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 Ruth Gale

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Ruth Gale

Birth
England
Death 17 Sep 1861
Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, USA
Burial Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, USA
Memorial ID 101122436 View Source
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Aged 15 years, from England. Professional dancer, along with her 3 sisters, Zela, Adeona & Hannah Gale. All four sisters died in a fire during a performance at the Continental Theatre in Philadelphia.

This fire happened on September 14, 1861, when the old circus building operated as the Continental Theater. At least six but as many as nine ballerinas burned to death. Four of them were the celebrated Gale sisters, who made up a famous family of performers from England. Known for their beauty and talent, they were all under age 23 and had toured the country before first performing in Philadelphia at the Academy of Music.

About 1,500 people were taking in Shakespeare's play The Tempest. It was a complicated production, with pyrotechnics and other special effects. Everything was fine until the end of the first act when a dancer, Zelia Gale, suddenly ran past the stage, her costume in flames. The flammable gauze clothing had ignited from a gas jet in her dressing room. When her sisters and some other dancers surrounded her, the fire spread to them and the teenagers screamed in agony as their skin-tight leggings combusted and scorched their flesh off. After jumping from second story windows, their burned bodies lay on Sansom Street (then George Street). Those who made it to local hospitals suffered terribly, crying out for water before they died, one by one, all while in full command of their faculties.

Meanwhile, the proprietor, a former actor named William Wheatley, calmly told the audience to vacate the playhouse. Although this did cause a general panic, no theatergoer perished that evening. The place burned down completely.

A coroner's inquest exonerated William Wheatley from any blame for the inferno. He, at least, saw to the erection of a memorial at Mount Moriah Cemetery on behalf of the Gale sisters. Wheatley had also held funerals for some the victims at his residence at 819 North Ninth Street. Many clamored to get into the house to see the young victims. With the streets lined with mourners, a long train of carriages wound its way through the city as they bore the dead to Mount Moriah Cemetery. The heartrending calamity added to the city's gloomy atmosphere during the first year of the Civil War.


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  • Created by: raytracer
  • Added: 22 Nov 2012
  • Find a Grave Memorial 101122436
  • Find a Grave, database and images (www.findagrave.com/memorial/101122436/ruth-gale : accessed ), memorial page for Ruth Gale (unknown–17 Sep 1861), Find a Grave Memorial ID 101122436, citing Mount Moriah Cemetery, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, USA ; Maintained by raytracer (contributor 47012265) .