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Ruth Kelsey, 1867-1913

Arctic & Northern Biographies

The Weekly Star (Whitehorse, Y.T.), May 23, 1913

Severely Burned - Mrs. Ruth Kelsey Has Narrow Escape in Burning Hotel in Whitehorse, Yukon - 1913

    The Dominion hotel and annex were destroyed by fire last Saturday evening a few minutes after 5 o'clock when Mrs. Ruth Kelsey, lessee of the property, almost lost her life. As it was, she is now lying on a bed in the General hospital with both arms, her left shoulder and side badly burned.

    Mrs. Kelsey was cleaning clothes with gasoline Saturday and had just filled a pint bottle of gasoline from a can in the yard back of the kitchen. She turned back into the kitchen to reach for a cork for the bottle when she accidently dropped it, some of the oil splashing onto the kitchen stove. She had picked up the bottle which was not then broken, but immediately there was a flash, the bottle exploding in her hand. The explosion threw oil all around and in an instant Mrs. Kelsey's clothing and hair were all ablaze. Fortunately Mrs. Jack Parker was in the dining room just off the kitchen and, with great presence of mind, got Mrs. Kelsey out of the kitchen and smothered the flames in her clothing and hair with a large apron she was wearing.

    Both women then dashed out of the house, which was then afire on nearly all the first floor, and their cries soon attracted others. An alarm of fire was sounded within a few seconds and, although the department made a hasty run and was throwing water on the building in less than five minutes after the explosion, the whole interior of the building was a seething mass of flames. Gallant efforts and good work kept the fire confined to the two Dominion buildings, although the residence of Postmaster George Wilson on the east and Mrs. M. G. Watson on the south, were both badly scorched. In the meantime Mrs. Kelsey had been taken to the hospital where she was given all the care and attention possible.

    Three men who were sleeping, two in the second story and one on the third floor of the hotel, heard the women screaming, but by the time they realized what was taking place, the flames were sweeping up the stairway and they were driven to jump from a window on the third floor onto the roof of the annex from which they later reached the ground. One of the men was a cook named William Adler, another was named Herman and the name of the third was not learned. One of Adler's hands was slightly burned.

    Mrs. DeGraff, who had a dressmaking shop next door west of the hotel, lost most of her clothes but saved a portion of her property, including a valise in which were a number of valuable documents. The little room she occupied is owned by Mrs. M. G. Watson and was not much damaged aside from the paper. Mrs. Kelsey lost everything she owned, even the clothes on her back being burned off her. She had something over a hundred dollars in cash which was also burned. None of her effects were insured. The hotel building, furniture and bedding which were owned by Henry Arp of Burwash creek, were insured for $1,500.

    When the fire started a strong south wind was blowing and while three streams were playing on the burning building, it was discovered that the Home Lodging house on Main street, a block away, was on fire, a blazing ember having been carried to it by the wind. One hose was taken there and the danger was soon over. At the same time several incipient blazes were discovered and put out in the alley back of Puckett's and Martin’s stores and the Commercial hotel. A fire had gained considerable headway in the door of the Commercial stable before found and stamped out. Another fire started in the neighborhood of Fred Lenzholtz residence nearly a half a mile away.

    Mrs. Kelsey is getting along as nicely as her condition warrants, at the hospital, but it will be several weeks, possibly two months, before she will be out. She realizes that she had a remarkably close call, and says the presence of Mrs. Parker who had just dropped in a moment before the explosion for a neighborly call, saved her life.

    Mrs. Kelsey is a pioneer resident of of Whitehorse and nas many friends who are deeply interested in her welfare.

The Weekly Star (Whitehorse, Y.T.), May 23, 1913

Friends in Need

    The many friends of Mrs. Ruth Kelsey who was so badly injured in the fire which destroyed her home, the Dominion hotel, last Saturday, sent to her at the hospital on Wednesday of this week a purse containing $320, a little reminder of their friendship. Mrs. Kelsey desires, through the Star, to thank those who so generously remembered her in her time of need.

The Weekly Star (Whitehorse, Y.T.), May 30, 1913

Mrs. Kelsey Dead. Passed Peacefully Away at Hospital - Whitehorse, Yukon, 1913

    As the result of burns sustained in the fire after the explosion of a bottle of gasoline, which fire destroyed the Dominion hotel on the evening of the 17th instant, Mrs. Ruth Kelsey died at the hospital Wednesday afternoon of this week at about 3 o'clock, having been unconscious for two hours previous to her death.

    Up to Wednesday morning Mrs. Kelsey's condition was considered most favorable and only Tuesday night she remarked to her friend and confidant, Mrs. Jack Parker, that she felt she would be entirely well in a short time. Early Wednesday morning violent stomach complications set in and continued until death intervened.

    Two married daughters of the deceased, Mrs. Nellie Lawrence and Mrs. Elsie Fry, her only children, were due here yesterday evening when this paper went to press, the former from Cosmopolis, Wash., the latter from Seattle. They had been informed of their mother's death at Skagway, from which place they wired that the body will be taken out.

    Mrs. Kelsey, "Ma," as she was generally called, was one of five people who were here in Whitehorse in March of 1900. The other four are here yet and are Mr. and Mrs. G. S. Fleming, E. A. Dixon and George Armstrong. She has made this her home ever since and has almost continuously engaged in operating restaurants and lodging houses, feeding and lodging her patrons regardless of whether they paid or not. It used to be frequently said "If Ma Kelsey would close her restaurant several able-bodied men around town would starve." Her chief characteristics were generosity and honesty. The hungry and weary were never turned from her door and she was as honest as generous. Her sudden death has cast a mantle of gloom over Whitehorse, where she was known and liked by everybody. She spent most of last winter with her daughters on the outside and had intended to leave here for good this fall.

    She was 46 years of age.

The Weekly Star (Whitehorse, Y.T.), July 4, 1913

Burned Building Razed

    Henry Arp, owner of the Dominion hotel which was destroyed by fire May 17th had the ruins razed this week, thus removing a sort of monument of sadness, the flre which destroyed the building having caused the death of Mrs. Ruth Kelsey, one of the first settlers of Whitehorse.