advice we’ve heard before; the point is to understand it and follow it. We all know, for example, that young children riding in cars must be buckled into safety seats. But our reporter, Nicole Fay Barr, has examined the many options. She’s explained details that are important to know when strapping in your child, and can make a difference between life and death.

Barr is about to be a mother herself and so has a heightened awareness of safety. When an unborn child is in the womb, we feel it is safe. But, once it enters the world, we, all of us, have to look at the world around us carefully. We need to protect the vulnerable among us.

"If a disease were killing our young people in the proportion that injuries are," said the former surgeon general, C. Everett Koop, "the public would be outraged and demand that this killer be stopped."

Each of us needs to do our part.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer, Editor

[Return to Home Page]