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Gashouse Lullaby


Claim:   A babysitter quiets her charges by gassing them.

LEGEND

Examples:

[Collected by Brunvand, 1980]

When our children were young, twenty to twenty-five years ago, a friend was riding on a bus. She was sitting in front of two teen-age girls who were discussing the problems of baby-sitting. When the subject turned to crying babies and how to stop their crying, one girl was overheard to say to the other, "That's no problem. I just turn on the gas in the oven, put the baby's head in until he falls asleep, and then take it out."
 

[Collected by Baughman, 1953]

In New York City you have to be awfully careful about getting baby-sitters. You just don't know what might happen. My sister's girlfriend was sitting in the subway one day when she heard two women discussing the kids they stay with and how they handled them. She heard one of them say, "I just take them into the kitchen and give them just a l-i-t-t-l-e bit of gas."
 

Origins:   The oldest printed references to "Gassing the kids to quiet them" tales we know of so far date to the early 1950s, but some of our readers recollect having heard these stories as far back as the 1920s and 1930s.

As in several other prominent Gas light urban legends, the biggest parental concern about leaving Junior in the care of another is given voice through this legend: Can that other person really be trusted? Absentee parenthood is cautioned against in this tale, lest it lead to one's own children being left in the care of someone who might either callously or just unknowingly endanger them. In this case, while a whiff of gas might not prove fatal to a hardy infant, just a little bit more and Junior won't ever be waking up from his sleep.

Early versions of this legend focus on live-in or steady hired help: the maid, nanny, or housekeeper who is charged with the care of the child on a day-to-day basis. More modern tellings have shifted to the most feared childcare provider of them all, the barely-known teenage babysitter who is hired for the evening.

Almost without fail, the damning admission is overheard on public transportation (a bus, a trolley, or a subway car), a venue that makes it impossible for the eavesdropper to determine where these girls live, let alone whom they work for. The gassing sitters appear just the one time,
then are never seen again.

This story is often trotted out by those intent upon stressing the need to properly supervise childcare providers.

In 2013, in a possible instance of ostension, an event somewhat similar to the legend was reported in real life when Tammy Eppley, a childcare worker at a home-based daycare in Westerville, Ohio, was accused of regularly dosing six of her charges with Benadryl, an antihistamine allergy medicine that can leave users drowsy, and Melatonin, a hormone and sleep aid. Eppley has been charged with six misdemeanor counts of endangering children.

Barbara "no propane, no gain" Mikkelson

Sightings:   In the 1977 Marilyn French novel The Women's Room, the character named Bliss admits to drugging her children with tranquilizers when her married lover is coming over.

Last updated:   2 July 2013

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Sources:

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   The Choking Doberman.
    New York: W. W. Norton, 1984.   ISBN 0-393-30321-7   (p. 77-78).

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   The Mexican Pet.
    New York: W. W. Norton, 1986.   ISBN 0-393-30542-2   (pp. 69-70).

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   Too Good to Be True.
    New York: W. W. Norton, 1999.   ISBN 0-393-04734-2   (pp. 216-217).

    Decker, Theodore.   "Day-Care Operator Charged with Drugging Kids."
    The Columbus Dispatch.   18 June 2013.