Chicago, IL Magazine Explosion, Aug 1886

The Dupont Powder Company had a magazine about 1,000 or 1,500 feet east and a little north of the Laflin & Rand house, and the force of the explosion wrecked the roof and cracked and sprung the walls. The stones in the foundations were thrown from 600 to 1,000 feet, and went crashing through the houses, tearing up fences, and carrying destruction everywhere. The ground beneath the powder house was torn up and scattered several hundred yards on either side, and for hundreds of feet was strewn with the debris. The shower of stones rained down on all the houses in the vicinity, tearing off roofs and breaking the sides, while the concussion was so terrific that the light frame buildings could not stand up against it. One stone weighing 40 pounds traveled a distance of half a mile north and went crashing through a frame cottage. It plowed its way through four walls, and then through two walls in another house standing next the one first struck.

The destruction in the immediate vicinity of the explosion was great. The most curious illustration of the tremendous force of the explosion is that thousands of letters, bill heads, receipts, postal cards, and other documents kept in the powder house were scattered through the air and over the surrounding country and prairie a mile or two in an easterly and southerly direction. Around the yards of Brighton, and flying along its streets, scores of those documents were seen and picked up.

The agent of the Laflin & Rand Company estimates the loss at $25,000, including the powder and building. A short time ago there was in the magazine 112,500 pounds of black powder and 5,000 pounds of dynamite. The stock had since been lessened slightly. The powder was stored in metal cans and the dynamite, which included a few hundred pounds used in evidence in the Anarchist trial and stored in the magazine for safe keeping was mainly in sticks six inches long and of small diameter. When the people at Brighton learned after the explosion that there had been dynamite stored in the magazine they were very indignant. The powder magazines were permitted to be built there on the pledge that powder only was to be stored in them. As more powerful explosives took the place of powder for blasting purposes nearly half of the space in the magazine was occupied with giant, powder, dynamite, and nitro-glycerin, Some of the town of Lake officials knew of this, but did not raise their hands to prevent it.

Curiously enough the worst effects in this city of the explosion were confined to a path running northeast, from the powder mills to the northern limit of the city, 12 miles away. The path was not more that 1,000 feet wide, and the principal damage was done in the neighborhood of the Board of Trade Building, at the foot of Lasalle Street. Heavy plate glass windows were broken in scores of buildings, particularly in the big office structures. In the drug stores, bottles and jars were hurled to the floor, and the clerks sent flying around the rooms. In the restaurant at the lake Shore station, a number of dishes were thrown from the tables, and the potted plants standing on the window sills were thrown to the floor.

At the undertaking establishment in Fifth-Avenue a workman was in a rear room with a small coffin under his arm. Without a moment’s warning the double doors in front of the building were burst open and a current of air swept through the shop. The workman was carried along like a straw, and with the coffin under his arm was hurled out of the rear door into an alley with a shower of glass rattling around his ears. When he looked back and saw the rear door closed as usual (the door having fallen to) he gave a yell and started down the alley on a run. He has not been seen since.

Probably the most thrilling experience was that of a workman who was on top of the Board of Trade tower, adjusting the wires leading to the big circle of electrical lights which crowns the tower. An unusually vivid flash of lightning and a terrific peal of thunder occurred, apparently just over his head, and he heard the peculiar reports of the electric sparks as they jumped from point to point around him. This increased his nervousness and he suspended his work for a moment, but before he could recover himself the terrific shock of the explosion came, and he felt the entire building shake beneath him, while the tower itself oscillated from side to side, and was seemingly on the point of toppling over. This was too much for the workman, and he declares that he got down to the ground about as fast as electricity is supposed to travel.

A panic occurred in the basement of the Jesuit Church of the Holy Family, at May and Twelfth Streets, where some hundreds of worshippers were attending the celebration of mass. The building rocked as if moved by an earthquake, and members of the congregation were almost thrown from their seats. A man rushed up the stairs yelling “Fire!” and in a moment two or three firemen from the house across the street dashed up the centre aisle with a line of hose. The frightened people rose, and there was a wild struggle to reach the open air. The basement windows were broken and the wire netting torn off by the people inside. Many persons were bruised, but nobody was seriously injured.

The Rev. Father Horgan, who was standing alone in his church at Brighton park preparing for the second mass, spun around like a top when the concussion burst open the doors of the building. Several bits of glass from the windows were driven into his legs. The effects of the explosion were felt at Crown Point, Ind., 30 miles away.

New York Times, New York, NY 30 Aug 1886