June 27, 1907: New to America, Wife Mistakes Gasoline for Coffee in Making Husband’s Breakfast

Note: This is an encore post from 2006.

June 27, 1907
Los Angeles

Louise arrived in Los Angeles three months ago from Norway with her four young children. She met a man who worked in San Pedro (we only know his initials, F.G.) and before long, they were married and living in his small home at 825 Tennessee St.

One morning, she got up to make coffee, turned on the stove, took a glass of dark liquid from a shelf and poured it into the coffee pot.

April 23, 1907, Marriage notice
Above, the marriage of Fred G. Rohn and Louise Johnson, in the Los Angeles Times, April 23, 1907.

Update June 27, 2018: The Times story is incorrect in a few ways. (The Herald added its own error in identifying the family as Rohan.)

The family was actually named Rohn. The husband was Fred G. Rohn. He and Louise married April 22 1907. According to their marriage license, he was born in Germany about 1876. She was the former Louise Johnson, born in Norway about 1873.


But the liquid was gasoline.

“In a flash, the woman was on fire,” The Times said. “Shrieking with pain, Mrs. Rohan dashed into the bedroom, where her husband was just arising. He seized her and rolled her in blankets until the flames had been extinguished, but too late.”

Doctors said there was nothing they could do for her. She had been burned over 50% of her body and also inhaled the flames, apparently scorching her lungs.

“I do not fear to die,” she whispered to her husband, “but take care of the children and furnish them a good home.”

The Times explained that before installing a gas stove, Mr. Rohan had used a gasoline burner and kept fuel on a shelf in the kitchen.

This is one of the frustrating moments in historical research. There’s no further record of F.G. Rohan or the children. In fact, the California death records don’t even report Louise Rohan’s death, raising the question of whether The Times misspelled her name. It’s also impossible to locate 825 Tennessee St. in the maps at 1907 HQ. There is a Tennessee just north of Pico on the Westside, but much too far to the west. We can only wonder what became of her four children.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1907, A Kinder, Simpler Time, Fires, LAPD, Streetcars and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to June 27, 1907: New to America, Wife Mistakes Gasoline for Coffee in Making Husband’s Breakfast

  1. I think we talked about Tennessee Street in an earlier post. Nowadays a search only turns up Tennessee Avenue over on the Westside. Tennessee Street ran from 20th up to 8th Street, running roughly parallel to (and east of) Central Avenue. Below 20th the road bed was named Hooper Avenue. Sometime after 1914 Tennessee disappears and Hooper takes over all the way up to 8th Street. Subsequently the wholesale vegetable market eliminated the northern stretch of Hooper above 10th Street (renamed Olympic Boulevard around ’32ish).


  2. What a ghastly story. The fact that the four kids must have just been starting to adjust to a new country makes it worse.


  3. Eve says:

    I highly doubt the poor woman had any moving last words, if she “inhaled the flames, apparently scorching her lungs.”


  4. tref says:

    great story! reposted on twitter @trefology


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