Chester, PA Fireworks Factory Explosion, Feb 1882
He was alive when reached, but died a few minutes later. ANTHONY BARBOUR and JOHN VANDEGRIFT, firemen, were standing on a ladder throwing water on the roof of the main building. BARBOUR was struck by a heavy stone and hurled 150 feet away, where he fell dead and horribly mangled. VANDEGRIFT was blown off the ladder, but was only slightly hurt. Two other firemen were standing on the roof of the frame building when the explosion came, and their dead bodies were picked up nearly 200 yards away. These, however, were almost the only men who were instantly killed among those close to the building; the other victims were struck by flying pieces of the wreck. Among these were JOHN DICES, a boy, who was found lying on the sidewalk with his head crushed by a stone.
The explosion was followed by a scene of intense excitement. It shook buildings and broke windows all over the city, and called almost the whole population of Chester to the Porter mansion, where they moaned and sobbed with anguish as they recognized friends and loved ones anguish as they recognized friends and loved ones among the suffers, or ran wildly about looking for those whom they supposed to be among the victims. Women threw up their arms and shrieked or fainted away. Some kneeled on the muddy fround and prayed, while others showed the intensity of their grief only by a convulsive rocking of the body to and fro and a fixed, but vacant, staring at the flames, which now had undisputed possession of the wreck. The firemen dropped their hose and devoted themselves to the work of gathering up the dead and rescuing the wounded. They paid no more attention to danger than before, though two or three other slight explosions warned them that there was still a possibility of it. The bodies of the dead were gathered together before being taken off the ground, and at one time a ghastly heap of half a dozen corpses was piled up in the street. The fragments of bodies which were scattered around were also gathered up and all the dead were carried to the City Hall to be identified, after which they were taken to their homes. The wounded were carried into the nearest houses, where they were attended by physicians, all the doctors in Chester and its vicinity having volunteered their services. AFter seeing that all the dead and wounded who could be reached were cared for, the firemen turned their attention again to the flames and succeeded in putting out the fire about 10 o'clock, though by that time there was little left to burn. Search was then made in the ruins for a number of missing men, and this is still going on. This afternoon trains brought throngs of people from as far away as Philadelphia in one direction and Baltimore in the other, but they could only stand around the smoking ruins and watch the firemen as they searched for the bodies of those supposed to be buried there.
Among the earliest arrivals was Prof. JACKSON, who was at his home in this city when the fire broke out. He corroborates MR. VAN HORN'S statement that there were no violent explosives in the building. He said there was no gunpowder in bulk about the place, and the rockets, roman candles, red fire, and other pyrotechnics that were stored there were considered comparatively harmless. There was a large quantity of rockets and shells on hand, but he could not understand how these could cause so violent an explosion. The whole affair was a mystery to him. The Professor said he had taken up the manufacture of railroad torpedoes, and was trying to dispose of his stock of fire works with the intention of abandoning their manufacture and devoting himself to torpedoes exclusively. He estimated hhis loss at from $10,000 to $12,000, and had no insurance. One of the Professor's employes, who was slightly hurt, gave his story of the explosion. He said: "We were just getting out the cutting machine, another young man and I. The people were all coming in and I said to them, 'Here, you had better get out; you will get hurt.' One of them spoke up and said, 'No, we will not get out; we will run the risk with the rest of you.' Just then the explosion occurred, and that is all I know about it, only after the explosion we found a white man and a colored man in the cellar."
After the remains of the dead had been removed from the City Hall, Coroner Quimby impaneled a jury and opened his inquest. The first witness was Prof. Jackson, who said he had occupied the house since 1867. His business up to last July had been the manufacture of fire works. Since that time he had made fuses for railroad signals. He gave an account of the origin of the fire substantially the same as that given above. Speaking of the room in which the third or fatal explosion occurred, he said: "That room was used for storing the colored stars, and there was nothing else in it. The stars were kept in tin cans tightly closed up. I am positive that there was no other explosive material in the room. I have never before known these stars to explode from fire, although some of them will detonate like an ordinary percussion cap from a blow. No.
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