New Haven, CT Explosion And Fire, Jan 1896

LIVES LOST IN RAGING FLAMES.

THREE MEN SACRIFICED BY A DANGEROUS EXPERIMENT WITH GAS.

TWO EXPLOSIONS ENSUE.

ONE WORKMAN KILLED INSTANTLY AND TWO SUBSEQUENTLY PERISH IN THE FIRE.

MUCH PROPERTY DAMAGE.

New Haven, Conn., Jan. 21. -- The building on Crown Street, opposite Orange, occupied by English & Mersick and two other firms, was destroyed by fire this morning, which started from an explosion. Three lives were lost.
The killed:
JOSEPH C. HAUSER, machinist, aged 38.
J. T. TOOF, aged 40.
HARBONA STEVENS, aged 21.
About 10:30 o'clock this morning FRANK P. PHLEGAR, SR., a machine jobber, was experimenting with acetylene gas in his shop on the second floor of the building. Around him were a corps of assistants, and it is said the PHLEGAR was working upon some sort of regulator to control the delivery of the gas from steel cylinders in which it is kept under high pressure, sometimes as high as 2000 pounds to the square inch. Definite knowledge as to the conditions of the experiment cannot be had, since the PHLEGARS positively refuse to talk tonight, beyond acknowledging the experiment.
It is known that when the explosion occurred the PHLEGARS, father and son, and five men were working about a cylinder of the gas. One of the men, JOSEPH HAUSER, a toolmaker, was killed by the explosion. His right leg was torn off at the ankle and the left leg horribly twisted. CHARLES FOX, an engineer, himself cut and bleeding, carried HAUSER'S body out of the building, which was then rapidly being enveloped in flames. FRANK PHLEGAR, SR., was burned and cut.
The force of the explosion tore down the ceiling, and when the department came and before water was put on the fire which resulted, a second explosion was heard. This was doubtless caused by a small tube of the gas.
When the explosion occurred, there were fifty persons in the building, and a mad rush to escape occurred. Happily all of the employes escaped except the three mentioned. It is said the TOOF and STEVENS, both employed by E. J. Toof, remained behind to lock a safe and secure some valuable papers.
Soon after the fire broke out STEVENS was seen at the window and was told to wait a moment and a ladder would be sent up. He answered that he would get some things from his desk and throwing out some books went away from the window. He was not seen again.
How TOOF met his fate is not known, but he was found very near STEVENS' body. It was not until 2:30 o'clock, three hours after the fire was under control, that the bodies of TOOF and STEVENS were found by the firemen, who were then clearing the debris. Both bodies were burned beyond recognition and were identified only by means of peculiarities of clothing or by papers in the pockets.
The losses and insurance are as follows:
English & Mersick, carriages and hardware, first floor -- Loss $50,000; insurance, $58,000.
Frank P. Phleger, jobbing machinist, second floor
-- Loss, $30,000; insurance, $25,000.
Edwin J. Todd, sewing machine attachments, third floor -- Loss, $40,000; insurance, $30,000.
The building was valued at $15,000 and is insured for that sum. It is altogether within the bounds of possibility that all of the insurance policies may be subject to contest, and, indeed, may be invalidated. It seems that the insurance companies regard acetylene gas and the materials which enter into its manufacture in the same light as they do gasoline, and do not permit the gas to be made or used in any insured building without a special permit. The insurance agents who placed the policies on the burned building said tonight that no such permits had been issued by them.
HAUSER and TOOF were married and leave families.

San Francisco Call California 1896-01-22