Holy Cross Cemetery
Deming, Luna County, New Mexico
Submitted by Private Party
Authorized by C. W. Barnum 1 Oct 2006
The data is based on the work of Janet Wasson.
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Holy Cross Sanatorium Fire
by
Mary Margaret Fewell Harrison July 27, 2008

When Deming’s Holy Cross Sanatorium burned down on March 12, 1939, I was there. I was not quite eight at the time. These are my best memories:

It was just after the depression and we were quite poor, but my Dad, Hubert Fewell, had a job as the engineer at the sanatorium. My Mother, Helen, was in charge of the dairy, such as it was, since the place was already closed. There were no longer any patients there. My parents had saved up enough to take we girls to a Shirley Temple movie in Deming. Thrilled ?!! You have no idea!

This is how the fire started. The afternoon of the movie we got into the car and headed down the road toward the corner at the Sisters’ house. We turned the corner toward the gate at the other corner that led to Deming and were approaching the Administration Building when my Dad saw the groundskeeper wrestling with a grass fire that was quickly getting out of hand. Everything around was beyond tinder dry out there on the desert. Dad quickly stopped the car and ran to help him. The two men grabbed the fire hose and ran to fasten it to the fire hydrant. They could not get it fastened because leaves that had blown up against it caught fire and enveloped the hydrant. [They ran to the next hydrant but the racing fire enveloped that one too. The burning debris was caught by the wind and blew up against a building. That’s all she wrote. The raging fire ran down the wooden boardwalks that connected the patient buildings and burned the place down.

My Mother took us far away from the sanatorium and went back to help. The fire could be seen for miles. Many townspeople came out to watch the fire and blocked the fire engines from quickly getting through. When they got there it was too late. They just abandoned the buildings within the square formed by the roads and concentrated on saving the houses on the outside. The little Chapel in the square was across the road - maybe 50 feet - from our house. When it burned the smoke and fire curled up and over our house and the firemen and citizens from the town poured water over the house to save it. There were many people pulling everything out onto the desert away from the house because they expected it to burn.]*

I do not know how long the fire lasted. We were back home that evening and the fire was out. Everything inside the square was down and black, black, black. Our house was okay and people were dragging everything back in. It was late and no one had eaten for many hours. So my Mother, according to her kind nature, tired as she was, cooked a pot of beans and fed them. While she did that my sisters and I were put to work picking desert grass burrs out of the mattresses so we could sleep on them that night. The desert had definitely left its mark on our household things. Child that I was, I remember being greatly excited at all the activity and getting to stay up late. By the way, we did not get to see the movie but the fire was real life and much more memorable. I will never forget.

* I was not an eyewitness to things within the brackets. They were told to me by my Mother or my sister who was eleven years old at the time.