Hey -- where did all the kids go?

The Lonely Refrigerator

Just a thought about a cultural artifact:

Dear bsyahsfheh
Free-Range Kids: As I walked my dog this evening, I saw that my neighbors had placed an old refrigerator on their lawn with a “free” sign attached to it.  At first I thought, “Those doors need to be removed!”  or “Those doors need to be chained shut!”  I grew up in the 1970s and have clear memories of being told stories of kids climbing into broken refrigerators and not being able to get out — only to later be found dead inside. 

But then I realized this is 2017 and NO ONE is letting their kid roam around outside alone, so there is 0.0% chance of that tragedy happening.

Sad, really.
Ellen Woods
Newark, CA
Sometimes things, like the rain forest, disappear without us even noticing until it is almost too late.
That’s what is happening to unstructured, unsupervised time in childhood. Thanks, Ellen, for the chilling reminder. – L


Hey — where did all the kids go?


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28 Responses to The Lonely Refrigerator

  1. Andrea May 25, 2017 at 11:11 am #

    I totally remember that episode of Punky Brewster (re: was traumatized by). Actually, it never really made sense to me because I have never in my life seen a refrigerator with a latch: of course you can open them from inside, just push.

  2. Vicki Bradley May 25, 2017 at 11:27 am #

    Andrea, you can open the door as long as it hasn’t toppled forward onto the door, which could happen. In any case, it’s all a moot point since there are no free-ranging kids to accidentally lock themselves in a fridge (or do anything else, for that matter).

  3. Workshop May 25, 2017 at 11:29 am #

    As Andrea mentioned, I grew up with that warning, too, and it never made sense to me.

    Not until I was older and actually encountered vintage refrigerators did I understand.

    It’s like a modern-day version of “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson – we keep doing the ritual although no one remembers why.

  4. Powers May 25, 2017 at 11:41 am #

    Refrigerators with latches were outlawed in the U.S. in 1958.

  5. James May 25, 2017 at 12:09 pm #

    There have also been shifts in construction of refrigerators. It would take a pretty weak kid to be unable to open a modern fridge from the inside; in fact, my family has run into trouble with keeping the stupid things shut! Draw your own conclusions about whether this is safety paranoia or not; if so, it’s on the part of the manufacturing of refrigerators (and of course the regulation thereof), not on the part of kids playing outside.

    My sons–2 and 3–routinely open the fridge to put baby bottles in and take snacks out. The magnetic strips are not what you’d call strong. A kid trapped inside one would be at greater risk of being hit from the door recoiling when they kicked it open than of being trapped in such a fridge.

    I would also contend that this indicates that young adults are more likely to be meandering about. They’re the type who would be most likely to see a free fridge on the side of the road and say “That sounds like a great idea!” Folks with decent jobs would opt for a new model, because the chances of needing to replace it relatively soon are lower (trust me on this–learned that the hard way too!).

  6. Mitchell Carney May 25, 2017 at 12:14 pm #

    Come to think about it I have not seen anyone pull the doors off or chain them shut like they used to either. Seems like there were even public service announcements about it at one time.

  7. James Pollock May 25, 2017 at 12:21 pm #

    Modern refrigerators don’t close with latches. They can be readily pushed open from inside.

  8. SKL May 25, 2017 at 12:36 pm #

    I thought it was a vacuum issue with the refrigerator doors. Not that I ever researched it, other than as a kid, curiously opening and shutting our fridge to see how that worked.

    But yeah, it stands to reason that they would have stopped making fridges without a way to open from inside, given there were actual deaths ….

  9. Jess May 25, 2017 at 1:20 pm #

    @Andrea, I remember that episode too, and it was pretty intense. Although what I took away was the little boy being sad because he hadn’t paid attention in the life-saving class, so he wasn’t able to help. Made me want to learn CPR.

  10. Vaughan Evans May 25, 2017 at 1:29 pm #

    When I was at Maple Grove Elementary School-in Vancouver, Canada, we had a very good principal named Walter Hardwick.
    I was in Grade 1-to grade 6 from 1955-1961
    About three times in a year, he would give us lectures.
    How many boys and girls have leaned to swim last summer?
    Safety in a boat
    -Safety when trick or-treating.
    Everybody agreed that he was a good principal

  11. Suze May 25, 2017 at 2:19 pm #

    I had chuckle when I read this. Last summer, the elderly gentleman that lives the block over from us had an old refrigerator for sale. He had it sitting just outside his garage door. The neighbour across the street, who I happen to know was quite critical that he didn’t take the doors off or chain it shut … also alleged that it was the ‘law’ if you were to have a fridge outside. I was under the impression these days the worse worry about old fridges was proper disposal because the refrigerant needed to be taken out as it was bad for the environment. It certainly had nothing to do with kids getting stuck in them.

