Allentown, PA Hotel Explosion, Dec 1958



Allentown, Pa. (UPI) -- A series of gas explosions destroyed the Mountainville Inn Sunday, killing six persons including a newspaper employe apparently trying to photograph the incident.
Some 24 persons were injured, two of them critically. The injured included some of the crowd attracted to the scene by the first blasts.
The first explosion in the street in front of the tavern routed about 30 patrons and employes and brought residents running from nearby homes. As they gathered outside, the second blast shattered the building, killing the six victims and injuring the others.
The building formerly was a hotel but in recent years the first floor housed the tavern and the upper floors the home of the owners.
One of the dead was identified as LESTER KRAFT, JR., 29, a dark-room technician and photographer for the Call-Chronicle. Police said KRAFT apparently stopped at the fire en route home from work to photograph the blaze.
The other victims were identified as WILLIAM BRUBER and PERRY MILLER, both 16; MAYNARD HAEBNER, 39; WILLIAM J. MacLEAN, 35, and WALTER LEITGET, 37.
BARRY GLASS, 16, Allentown, was reported in
"very critical" condition today at Sacred Heart Hospital and DOLORES BRADER, 28, Bethlehem, was listed as "critical but improving" at the same hospital.
GLASS and MISS BRADER were pulled from beneath the wreckage of the roof which was blown 30 feet above the two-story, stone and brick structure.
The first blast occurred shortly before midnight in a gas main running beneath the street in front of the Inn and routed some 30 patrons and employes as well as 100 residents of nearby homes.
KRAFT had finished work about 11 p.m., and was on his way home when he joined the crowd of curiosity seekers who were apparently unaware the structure was in danger.
Police reported they had learned that KRAFT always carried several cameras in his auto and it was believed that he was attempting to get a picture when the fatal blast occurred.
The second explosion, which followed the initial blast by about 10 minutes, ripped off the roof, burst the walls and filled the air with flying debris.
Five youths, who were standing across the intersection from the Inn, where thrown over a four-foot hedge by the force of the explosion.
Fire Chief John Butz, who was also bowled over by the blast, was expected to conduct an inspection of the wreckage today.

Lebanon Daily News Pennsylvania 1958-12-15




Allentown, Pa. (AP) -- A darkroom technician who wanted to be a newspaper photographer stopped on his way home from work to take pictures of a gas main explosion. Minutes later, he and six other curious spectators lost their lives in a second blast.
LESTER S. KRAFT, JR., 29, a camera bug hired last September by the Allentown Call-Chronicle, was driving home late Saturday night after work. As he reached the outskirts of this southeastern Pennsylvania city, he saw a huge jet of flaming gas shoot up through the street paving from a broken main.
He parked and ran with his camera to the front porch of the 120-year-old Mountainville Hotel, a good spot from which to see the spectacular fire. Others also had gathered on the porch, or near it, to watch.
Minutes later the second explosion ripped the building apart. Tons of bricks and stone buried the six victims. Twenty-three others were injured, two critically.
The second blast was followed by a series of lesser explosions as leaking gas ignited in the streets around the hotel.
The operators of the hotel, actually a tavern with living quarters on the second floor, were MR. and MRS. GEORGE ANDRESACK. MRS. ANDRESACK'S timely warning to some 50 patrons probably kept the death toll down.
"I went to the cellar door after I smelled gas and when I opened it, the odor was very heavy," she said.
"I yelled to the patrons to put out their cigarettes and get out because I was afraid of an explosion."
Moments after the bar patrons left, the hotel was destroyed.
In addition to KRAFT, the dead were WILLIAM GRUBER and PERRY MILLER, both 16, who had just left a nearby roller skating rink; WILLIAM MacLEAN; WALTER LEITGER, 37; BARRY GLASS, 17; and MAYNARD HAEBNER, 39, all of Allentown.
The fire lasted three hours. Utility workers finally shut off the main valve to bring it under control.

Chester Times Pennsylvania 1958-12-15