Kenvil, NJ Hercules Powder Company Explosion, Sept 1940
Ten of the dead were found on a wooded hill about 300 feet from the solvent recovery building where the first explosion occurred. Survivors said they heard a faint blast and saw flashes of fire through the windows of that building before the first big explosion, and rescue workers believed that the 10 men had run to the hill when the fire started and had been caught by the full force of the big explosion before they reached the summit. Their deaths prevented investigators learning what had happened at the origin of the disaster.
One rescue worker who had helped remove the 10 bodies from the hillside said, "when we quit work at dark, we still saw the twisted bodies of more dead farther on in the black underbrush. I don't know how many more bodies will be found in the underbrush but my guess is it will be a considerable number."
The investigators sought any shred of evidence to discover if this was another "Black Tom" case.
Major Charles H. Schleffel of the State Police said:
"Some of the people employed in that (Hercules) plant did not look so good." Hunt said, "we checked thoroughly the lists of German-American Bund members supplied by Sheriff Denton J. Quick of Sussex County (location of Camp Nordlan) and we failed to find a single Bund member on our payrolls. I am satisfied that there is no sign of sabotage."
The disaster began in a unit completed only last week, the solvent recovery building. It was a one-story brick structure, 150 by 40 feet, with a corrugated iron roof, where 16,000 pounds of smokeless powder was being subjected to a "drying out"process. Survivors from nearby buildings said there was first a dull roar, followed by flames from the windows of the solvent recovery building, then an earth-shaking blast that tore the building to pieces. A few seconds later there was another terrific blast as seven more buildings in the production line, containing 34,000 pounds of explosive, were touched off.
The two great explosions, at 1:30 P. M. yesterday were heard for 50 miles and shook buildings in New York and Connecticut, 75 miles away. Many townspeople here were injured by glass flying from shattered window panes.
A puzzling feature was reported at New York's Fordham University, where the seismologist, Father Joseph Lynch, said his instruments recorded a minor explosion at 12:08 P. M. approximately 34 miles away the distance of Kenvil, and the big explosion at 1:29.30 P. M.
He believed the 12:08 blast was fairly deep underground, possibly in one of the Hercules plant vaults where nitroglycerine is stored. Investigators here said the nitroglycerine tank buried beneath a hill near the plant, had not exploded.