  12. David N. Brown May 25, 2017 at 3:16 pm #

    I can recall hearing warnings about fridges as a kid in 1980s, but I don’t recall anything about chaining them shut. Later on, I ran across the Stephen King story “The Mangler”, from about 10 years earlier, which features a side-narrative of a deadly old fridge. In hindsight, I believe the main justification for concern was the possibility that a child would hide or go to sleep in one of them without recognizing the danger.

  13. theresa May 25, 2017 at 4:36 pm #

    Does anyone know if this ever happened for real? Maybe it just a myth like the story of the ghost kids pushing cars.

  14. donald May 25, 2017 at 4:56 pm #

    Kids getting trapped in refrigerators used to happen fairly often – many years ago. This is why they are no longer manufactured with a latch to seal it. As Powers pointed out, “Refrigerators with latches were outlawed in the U.S. in 1958.” It is the law to remove the door or chain it closed for these old refrigerators.

    If this law has been extended to include the modern refrigerator, I’m unaware of it. I don’t think it is. However, it wouldn’t surprise me. I see a lot of ridiculous things as we try to child-proof the world instead of word proofing the child.

  15. SKL May 25, 2017 at 5:12 pm #

    The deaths continued for some time after the design change, as fridges last a long time. I just got rid of my 22-year-old fridge, which still worked, but leaked.

    I just did a google, and there is a story from 2014 where 2 little Russian girls died in their grandmother’s fridge. So sad ….

  16. Chris G. May 25, 2017 at 5:55 pm #

    When I was about 4 years old ( mid 1950s) my family lived I Washington DC. My grandmother worked for the government at that time. Some how, I was “volunteered ” for refrigerator safety experiments. Because of kids getting trapped in refrigerators with latches, the govt/manufacturers wanted to see what actually happened when a child was trapped. And to find a safer solution. I guess this experiment happened a couple of times. My mother was paid the grand sum of $25. I don’t think this sort of thing would fly today but I did contribute in a small way to latches being replaced on refrigerators. You’re welcome.

  17. dancing on thin ice May 25, 2017 at 6:05 pm #

    I remember our family having an old latch style fridge until about 1970. My dad got it used from a restaurant and it had holes drilled in the handle to insert a lock.

    Searching through all 4 pages of results came up with only 1 incident of kids locked in a refrigerator and it was in a war torn region halfway around the world from the United States where this fridges with latches were eliminated decades ago. Stories remain on the web forever indicating any incidents happened before the internet.

  18. M. May 25, 2017 at 7:51 pm #

    My little sister actually got herself locked in a fridge once! It was a working fridge, in our garage, that had had most of the sleeves removed bc my mom had recently stored something big inside. She was about 2.5 or so…but as soon as she was stuck inside she started screaming bloody murder and my mom quickly found her. More disturbing was the time she put 2 kittens in a small dorm type fridge (our cat had a litter). My mom noticed 2 were missing and went hunting for them, and she did find them. They were fine, but who knows how long the poor things were in there.

  19. KJ May 25, 2017 at 9:49 pm #

    In my town, they will take away old refrigerators that you leave at the curb, but you need to take the doors off. I just thought this was to make them lighter. Who knew? I grew up in the 70’s, but I don’t remember ever being warned about playing inside a refrigerator.

  20. Deborah Caldwell May 25, 2017 at 10:07 pm #

    I will be off the grid, without a refrigerator, for three months this summer. No one can say, however, that I am managing ‘off the grid.’ There are so many things that I will use, such as my big big tent, that were proffered on the grid. Refrigerators have long been a bane for me. Kids outdoors, and old folks outdoors, are another issue. Love to you, Lenore, from Granny Deb in Maine.

  21. CrazyCatLady May 25, 2017 at 11:44 pm #

    I remember fridges with latches you had to pull up. Grandparents or such had them. Recently, I was at an auction. There was a fridge with a somewhat bent door and an after market latch on it, the kind that fits over a loop. Probably similar vintage to the one above. NOT supposed to have a latch. My thought was…”wow, that is unsafe.” But then again, many of the things that end up at this auction come from the largest Superfund cleanup project in the US (and was recently in the news.) They don’t allow kids or even the general public up there without a background check (almost, for most areas, certainly for others.) so I don’t think they worry about latching it shut.

