The Strange Secret Behind the Tragic Deaths of Oscar Wilde's Half-Sisters

Oscar Wilde’s father William had six children; three with his wife Jane (including Oscar) and three older children born out of wedlock to two different women. The older children were raised by William Wilde’s relatives and it is not clear whether Oscar even knew about them. His two half-sisters, Mary and Emily Wilde, died tragically at a Halloween party. There is very little that we know for sure about the incident.

On October 31st 1871, the sisters were enjoying themselves at one such event. The Hallowe’en party was hosted by a man named Andrew Reid at the Drumacon House in Ireland. Everything was a success right until the end of the party when the host asked one of the sisters—most likely Mary—to one last dance around the ballroom. In a dark twist of fate that turned a night of joy into a tragedy, Mary got too close to the candlesticks and her dress caught on fire.

Panic ensued. The remaining guests screamed in wild terror as Emily dashed to her sister in an attempt to put out the fire. The attempt did not only prove futile, but also deadly, as Emily’s dress also caught on fire.

The details of what happened that night and afterward come from several sources and don’t always agree. In fact, very little was known about the deaths of the Wilde sisters and may even have been covered up. More recent investigations uncover yet more intriguing anomalies in the story that we still don’t have answers for. Read the accounts of the deaths of Mary and Emily Wilde at Atlas Obscura.

(Image credit: Wellcome Library, London)    

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