Fort Wayne, IN Westminster Seminary Explosion, Nov 1894

Gas Explodes.

A Panic at Westminster Seminary This Morning.

Sewer Gas Ignites.

Clara Diebold Fatally Burned and Edith Masters Seriously Hurt.

Student Escape.

Employees in the Basement the Only Victims of the Accident.

A most distressing accident occurred this morning at the Westminster seminary during the breakfast hour. Clara Diebold was fatally burned, Edith Masters seriously scorched and Lillie Ander painfully burned and blistered. The injured people are all employed in the kitchen.

About thirty students and teachers of the institution, with the principal, Miss Sharp, were in the dining room on the first floor seating themselves for the morning meal. when a terrible explosion shook the entire building and the smell of fire and smoke almost instantly pervaded the seminary.

The girls were panic stricken, the teachers frantic and all the occupants of the building rushed out into the street pell-mell, screaming and crying for assistance. Miss Sharp saw flames surrounding the front door and rushed to the spot and quickly smothered the blaze.

The cries and groans of the girls in the basement immediately attracted the attention of the panic stricken students.

Residents in the vicinity rushed in and when they reached the basement found Clara Diebold, the assistant cook, lying prostrate on the floor writhing in agonizing pains. Her dress was smouldering, and her arms, face, head, neck, breast, back and legs to the knees were burned and blistered. In places the flesh hung in shreds. When picked up, the unfortunate girl was unconscious. She was immediately put on a stretcher by C.B. Stemen and carried to St. Joseph Hospital. Edith masters, the cook at the seminary, was also seriously burned about the face, head, one side and one hand. She was able to walk about, but was suffering horrible pain. She was taken to the hospital in the ambulance.

Miss Lillie Ander, the dining room girl, was singed about the head and forehead. Her face and hands were partially blistered.

The Explosion.

Just as the students were seating themselves in the dining room the three girls in the basement were clearing away the cooking utensils and preparing to throw the scraps and waste water into a trap closet which is situated in the basement directly beneath the main entrance to the seminary. Miss Diebold carried the scraps, and when she entered the closet lighted a match, as the room was in darkness.

The explosion was simultaneous with the lighting of the match. The flames enveloped the entire lower and front portion of the basement. Gas jets were lighted all over the basement during the early hours and no odor of escaping gas was perceptible. As soon as the closet door was opened the smell of gas was fearful. There are no gas pipes or connections in the closet and the explosion was probably due to the accumulation of sewer gas in the closed room. The smell of gas had been noticed a few weeks ago, and plumbers have been under orders ever since to make an investigation. It is supposed that leaks in the gas mains near the seminary have caused the sewer to become laden with the combustible fluid.

The fire from the explosion disappeared almost in an instant, and the services of the fire department were not required, although an alarm of fire was turned in.