    On the bright side, my neighbor has been watching her grandkids when her daughter does shift work. There were 3 kids waiting at the end of my driveway when I got home with my son from school. They couldn’t wait for him get his helmet on and come ride bikes! And they did that, for the next hour or two with out anyone doing more than looking out a window at them.

  22. Andrea May 26, 2017 at 11:15 am #

    That Punky Brewster episode is infamous and totally messed me up. Too bad people took away from it the idea that kids shouldn’t play outside, rather than we should all (kids and adults) know CPR.

  23. WendyW May 26, 2017 at 2:04 pm #

    “Refrigerators with latches were outlawed in the U.S. in 1958.”

    I never knew they were outlawed, I just figured they phased out due to “better” technology. Although “better” is used loosely. My grandparents still used their latched one until at least 1980. I don’t think new ones last that long, despite their horrendous price tags.

  24. David (Dhewco) May 27, 2017 at 6:53 pm #

    When I was a teen, there was a 48hrs special about the search for a boy named Mathew…can’t remember what his last name was. I remember the episode because someone wrote a song about the search. (“We Pray For Mathew” I think was what it was called. All I really remember was the line, “Dear God, we pray for Mathew”)

    I remember really thinking about how I hope the kid was okay. The 48hrs promo coverage for the special didn’t mention the outcome. I was so depressed and sad when during the last segment they tell the audience that he had been found trapped …don’t really remember if it was a fridge, but it was in a junkyard of sorts.

    Anyway, the point was that the sensationalism of the story has left an impact. It made us afraid of something that really has no place in our fears. It is such an unlikely event, we might as well be afraid a gamma ray burst is going to hit us tomorrow.

  25. baby-paramedic May 28, 2017 at 4:44 am #

    My grandparents had a fridge with a latch on it. That would have been the late 90s.
    As for the after market latch, we had one on our fridge at one point, so the fridge could be locked. One of my siblings had a medical condition, and one part of it was he always felt hungry. So, our fridge and pantry had locks on them so he wouldn’t sit and eat a whole leg of lamb in the middle of the night (happened more than once before the locks).

  26. SanityAnyone? May 30, 2017 at 9:31 am #

    I understand the point of the original post, but I had to raise my eyebrows at the phrasing “…so there is 0.0% chance of that tragedy happening. Sad, really.”

    You’d think it would be ideal to achieve a null chance of a particular tragedy happening, but of course we can all see the flip side. What is the price our spirits and potential pay for imprisoning ourselves in gilded cages? Is life only worth living when there is risk involved? Is a cat really expressing its cat-nature if it never suns itself on a fence, creeps through the underbrush and protects the yard from small critters? Would most animals choose a window and plastic toys instead of freedom, which threatens cars and fights? Would most people?

    Here’s a fantastic list of quotes about risk. Which ones blow your mind from a free-range mindset?

    I can’t say I’m the bravest person, but I’m always trying to branch out. These quotes are inspiring.
    2. “Security is mostly a superstition. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” — Helen Keller
    14. “The dangers of life are infinite, and among them is safety.” — Goethe
    26. “Take calculated risks. That is quite different from being rash.” — General George Patton

  27. Dingbat May 30, 2017 at 11:58 am #

    @Andrea I remember that episode of Punky too.

    @ Workshop Yes it is, with many things. I stopped by my moms house kind of late the other night, in my pajamas (which were not clearly pajamas). I had a cold, was not going into any stores, and was only going to be out for a second. What was the first thing she said?

    What if you get in an accident?

    I won’t care about what I’m wearing. Will you really care if I bring pajama shame to the family?

    It took years to get her to break her from saying the infamous… make sure you’re wearing clean underwear in case you get into an accident… thing. I eventually had to tell keep telling her I was no longer wearing underwear to make sure I could avoid this embarrassing situation.

    Even the old attempts to get one to practice good hygiene involved an element of danger.

  28. David (Dhewco) May 30, 2017 at 2:40 pm #

    Eh, I’ve never understood the ‘clean underwear’ thing. I’m pretty sure if I’m in an accident bad enough where someone is seeing my undies, I’ve probably messed them anyway.