Baltimore, MD Harbor Explosion, Mar 1913
Found Only Wreckage.
"Following the explosion we saw a huge inky cloud which ascended fully 200 feet and almost covered the harbor. When this cleared away there was naught in sight. Where the steamer had been loading, the vessel, scow, and cars had disappeared. We hurried to the scene, but saw only wreckage."
JOSEPH P. MARTIN, superintendent of construction at Sparrows Point, who, when the explosion occurred, was standing of the United States collier Jason, is authority for the statement that two white men and two negroes were killed aboard the collier. He does not know their names. They were struck by flying pieces or iron and timber, he says.
Besides the 60 or 70 laborers who are known to have been on the Jason there were stevedores, the exact number MR. MARTIN does not know. Some of them may have been killed.
Air Filled With Flying Iron.
"I was standing on the upper deck of the Jason," said MR. MARTIN. "Suddenly the Alum Chine seemed to turn into a ball of fire like magic, and to leap out of the water. An instant later there was the sound of a terrific explosion. The air was filled with flying pieces of iron and timber, which rained down on the deck of the Jason, and the water came in on us like a tidal wave."
F. J. ANSLEY, captain of the Alum Chine, was in this city on business when his ship was blown up. He could assign no cause for the disaster, but did not credit the story related by surviving negro stevedores, that the explosion was caused when a workman stabbed a hook into one of the dynamite cases. The general theory of the cause is that there was fire in the ship's coal bunkers, which spread to the dynamite in the hold.
WILLIAM E. VAN DYKE, of Baltimore, captain of the wrecked tug Atlantic, lost his life in heroically rushing to the aid of the imperiled British seamen in the doomed Alum Chine, and his vain effort carried with him to death many members of his crew.
When curling smoke from the bow of the Alum Chine warned members of her crew, the stevedores engaged in loading her, and the crew of the Atlantic alongside that fire was raging in the coal bunkers, there was instant realization that flames soon would reach the 300 tons of dynamite stored in the Alum Chine's hold and the barge roped beside her.
Instantly there was a rush to the ship's side. Fourteen members of the crew and four of the stevedores leaped over the rail and tumbled pell-mell into the launch Jerome that had a moment before brought two firemen aboard the ill-fated ship. All of the other members of the crew and stevedores who could reach the deck leaped for the decks of the Atlantic. The tug and launch, cutting hawsers, were sped away from the scene of the impending catastrophe, the Jerome picking up speed first and rushing to safety.
Returns for Two Sailors.
The Atlantic had proceeded a few hundred feet when two frantic figures were seen clamoring from the Alum Chine's hold. They were sailors who had been left behind. Reaching the sides of the vessel, they shouted piteous appeals for rescue.
Capt. VAN DYKE, despite the knowledge he must have had that a hail of death soon would be pouring over the harbor, heeded the call of the imperiled sailors. The engines were stopped, the Atlantic wheeled, and rushed again to the fire-doomed vessel's side. She reached it in safety. The two sailors jumped aboard.
Again the Atlantic wheeled. Capt. VAN DYKE, standing in the pilot house, gave hurried orders, which again sent the tug toward safety. But it was too late. The Atlantic's nose had scarcely been turned toward open water, when, with a roar like the eruption of a volcano, the death-laden vitals of the Alum Chine exploded. The concussion hurled all before it. A dense pall of smoke enveloped the waters, and when it cleared away the ship and barge and disappeared, and the Atlantic, a dismantled hulk, helpless on the surface of the bay, had become a human shambles.
Death in Dreadful Fashion.
Death in dreadful fashion had descended from the sky. The Alum Chine had been torn into shreds, and boxes of dynamite mingled with the flying fragments of steel and timber filled the air. These fell on the packed decks of the Atlantic, the dynamite exploding as it fell, and sweeping them as a charge of shrapnel levels charging troops.
Men's heads and limbs were torn from their bodies. Blood was everywhere. From ships and launches nearby were seen dismembered bodies flung across and tumbled about the Atlantic's decks.
Capt. VAN DYKE gave his life for his gallantry. His body, with one arm severed, was among those recovered by the rescuers, and was one of the first identified when brought to this city. With him died JOHN T. HOOD, a stevedore, whom his ship had rescued, and ROBERT DIGGS, a member of his crew, who had stood beside him when the explosion occurred.
Those who escaped death in the explosion brought vivid but disconnected accounts of the explosion when they reached this city with the dead and wounded.
Capt. J. R. THOMPSON, master of the collier Jason, had a narrow escape, when boxes of dynamite crashed onto the Jason's decks and exploded with death-dealing fury. He had seen the smoke issuing from the Alum Chine's hold.
Capt. Thompson's Story.
"I was warning my men of the danger," said Capt. THOMPSON tonight, "because I knew that the ship was sure to blow up. I had already gone below and instructed the chief engineer to get up steam and got under headway at once. He was doing this while I had other men at work pulling up the anchor. I was standing near a ventilator when I was tossed into the air fully 6 or 7 feet. I turned two or three somersaults. I threw out my arms and grabbed a railing. This kept me from going overboard."