Albany, NY Boiler Explosion, May 1856


From The Albany Evening Journal, May 15.
A sad calamity befell our city this morning, and one that will long be remembered for the loss of life and destruction of property. A new boiler of fifty-horse power, weighing from eight to ten tons, was three days ago placed into the distillery of CYRUS EDSON, on South Broadway, at the extreme south bounds of the city. The boiler exploded this morning, demolishing the building in which it had been placed. So terrific was the explosion that it shook the buildings around the distillery, and the report was heard in the north part of the city and at the machine shop of the Hudson River Railroad at East Albany, a distance of nearly a mile.
We visited the scene of this heart-rending calamity this morning, soon after the explosion. Thousands of men, women and children were gathered about the ruins, and many were the sad tales that were related to us of what had been seen and heard by eye-witnesses of the scene of destruction and death.
The building in which the boiler was placed was east of the main building, but so great was the force of the steam that the branch of the safety-valve, a piece of cast iron weighing 200 pounds, was driven through the main building -- carrying away the greater portion of the rear wall of the extension, a portion of the front, and was found imbedded in a lot on Broadway two hundred yards off. Another piece was found in Church Street two blocks off; the doors of the boiler were carried one hundred yards north, and found upon a vacant lot; another piece penetrated the roof of a building facing the river. Not more than 500 pounds of this ten-ton boiler were to be seen in the room it had been placed in. The boiler building is literally demolished, and the addition to the distillery, a building thirty feet front and three stories high, is cut into a mass of ruin.
But the most painful part of this calamity remains to be told. We have visited many a scene of devastation and horror; but that of this morning was truly heart-sickening and almost too horrible to relate.
The remains of CYRUS EDSON, the owner of the establishment, were found in the second story of the distillery, sixty feet north of the boiler-room, between the braces under a steep tub, with a portion of his face cut off, one boot off his foot, the sole of the other carried off, and his body horribly mangled.
GEORGE HENDERSON, the engineer, was so disfigured and cut to pieces that he was only recognized by his clothing.
JAMES DONNIVAN, a laborer on the works; his head and legs were severed from his body.
Among the rubbish was found a leg for which no owner could be found, and it is feared that its body was carried into the river.
DANIEL BOYLE, a plumber in the employ of Peter Smith & Sons, was badly scalded, blown into the river, but was rescued from drowning. His arm was broken.
PHELIX McCAFFREY, in the employ of the same firm, was also badly scalded, and was found with his pants and boots stripped off.
There were quite a number of workmen in the establishment, some of whom narrowly escaped death. E. PRESLIE, a carpenter, was in the new building at the time when MR. EDSON was found. After the explosion he found himself surrounded with fragments of the structure uninjured. Others were stunned by the shock, but were not injured.
Of the cause of the explosion there are a variety of opinions, but the most satisfactory one is, that as all new boilers are apt to foam, the engineer may have been deceived in the quantity of water in the boiler, and had also neglected to notice the steam-gauge until the water had reached a low depth, and that the sudden admission of cold water had caused a collapse. The boiler had been tested two days before, and was found to bear double the quantity of steam necessary for carrying on the works.
We may have chronicled the extent of the disaster, but from the reports gathered about the scene of the calamity, we fear that others may have been blown into the river.
The explosion was followed by an alarm of fire, to which the fire department promptly responded, but when they reached the place there was no fire to be quenched. They only beheld a building demolished to its foundation, and another one rent in twain.
Thousands upon thousands of our citizens visited the place this morning, including a large number of females, many of whom, actuated by a morbid curiosity, were desirous of being admitted into the room where Coroner Winne was engaged in holding inquests over the bodies of the slain. Men were engaged in dragging the river while others were busily employed in removing the rubbish.
This melancholy event occurred about 9 o'clock this morning, and the sad intelligence of the death of CYRUS EDSON, one of the members of the Board of Trade, was received during 'Change hour. Immediately upon its reception, and in the obsence of the presiding officer, Mr. S. Hale, at the instance of several members, called the Board to order. Mr. C. B. Redfield, after announcing the sad event and the sudden death of one of the members of the Board, as a tribute of respect to the memory of CYRUS EDSON, moved that the Board do instantly adjourn without transacting any business. The motion was seconded by Mr. C. W. Armstrong, and adopted.
Tivoli and Washington Hose and Hook and Ladder Companies were engaged till nearly noon in assisting in removal of the rubbish from the building. Up to the latest accounts there was no owner to be found for the leg found in the distillery, and a general impression prevailed that the remainder of the person was thrown into the river. A dense concourse of persons were still to be seen going to and coming from the scene of the disaster.
We learn from Dr. Cox that DANIEL BOYLE appears to be in a fair way of recovering. His back is injured, ribs broken and is slightly burned. He was conveyed home.
PHELIX McCAFFREY was taken to the Hospital and it is feared that he cannot survive. He is not only badly scalded but he is otherwise outwardly and inwardly injured. He is receiving every attention that can be bestowed.

New York Daily Tribune New York 1856-05-16