Chester, PA Fireworks Factory Explosion, Feb 1882
VICTIMS OF AN EXPLOSION.
SIXTEEN PERSONS KILLED AND OVER FIFTY INJURED.
THE DISASTER CAUSED BY A SLIGHT FIRE IN A FIRE-WORKS FACTORY IN CHESTER --
FIREMEN AND SPECTATORS CROWDING AROUND THE BUILDING -- A SUDDEN EXPLOSION AND A TERRIBLE SCENE.
Philadelphia, Feb. 17. -- A terribly fatal, and as yet mysterious, explosion occurred this morning at Prof. SAMUEL JACKSON'S manufactory city.
The factory occupied part of an old stone building
formerly the residence of some of Admiral Porter's ancestors, and hence known as the Porter mansion. It stood in an open lot at Third and Welsh Streets, and though a fine building, originally standing in an admirable location, it had become disreputable, and that part of it not used by the factory was occupied as a dwelling by one white and several colored families. There was a two-story frame extension in the rear, and this was used as a part of the factory. Only four persons had been employed in the factory up to this morning. There were the Superintendent, CHARLES VAN HORN; a son of Prof. JACKSON, and two young women. But the demand for railroad torpedoes, which received a sudden stimulus from the Spuyten Duyvil disaster, had become so great that two or three more young women were engaged, and a room was fitted up for them in the second story of the main building. A fire was lighted in the stove this morning for the first time, and Superintendent VAN HORN says that about 7:20 o'clock he went to look at the stove, found the fire was somewhat low, and went down stairs for some wood and coal to rekindle it. As he went down he heard an explosion in the room he had just left, which blew off part of the roof and set the building on fire. It was caused, he thought, by a puff of coal gas from the stove, which set fire to some loose powder scattered on the floor, and this in turn exploded some red fire and rockets which were stored in the room.
An alarm of fire was given, and the three volunteer companies -- Moyamensing Hose, Franklin Hose, and Handly Hook and Ladder --
which comprise the Fire Department of the city responded at once, though their members were tired by their heavy work at the burning of the Military Academy last night. It was stated by the Superintendent and believed by the firemen, that there was little or no powder in the building, and only a small quantity of comparatively harmless pyrotechnics. Consequently, the men worked without fear, and some of them mounted on the roof of the frame extension to get a good position from which to direct their hose streams, while a great crowd of spectators pressed close about the firemen. VAN HORN warned them away, but they would not go. He and a number of others entered the burning building and busied themselves in removing the machinery, while the colored tenants made haste to leave the building. While this work was going on there was another explosion, and this, though slight and unimportant, caused the crowd to withdraw further from the building, thus no doubt preventing a more serious loss of life than actually occurred a few minutes later.
The work of fighting the flames had been going on for about half an hour, and the building was surrounded by a throng of firemen and others, when suddenly a quantity of some terribly explosive substance was reached by the fire, and an entire wing of the stone building was blown into the air, fragments of stone, timber, and human bodies being hurled long distances and scattered over a wide area. Men 150 yards away, who thought they were watching the fire from an entirely safe distance, were struck and killed. Others were dashed against trees and houses with fatal violence. Others again were torn limb from limb, and one man, a colored laborer named PERRY WILLIAMS, janitor of the National Hall and an assistant fireman, who was standing on the roof of the wing in which the explosion took place, was thrown to the top of the main building, where he lodged among the burning rafters, and lay shrieking and howling, roasting to death, for half an hour. He was rescued by a brave carpenter named JOHN W. CRAMER, who volunteered to bring him down.
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