Laura Franklin Delano
was born on 23 December 1864. She was the daughter of Warren Delano II
and Catherine Robbins Lyman
. Laura Franklin Delano died on 21 July 1884 at age 19. 'On Saturday, July 19, 1884, Fred and Annie Hitch returned to America from China. Sara, Mamie, and Franklin (FDR), then two, hurried down to Algonac to greet them. Only one Delano child still lived at home: Kassie had left to marry Charles A. Robbins the spring after FDR was born, and twenty-year-old Fred, a Harvard junior, was off in the Pennsylvania coalfields learning the anthracite business as his father had directed.
Laura Delano at nineteen was perhaps the loveliest of the Delano sisters; even Sara liked to wash and brush her long silken hair. And she adored her nephew; there is a photograph made at Algonac earlier that summer in which she lies on the grass in a flowered dress, her body curved protectively around Franklin, beaming at him as he peers at the camera.
She is a good deal of a little witch, her father had written when Laura was a small girl, 'and don’t like to study. . . . She is willful, daring and persistent but loving and affectionate-- (and she knows it), beautiful.' He alternately indulged and tried to discipline her, and his fondness sometimes took curious forms. When her dog died, he took it to a Newburgh taxidermist who promised to 'mount his skin and give back to Laura the portrait of 'Tip' in a sitting posture.'
She looked especially lovely the evening the Hitches came home, Sara remembered, standing in the Algonac doorway as their carriage drew up, wearing a summer dress of white muslin with a deep pink sash. A homecoming dinner followed-- the Hitches had returned to stay-- and the next day the whole family was to attend church together.
All were getting dressed at nine o’clock the following morning when they heard an explosion followed by a scream. Both came from Laura’s room on the third floor of the tower. She had been wearing a thin wrapper as she heated her curling irons over an alcohol lamp; somehow,
the lamp was knocked over. Burning alcohol sprayed her robe. Her door banged open, her horrified father wrote later, and 'Laura flashed down the stairway a cloud of fiery flame.' Fred Hitch happened to be standing in the hall and tried to stop her, but she brushed past him, screaming in her panic. He snatched up a woolen rug and ran after her, out from under the porte cochere and onto the green oval of lawn around which the driveway coiled. There, Sara wrote, he 'caught her... and managed to lay her down' and smother the flames. Sara herself raced behind with another rug, 'but I wonder Fred could catch her, for she flew.' 'The household followed,' Mr. Delano recalled, 'and with oil and cotton and blankets sought to alleviate the agony of the sufferer who was at last got into the house and upon her bed.'
The doctor was called and came within half an hour. A nurse was summoned from New York City. Laura was given morphine. But nothing could be done. Only her lovely face and neck were untouched by the flames. She did her best to mask her pain. Like Sara, she had been taught not to worry others. Laura was 'brave and patient [and] courageous,' Mr. Delano wrote, 'reassuring everyone'-- especially her father' that 'I am young and strong and shall get all over this.'' She was concerned that news of the accident not upset her brother Warren’s
wife, Jennie, now pregnant again. She fell into a coma late in the day and died early the next morning.
Five of Warren and Catherine Delano’s children were now dead. 'All is mystery,' their grieving father wrote.'