High Plains Hoax: A Small Town Fire, Con Artist, And A 42-Year-Long Secret
On Christmas Eve, 1924, a horrendous tragedy happened in a tiny rural town named Babbs Switch. Thirty-six people lost their lives, another 37 were injured, and one person could not be found. That one missing person inspired a con-artist who ran a 42-year-long hoax.
Have you ever heard of Edens Hoax?
The School House Fire In 1924
Babbs Switch was a small rural community in western Oklahoma, not too far from the Texas line, near Hobart, Oklahoma. It was the setting for an unbelievable tragedy that took place in 1924.
On December 24, 1924, the one-room school house was hosting a Christmas Eve party. Some reports have it that around 200 people were in attendance. Others say there were 150 people in the room.
Either way, there were too many people packed in too small of a space. That, and the tree was lit with candles.
Supposedly a teenager dressed as Santa was handing out presents when he accidentally bumped a limb. It caused decorations, the tree, and the building to all catch fire.
Everyone Was Trapped In The Burning School House
People panicked. They rushed the only door the building had. That door opened inward.
As you can imagine, the door was next to impossible to open thanks to the crowd all trying to get away from the fire and out of the building. It was blocked by the very people trying to escape.
The windows had all been covered to keep people from breaking into the school house.
Several people were trapped.
36 Dead, 37 Or More Injured, One Missing Child
The tragedy inspired a law that required schools in Oklahoma to have at least two doors, and they had to open outward. Thirty-six had died. Thirty-seven or more were injured.
Little Mary Eden was missing.
Supposedly, Mary Edens' aunt remembered carrying her out of the building and handing her to someone. Who that person was is anyone's guess. Mary was three at the time.
Amazingly, in 1957, Mary Edens would reappear.
Edens Hoax: A 42-Year-Long Con Job
In 1957, a woman came forward claiming to be the lost child of the Babbs Switch Fire. Mary's parents had never given up hope that their daughter was still alive, and that one day they would all be reunited.
She wound up becoming a bit of a celebrity, and even wrote a book about her life.
It didn't take long before the pieces were put together by journalists that this woman wasn't the real deal.
When presented with the information a local journalist took it to Louis Edens, the father. The father asked the journalist to keep it a secret. Mary Edens mother fully believed this woman was her daughter, and no one wanted to see her hurt again.
So it remained a secret, until December 24, 1999. The full story was published in both Hobart, Oklahoma and Oklahoma City.
The headline read, Journalist Honors Pledge To Family Of Missing Girl.