A Narrow EscapeOn December 9, 2020 by Elyse
Despite being a healthy, privileged resident of a highly industrialized nation, I’ve had a few close calls. I nearly strangled myself at birth with the umbilical cord—I’m still sorry about that, Mom. And then there was that time a glass coffee table spontaneously shattered a foot away from me. (It’s a thing.)
Plus, who can forget my inability to look the right way—or left, as the case may be—when crossing the street? My travel journals are filled with instances of me inadvertently wandering into oncoming cars, buses and trams. (Incidentally, if you were the young man in London who put your arm out to stop a clueless American from walking in front of a car in August 2017, this post is dedicated to you.) Easy mistake to make, right? No? Just me?
Moving on, nothing gets adrenaline pumping like avoiding a potentially fatal disaster. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have these experiences vicariously than firsthand. Fortunately, historical newspapers are filled with them.
That special providence which is said to watch over drunken men and children must surely exercise a little of its saving care on behalf of sleep-walkers, otherwise the recent narrow escape of two somnambulists in France would be little short of miraculous. . . . the hero this time being a married man, whose gentler half vigorously exacted that her partner should, upon waking of a morning, descend into the yard to fetch the water for the matutinal ablutions. . .
[T]he husband, who had a habit of walking in his sleep, rose some hours before daybreak to perform his wonted task, but mistaking the window for the door, stepped out on to the sill, and grasping the iron rail, was in the act of letting himself down into the yard, when happily his feet coming into contact with the windows of the lodger beneath, broke them, and aroused their proprietor, who, amazed at the unexpected intrusion, inquired what were the intentions of the owner of the legs. To this the sleeper, still clinging to his fragile support, replied drowsily that he was going to do his wife’s bidding.
His interlocutor deeming it an insult to that lady’s wifely affection to suppose her capable of ordering her spouse to descend in such a break-neck fashion and airy costume, went upstairs to satisfy his curiosity, which resulted in the slumberer being safely hoisted up from his critical position, just as the wearied hands were slackening their hold.
It is said that his consort, touched by the narrow escape of her husband, has undertaken for the future to the fetching of the water in turns.– The Flintshire Observer, March 23, 1877
That’s one way to compromise on household chores.
[A] man is lying at Taraworth Cottage Hospital, suffering from a bullet wound in the roof of the mouth, received whilst travelling from Birmingham by the North express. It is probable that he was saved from instant death by the plate of his false teeth, which had evidently received the charge, being perforated and twisted by the bullet.– The Evening Express, June 5, 1908
Not everyone is so bulletproof. For context, this next incident occurred in Odessa, Ukraine, and the robbers were part of a Russian ultranationalist movement prone to “extremism and incitement to pogroms. . . anti-Ukrainian sentiment and anti-Semitism.” Bad guys, in case that was unclear.
No fewer than six audacious armed robberies were successfully committed in Odessa on Saturday in broad daylight by the Black Hundred gangs, and in every instance the robbers managed to escape arrest. One of the victims was an Englishman, Mr. Arthur King, who is manager of the Paraskeras Tannery, and who very narrowly escaped being murdered.
Although unarmed, Mr. King refused to obey the summons “Hands up,” whereupon the leader of the gang levelled his revolver point-blank at his breast and pulled the trigger twice, but, providentially, the weapon missed fire on each occasion. The leader then drew his dagger, and was about to strike, when another of the gang, recognizing Mr. King as an Englishman, struck down his comrade’s arm, and thus saved Mr. King’s life.– The Weekly Main, November 9, 1907
Talk about playing Russian roulette.
Finally, a letter to the editor about a different kind of narrow escape:
Under the above heading [“Narrow Escape”] I read a paragraph in last week’s Star of Gwent [newspaper], stating that Mr. Charles E. Naish had fallen from the landing stage of the Screw Packet Company into the river Usk, in the dark, and recommending that the Company should better protect their stage by a chain railing, and also that a light should be there placed at night.
Man has accident and nearly dies. Straightforward enough, right? Not quite—workplace safety is not the concern here.
As this erroneous information, if not contradicted, is calculated to injure the Company, I beg to say that no such accident took place at the Screw Company’s Wharf, and that their landing stage is protected by chains, and is invariably lighted when used at night.– William Knowles, Managing Director, the Monmouthshire Merlin, October 5, 1861
As any public relations executive will tell you, reputations are just as precious and prone to accidents as human lives.
As your heart rates slowly return to normal, a friendly reminder to do as I say and not as I do: Look both ways before crossing the street.
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Welcome to Second Glance History! This blog seeks to uncover the people and the stories forgotten by history and give them another read through a modern lens. Join me every week as we examine the differences that divide and the common threads that connect the then to the now.
Elyse, I am pleased to know I am not the only one who survives “by the skin of one’s teeth”, or just by “sheer, dumb luck” . You are so appreciated now more than ever for your posts, do carry on, stay safe, and have a good holiday!
Best, Donna McGreal
Thank you so much for the kind words and for reading, Donna! (And the reassurance that it’s not just me!) This was just the pick-me-up I needed tonight. Hope you and your family are well, and have a wonderful Christmas!