Philadelphia, PA Explosion, May 1885



Philadelphia, May 28. -- The neighborhood of Second and Market streets was startled about 5:30 o'clock this evening by three explosions in rapid succession in the five-story building occupied by H. VEHMEYER as furniture warerooms on the corner of the two streets. The explosions were immediately followed by the falling of the entire wall on the Second street side of the building. The sidewalks were crowded with pedestrians, who ran affrighted in all directions. Some of them, returning to the scene, found MARY CATHEART, of Palmyra, N. J., buried under a portion of the fallen walls. Her head was crushed in and one of her arms was nearly cut off. She was removed to the hospital, where she died about two hours later. She was employed in a store on Market street, and was on her way to the ferry to return to her home when the accident occurred. She was accompanied by her sister, who was slightly in advance of her, and who escaped uninjured. After the fall of the wall flames burst from the building, and suddenly a man appeared at a third-story window on the Market street side with his clothing and hair on fire. He was recognized as HENRY VEHMEYER, son of the proprietor of the place. He staggered to the window sill in a dazed condition, and was about to leap to the ground when persons on the street called to him to wait, and willing hands at once procured a ladder. It was placed against the wall, but being found to short to reach the unfortunate man, a number of men lifted the ladder and held it at arm's length and the half-blinded man secured a foothold and commenced to descent. When half way down he swooned, but his limbs causht between the rounds of the ladder and he was lowered to the ground without further injury. His neck, head, and arms were badly burned and he was removed to the hospital.
The flames made rapid headway and communnicated to adjoining buildings, but at about 8 o'clock were gotten under control by the firemen. The corner building was completely destroyed and several buildings on Market and Second streets were badly damaged by fire and water. VEHMEYER, in addition to the corner property, occupied the upper floors of Nos. 202 and 204 Market street. His loss on stock is estimated at $50,000, on which he had an insurance of only $10,000. The losses on the various buildings will aggregate $30,000; insurance not ascertained. SILAS BETTS, JR., hatter, No. 204 Market street, loses $5,000; covered by insurance. F. L. ARCHAMBAULT, jeweler, No. 8 South Second street, loses $3,000, which is covered by insurance, and H. MEYSER, hatter, No. 6 South Second street, loses $5,000; insurance unknown.
A. R. UNDERDOWN, dealer in oil clothing, occupied the lower floor of No. 202 Market street, but his stock was mostly waterproof and his loss is believed to be small.
Young VEHMEYER at the hospital tonight said the accident was caused by the explosion of a can of benzine which he held in his hand, sprinkling the contents on articles of furniture to protect them from moths.

The New York Times New York 1885-05-29