Brooklyn, NY Tugboat Explosion, Apr 1902


Man Killed and Three Men Hurt, Two Probably Fatally.

Three Other Tugboats Damaged, Hundreds of Windows Smashed, and Greenpoint Plunged in Darkness by a Boiler Explosion.

The Greenpoint section of Brooklyn was violently shaken early yesterday morning by an explosion which blew up the tugboat John Anson, belonging to Capt. William Reichert, the skipper, killed John Donnelly, a fireman on the vessel, and injured James Cunningham, also a fireman; John Kennedy, the cook, and Andrew Moran, a watchman. Cunningham and Moran were so terribly hurt that their lives are despaired of.

The Anson was moored at the Chelsea Jute Mill dock, at the head of Manhattan Avenue, alongside the Vernon Avenue Bridge, which crosses Newtown Creek between Greenpoint and Long Island City. Next to her were tire up the tug Defender, owned by the Russel Brothers; The Dictator, owned by the same firm, and the John Purcell, belonging to Capt. John Gillers, her commander. They were all badly damaged. There were about seven more boats, but they escaped the force of the explosion.

On Wednesday evening Donnelly banked the fire, and then went ashore. He returned late at night, and went aft to his bunk. In the same compartment slept Cunningham and Kennedy. It is thought that Donnelly was careless in banking the fire, and left a high pressure of steam, which, having no outlet, caused the tug's boiler to explode with such a terrific report shortly before 3 o'clock in the morning that it shook Greenpoint and Long Island City from one end to the other.

The Anson was blown to pieces and what remained of the tug above water soon sank to the bottom of the creek. Donnelly was hurled clear across Newtown Creek, about 700 feet, landing in the yard of the Knickerbocker Ice Company, where his body was found. Cunningham and Kennedy were hurled into the creek, and although shockingly scalded, both managed to retain their presence of mind and swam to the Greenpoint shore, where they clambered on board a tug and where Cunningham lost consciousness.

In the meantime, Watchman Moran, who was on the deck of the Defender, had been hurled 50 feet into the air, and landed in Manhattan Avenue, near Commercial Street, 200 feet from the scene of the explosion. The Defender was badly wrecked above the water line, and will probably have to be entirely rebuilt. The Dictator and Purcell were less badly damaged.

The force of the explosion was so great that it shattered every pane of glass in the Chelsea Jute Mills, and also blew out nearly all the window frames and sashes. It entirely wrecked all the electric and gas lights in the street and detached the trolley wires. Every dwelling and factory within half a mile of the exploded tug felt the force and many windows were smashed. People ran out of their houses only half clad, believing that an earthquake had occurred.

Almost simultaneously with the sound of the explosion the firemen in the Greenpoint engine and hook and ladder quarters rushed out, and the reserves were turned out from the Greenpoint Avenue Station and in Long Island City, while ambulances from the Williamsburg and St. Catherine's Hospitals clattered to the scene of the disaster. While medical aid was being administered to Moran he received the last rites of the Church from Father Smith of St. Anthony's Roman Catholic Church, then he was removed to the hospital. Cunningham was removed to the Williamsburg Hospital. Kennedy was taken to the home of a relative. Donnelly's body was conveyed to the Long Island City Police Station.

The loss by the destruction of the Anson was $5,000, and to the Defender $1,500. The other two tugs were each damaged to the extent of $500, while the damage to the jute mill property was $1,000.

The New York Times, New York, NY 25 Apr 1902