Brockton, MA Explosion and Fire, Mar 1905


Brockton Shoe Factory Collapses When Boiler Explodes.


Heroic Deeds by Rescuers and by Pinioned Victims Calmly Awaiting Their Doom.

Special to The New York Times.

BROCKTON, Mass., March 21.--The city is in mourning for fifty-three of her citizens whose lives were blotted out early today by the explosion of a boiler in a large shoe manufacturing establishment in the Campello district, conducted by the R B. Grover Company.

At 2:30 o'clock this morning the bodies of fifty-three persons have been recovered from the ruins of the factory. Seven bodies have been identified, but only three or four positively. Fifty-three persons are known to be missing, the names of thirty-one of whom have been obtained. Many others are reported missing, but it is considered probable that some of them are at their homes in near-by towns.

Of the survivors 253 have been accounted for. The estimates of the dead range from sixty to eighty and of the injured from fifty to one hundred. Many persons not seriously hurt went to their homes and did not report their injuries.

There have been no deaths at the hospital, where but four persons are on the dangerous list.

The explosion was followed by a flash of flame, which consumed the factory, a long four-story structure, as if it were a house of cards, and incinerated an unknown number of men and women who were unable to extricate themselves from a mass of tangled wreckage formed by the terrific upheaval in the boiler room.

More than half a hundred employes{sic} in the building were maimed, burned, or bruised. Some had jumped from the roof, some from windows, and others had been injured in the mad rush to escape from the flames, which spread all over the ruins, driving back a band of rescuers who in a few brief moments had performed heroic service.

The fire extended from the factory to seven other buildings in the vicinity and also reduced them to ashes. The total financial loss is estimated at $250,000, $200,000 of which falls on the R. B. Grover Company. The monetary losses are nearly offset by insurance.

It may never be known just how many persons perished in the big footwear plant. No one knows exactly how many persons were in the factory. The number has been estimated at 400, but Treasurer and Superintendent Charles O. Emerson said tonight that he doubted whether there were so many at work.

The disaster was attended by one mystery which the police had not cleared up at a late hour. This was the inexplicable disappearance of David W. Rockwell, the engineer in charge of the boiler which exploded. During the day Rockwell was reported as badly injured and as having been taken to the fire station near by. Shortly afterward a report reached Police Headquarters that he had died. Later on, however, the police could not locate his body, and it was believed that his injury and death had been confused with that of another person. It was reported that Rockwell had left the city, but City Marshal Boyden expressed the opinion that the man had been killed.

City Marshal Boyden said that the fusible plug of the boiler had been removed and taken to Boston by State Boiler Inspector McGrath. It is guarded by an officer.

When the Explosion Occurred.

The explosion occurred shortly after the operatives had settled down to the work of the day, and without warning. There was a terrific roar. At the same moment the larger wooden frame of the factory, a four-story structure, shook, and then the rear portion of it collapsed in a mass of iron and wood wreckage, in the midst of which human beings were pinioned. At the same moment a tongue of flame started up from the boiler pit, and, reaching out as it ascended, communicated with the splintered wreckage and also with the standing walls. Very soon the entire factory was in flames.

Meanwhile the boiler passed upward almost perpendicularly, tearing a passage as it went and killing many on the way. After rising high in the air it descended half the distance, and then, swerving northerly, smashed through a dwelling hour fifty feet away and pierced another dwelling further on, demolishing it. Here its course was stopped.

Scenes of horror followed the wrenching apart of the factory building. The three upper floors which collapsed were weighted with heavy machinery. Men and women operatives working in departments of this section who were busy at their machines had time but to turn in an attempt to flee after the sound of the explosion, when the flooring sank beneath them, and they were carried to the ground, crushed and bruised amid the mass of débris, or into the flames.

In the sections of the factory which remained standing the terrified operatives sought to escape. Some fled down the stairways and reached the street: others ran to the windows, the fire-escapes in many cases having been torn away by the explosion. In desperation several jumped from the second and third story windows to the ground and were dangerously injured. The crush on the stairways resulted in numerous minor injuries.

Pinned in the Wreckage.

A large number of men and women who were working near the supports were alive after the floors and walls fell. From these unfortunates harrowing cries of agony and terror went up. Almost all had been caught between broken timbers, lighter wooden wreckage, and heavy pieces of machinery. A few succeeded in extricating themselves, but more were roasted to death.

By this time many persons had arrived to assist the employes{sic} who had escaped in the rescue of their fellows. This task became momentarily more difficult and perilous, for the heat was almost unbearable. By the use of long pieces of timber the rescuers were able to raise parts of the wreckage, and thereby release some of the imprisoned men and women, and then, by rushing into the smoke, pull them from the ruins.