Caution: Children on Fire

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Pictures of burning children always catch our attention. Particularly old-timey pictures of burning kids like this one from She Walks Softly. Turns out, this one is a little too good to be true, as it’s not the vintage advertisement for some the kooky product it purports to be, but the work of contemporary designer and illustrator Christian Northeast.

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Even though I’d seen this marshmallow roast gone terribly wrong before, I’d assumed it was mere Photoshop trickery, so was surprised to learn these are genuine flesh-and-blood children staging a pyrotechnic stunt for reality TV show pilot. The kids are part of a family of stunt professionals headed by TK TK Dunn, and have performed in many movies including Catwoman, X-Men II, and Scary Movie, and others. No word was to whether the pilot ever sold

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Cigarette cards were the bubblegum cards of their Edwardian day.  It seems fitting that a cigarette manufacture should produce instructional material on fire safety, though this was only one in a series of hundreds of unrelated to the dangers or ill-effects of smoking, so it would be a bit of a presumptuous to conclude this was offered as a sort of product warning.

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The final word in burning children art would have to come from the pen of early German psychiatric pioneer Heinrich Hoffman, who in 1845 created both verse and illustration for his collection of cautionary tales for children Der Struwwelpeter, translated for American audiences by Mark Twain as Slovenly Peter.  Peter, a child whose grooming habits were wildly out of control, was one of a host counter-exemplary children, which also included the tale of naughty Pauline (pictured here) whose fascination with matches ends badly despite the best advice of her cats.

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Hoffman’s “The Dreadful Story About Matches” was later republished in many editions, sometimes with different illustrations such as this one featuring an older Pauline no longer toting doll and perhaps already on the verge of puberty, a state some scholars have associated with the graphic decision to move the fire from its original location on the child’s back to the more suggestive position shown here.

British cabaret band, The Tiger Lillies retells “The Dreadful Story of Pauline and the Matches” in their Struwelpeter-inspired album Shockheaded Peter,  which provided the soundtrack for an off-Broadway stage production of the same name.

The poem has even inspired Rammstein in their song “Hilf mir,” which loosely retells this story well known to their native German audiences.

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