It was the roaring twenties and life was changing rapidly in the United States. Women had gained the right to vote, dance clubs were the vogue and “talkies” became wildly popular.  Ernest was home from the war and he and Goldie, who had only been married six monthes when he left for basic training, were together again.  If he was like many WWI veterans, it took a little time for him to adjust and settle back into life.

17 April 1920 Cartoon by American cartoonist Dick Kennedy,

The year 1921 appeared to be the beginning of better things for Ernest as he and Goldie welcomed their first baby into their home. Goldie gave birth to Charles Franklin Ganus who was likely named for Goldie’s father, Charles, and Ernest’s father, (William) Franklin. Things were looking up for Ernest.

Ernest, now a family man, returned to the oil fields, but this time he took a job in a refinery working as a still man’s helper. In a refinery a still is a large column where oil is heated to a high temperature in order to distill the oil to different grades.

October 28, 1922 likely began like most any other day for the Ganus family, but in the oil fields, any day has the potential for danger.  That afternoon,  as Ernest worked at the Indiahoma refinery, an agitator exploded, setting fire to three oil tanks, killing one man, burning two horses to death and according to newspaper reports, it was feared that two other men, including “E. Ganus,” who had been engulfed in flames, would possibly die from their burns.  (1) The article further stated that both men were hospitalized.

Gusher Okemah Ok 1922

While the accident is reported in numerous newspapers, there is no further information about the injured men.  I find myself wondering and hoping that just maybe the initial report was slightly exaggerated.  That could have been the case  . . . but if not,  I would assume that as is typical with burns, the recovery was slow and difficult.  Ernest would certainly require recovery time and he and Goldie likely felt the strain both emotionally and physically as he healed while the medical bills mounted. Sadly, this would not be the only trial this little family would face that week.

On the 29th of October 1922, the very day following the explosion,  Ernest’s and Goldie’s only child, Charles,  died.  I can’t imagine the grief they must have felt. Was Ernest even able to help Goldie make arrangements for Charles’ burial or was that a burden she carried alone? How did they afford both the cost of burial as well as Ernest’s medical expenses?  How did they manage as they faced one of the most difficult tragedies any parent could face?  Surely there were many dark and difficult days in the weeks and months that followed.

The following year, while still in Okmulgee, Ernest and Goldie again welcomed a baby into their home.  This time their baby was a girl and they named her Louise.  Once again I felt hope that maybe now life would even out for Ernest, and then I remembered what the 1930’s held for Oklahoma.

(1) “Explosion Kills Oil Worker and Injures Others,: (Miami),  Miama District News, 29 Oct 1922, p. 1; digital images,, (  accessed 28 August 2014). 

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2014, All rights reserved

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10 thoughts on “Tragedy in the Roaring Twenties – Part 4

  1. So often in family history we know the end before the beginning, but there's always so much to learn about the middle. There are times when I learn things that make me sorrow for the challenges my ancestors faced. If your Ernest were my ancestor, I'd feel very sorry for him and his little family. I wonder how he survived the burns sustained in the fire. Did you know him personally, Michelle?

  2. I have just been so amazed by all that I have learned about Ernest as I have dug into his life. You are so right, I knew about his beginnings and where he was buried and that was about it. Ernest actually died before I was born, so I never knew him.

  3. I knew next to nothing about my grandfather's brother when I started the research and have been amazed at what I have found. Literally at every turn of events I have hoped that his life would improve. But this last tragedy was the last straw and I am with you Wendy, I don't know how he(or Goldie) got up in the mornings after that. (Truth is, life never really got any better for him.)

  4. I am so sorry for Ernest and Goldie's loss. It's a loss I can understand having lost my own son at age 19. I'm certainly glad that they were able to have another child though. Michelle I have loved reading this series on Ernest and his family and I look forward to reading more. You have done a wonderful job.

  5. The man killed that day was my Grand Uncle, Walton Warren. He was 22 years old. The family story is that the barn with the horses in it was on fire and my uncle went to get them out when the roof collapsed on him and killed him. Side note, Walton was born about the time of his fathers death and never knew him, that was a tradgedy in itself in my opinion.

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