Kenvil, NJ Hercules Powder Company Explosion, Sept 1940

Kenvil Memorial Plaque Kenvil NJ Powder plant blast 1940.jpg

Sad Women Roam Streets After Fatal Jersey Blast

Dover, N. J., Sept. 13 (UP) -- There was no sleep for the anxious women of this stunned town.
They roamed the streets through the night, or lingered in front of the hospital, or gathered in small groups before the barn-like building of the Athletic Club, in which the wounded were on cots, row on row. They gazed hopefully at lighted windows and listened stolidly to the screams that rang through the narrow streets at intervals.
One woman awakened her husband and persuaded him to take her to the gate of the Hercules plant at nearby Kenvil. There, besides the parked automobiles of the men who would never claim them, she told her worries to the marines on guard. She had had a nightmare, she said. Was there any news yet of her son? Her husband was safe; but she could never sleep again until she knew what had happened to her son.
All night women stood in front of the Dover Hospital. The shining lights from the surgery ward, and the screams of the sufferers told watchers that there were life and death struggles within those walls.
One woman who had waited quietly for 10 hours suddenly gave way. There was one loud wail, and she held her hand over her mouth.
"If only I knew, if I only knew," she murmured to herself. Her husband had been in the powder plant. His friends were dead. What had happened to him?
In the telegraph office, the wires hummed with incoming messages. Pitiful in their similarity -- "heard about the explosion. Are you all right?" Many were addressed to dead men.
A young man, his arm in a sling, his head swathed in bandages, limped in. He sent a telegram to three addresses. "Was in explosion but am unhurt. Love." He reached in his pocket to pay.
"Oh gosh," he said with a twisted smile. "I forgot that the blast took my pocketbook with it."
A man with both his hands bundled in gauze came in. He dictated his telegram and asked the office girl to reach into his pocket for his wallet. She refused but she sent the wire.
In her home sat Mrs. John Slako -- silent, calm, refusing to eat, to go to bed. Her 20-year-old son, the pride of her heart, was dead. From the moment she heard the explosion she had felt it was so. It came with a roar and a rumble, she said, then to door blew open. Then the dishes leaped from their shelves, the supper jumped off the stove.
Rushing to the door she cried: "My Johnny's gone." When nine hours later the official news arrived, her grief had been spent. She refused to view the body.
"I'll remember him the way he was," she said. "I don't want to see what's left of him."

Syracuse Herald-Journal New York 1940-09-13