Plymouth, PA Factory Explosion, Feb 1889





Wilkesbarre, Pa., Feb. 26. -- Eleven girls, varying in age from thirteen to twenty-two years, lost their lives in POWELL'S squib factory at Plymouth, yesterday afternoon. Powder squibs are manufactured at this place for the benefit of miners. The squib is a sort of fuse, which is inserted in the drilled hole in the coal. Girls are employed to make these squibs because their labor is cheaper, and they can do the work more satisfactorily than men. POWELL'S squibs are used probably in every mine in the United States and Canada, and some are exported to the English collieries. When trade is good the factory employs about eighty girls. Lately, however, trade has been somewhat slack and last week part of the machinery broke down, and the superintendent was compelled to lay off forty of the girls.
Yesterday all hands reported for work, but the machinery was not yet in order, and all were sent home with the exception of about seventeen who were retained to do some odd jobs. When the 12 o'clock whistle blew six of the girls who lived nearby went to their homes for their noonday meal, the remainder, eleven all told, ate their dinner in the factory. After all had dined the girls adjourned to an ante room containing a stove. Here they all sat and chatted on various topics. MAGGIE LYNCH said she had an invitation to a social that evening; CHARLES BEATTY had asked her to accompany him. She said she guessed she would go. All the other girls urged her to do so, saying she would have a good time. What passed between the girls after this is not known. There the story stops short.
ALICE ROSSO, who carried dinner for two of the workers, left for her home after MISS LYNCH had told of her intention to go to the social. A few minutes before 1 o'clock, almost starting up time, JOHN THOMAS, who resides near the factory, was sitting at a table eating his dinner, when a violent explosion shook the dishes from the table. At first he thought it was an explosion in the mines, but looking out of the window he saw the roof of the factory shooting up in the air, and when it fell back again the sides of the building were falling in. Then fire enveloped the debris and in ten minutes time the structure was reduced to ashes. The speed of the flames was so rapid that it was impossible for any one to enter the wreck building.
The miners from the Gaylord slope rushed to the burning building and heroically attempted to pull away the burning timbers so that they might enter and possible save the lives of some of the imprisoned girls, but the flames had gained too much headway and the men were absolutely powerless.
When the firemen arrived they found that their hose was not long enough to reach the fire from the nearest water supply, so that they were also unable to render material assistance. WHen the fire finally died out for want of material to feed upon, the bodies of the unfortunate girls were dug from the debris. Their heads, arms and legs were gone, nothing remained but their charred bodies, which were entirely unrecognizable. MISS MAGGIE LYNCH'S body being recognized only by its large size.
Thousands of persons had gathered about the wrecked building, and the piteous cries of the relatives of the dead girls was heartrending. All of the bones that could be found were placed in blankets and taken to Undertaker WILLIAMS' establishment, where the relatives gathered and vainly endeavored to recognize the charred remains.
The following is a complete list of those who lost their lives:
KATIE JONES, aged twenty.
MAGGIE LYNCH, aged twenty-one.
HATTIE JONES, aged sixteen.
GLODIE REESE, aged fifteen.
MARY WALTERS, aged seventeen.
MAGGIE RICHARDS, aged seventeen.
MARY ANN LAKE, aged seventeen.
RUTH POWELL, aged twenty.
ESTHER POWELL, a sister of RUTH, aged twenty-two.
CHARLOTTE HUMPHREYS, aged seventeen.
JANE ANN HUMAS, aged seventeen.
The only person who was in the building at the time of the explosion who remains to tell the story is Foreman REESE, and he is fatally burned. He says he was standing by a stove when the first explosion was heard. He rushed to the door to notify the girls, when several explosions occurred and he next found himself in the cellar. He managed to crawl out into the open air but is so terribly burned that he can live but a short time.
The cause of the explosion is not known. MR. POWELL says there was but a small quantity of powder in the building, a magazine near by being used as a storage house. One theory is that a box of squibs became ignited from spontaneous combustion and exploded.

The Marion Star Ohio 1889-02-26