Philadelphia, PA Planing Mill Boiler Explosion, Jun 1879




PHILADELPHIA, June 27.--It has been a long time since there was such a disastrous boiler explosion as that which occurred at the planing-mill of Wilt & Son, in Frong-street, below Brown, at a few minutes before 8 o'clock this morning. The mill was a large, three-story brick building, facing on Front-street, and extending 100 feet back to a narrow alley named Court-place, in which were erected a number of small dwellings, occupied by working men and people in reduced circumstances. In the rear end of the building, on the first floor and facing Court-place, the boiler was situated. Michael Deitels, the engineer, was at his post soon after 6 o'clock, and by 7 o'clock steam had been raised. There were about 60 men at work in the mill.

Suddenly, about 8 o'clock, the boiler exploded with a loud report, sending up a cloud of dust and bricks high into the air. The people living in the houses near the planing-mill rushed into the streets, and a fire company in the vicinity, not knowing what had happened, came galloping to the scene of the trouble, adding to the confusion. When the boiler exploded it was torn into three pieces, one part being hurled 40 feet away, and entering the second story of the dwelling of John McEvoy, in Court-place, demolished it, and killed his wife and two children. Another piece was carried 100 feet, into an alley, and a third into Beach-street, nearly a block away, where a little boy who was playing in the street was injured. As soon as order was restored about the ruins, a search was begun for the missing people. There was nothing left of the boiler-house except two bare walls. Following the direction fo the explosion, first came a small dwelling which had been battered in on the side, and one piece of the boiler was suspended between the ceiling of the third and the floor of the second story. Here was found the mangled body of the engineer. He had met an almost instantaneous death. While standing in front of the boilers he had been lifted by force of the explosion, carried 20 feet, and literally pushed through the wall of a building into the second story of this structure. The contact with the wall had broken nearly every bone in his body and torn him frightfully. His body was brought out and taken to the Morgue. He was about 36 years old and leaves a wife and four children.

When the body had been recovered, attention was directed to the tenement of John McEvoy, directly opposite, on the west side of the alley. As the family was not seen in the street in the crowd, it was at once feared that the members must be buried in the ruins. Hundreds of willing men offered themselves to help clear away the débris. The explosion seemed to have torn away the roof and floors simultaneously, leaving not a vestige, except the wall below the second floor. The men had not long been at work when they discovered Stella Long, age 8 years old. These were the step-children of Mr. McEvoy. The girl, strange to say, although buried amid bricks and timber, was not dead, but badly injured in the shoulder. She died during the evening. The boy was dead. It was evident that the children had not risen from their beds, but had been crushed down while yet asleep. Working still further down the men found the body of Mrs. McEvoy, who had been on the first floor. She was dead. Later on the body of Eva Long, another step-child, was found. The father and his son had left home for their place of business an hour before the explosion occurred. The mother had got up and prepared their breakfasts and left the children in bed. She was at her usual duties in the kitchen when the explosion occurred. The work of extricating this woman was heartrending. First her arms and hands were found protruding from the débris, and the firemen were guided to the place by the groans of the dying woman. When they cleared the débris off her head and shoulders she was nearly dead. They cleared the bricks and timber off the body, when it was found that the right leg protruded through the floor, and was firmly held in the cellar by twisted joists. Saws were procured, and the woman was at last relieved from her terrible position. When brought out into the street, she was placed upon a settee, where she died in a few moments. While the men were endeavoring to release the wife, the husband sat on a stoop near by, giving vent to his feelings in loud lamentations.

The proprietor of the mill, Mr. Wilt, does not know the cause of the explosion. He was sitting a report that the engineer had told him two weeks ago that the boiler was unsafe. Mr. Wilt denied the truth of the story. On the contrary, he said that the boiler was capable of carrying 90 pounds of steam, and was insured in the Hartford Boiler Insurance Company. He produced the certificate of the inspector of that company, dated Feb. 11, to the effect that the boiler would stand a pressure of 80 pounds, and was good for a year. The boiler was inspected by the inspector of the same company, on May 14, and a similar certificate was given. Mr. Ovens, Boiler Inspector said that the certificate of the Hartford company was always taken as a guarantee that the boiler was safe. Mr. Wilt says that they never carried more than 70 pounds of steam. The engine was nine horse-power. The boiler was so constructed that the underneath one was tubular, and over it was a horizontal boiler surmounted by a steam-drum. Several neighboring buildings were somewhat damaged.

The New York Times, New York, NY 28 Jun 1879