Chicago, IL Magazine Explosion, Aug 1886

Exploded By Lightning

A Powder Magazine Blown Up Near Chicago.

Panic And Destruction For Miles Around-One Person Killed And Four Fatally Injured.

Chicago, Aug. 29.-In the twinkling of an eye Laflin & Rand’s powder magazine, in the outskirts of Chicago, was this morning swept from the face of the earth by a bolt of lightning and a consequent explosion of powder and dynamite. One person was killed outright, four were fatally injured, a large number were more or less seriously bruised and cut, and a great amount of damage was done in the vicinity and in Chicago. Nearly 120,000 pounds of powder and dynamite were exploded, and the concussion was so great that everything in the neighborhood was either leveled to the ground or riddled with flying stones and timbers. People 20 to 30 miles away felt the shock and thought it was an earthquake.

The spot where the explosion occurred is about eight and one -half miles southwest of the Chicago City Hall, and at the intersection of 47th street and Archer Avenue, a mile below the village of Brighton Park. It is open prairie, with most of the streets simply staked out. The principal powder houses of this city have their magazine there, and near by there were, until 9:20 o’clock this morning, a few frame houses, but little more that shanties. Laflin & Rand’s magazine was a frame structure, on the east side of Archer Avenue, about 30 by 40 feet, and one-story high. It stood upon a stone wall and had a heavy slate roof.

The bolt of lightning came in the midst of a thunderstorm which had been raging intermittently over 12 hours. It was raining quite hard at the time. Nobody saw the building the moment it was struck or as the fragments went flying into the air as the powder and dynamite exploded, but everybody for miles around heard the roar. When people in the neighborhood who were not injured looked at the spot where the magazine had stood they only saw a big hole in the clay 10 or 12 feet deep and 80 by 80 feet square. The house nearest the magazine was occupied by John Gohld, a driver for a powder company, his wife, and Carrie Earnsworth, 14 years old, Mrs. Gohld’s sister. The little frame structure was torn asunder and scattered in all directions; scarcely one board remained upon another, while the occupants were buried under the mass of ruins.

People ran to the scene from every direction. Carrie Earnsworth was found lying on the ground in front of the house dead. There were no marks on her body, and she probably died from shock. Gohld and his wife were buried in the wreck of the house. They were taken out alive, but cannot live. Gohld had dreadful cuts from splinters and glass all over his body. One leg, several ribs, and his collar bone were broken. Mrs. Gohld’s head was broken by a large splinter, and the brain was partly exposed. One arm was broken and her body badly lacerated by broken pieces of glass.

Across the street from Gohld’s house was the little shanty of Mrs. Eliza Divine. It was leveled into a shapeless mass from the midst of which the old woman was finally extricated. She was terribly bruised. A portion of her tongue was torn off, and some of her teeth were gone. The head was bruised, one leg was broken, and the entire body was frightfully lacerated. The attendants at the hospital, whither she, with Gohld and his wife were taken, say there is only a slight hope for her recovery.

Just as the lightning struck the building a farmer named Kenn was driving by. The bright flame shot out from the great quantity of powder and burned him and the horses. Kenn was thrown over the fence by the shock, and was picked up torn and bleeding 30 feet away from the place where the wagon was struck. The wagon was totally wrecked and thrown into the ditch at the side of the road. One horse was killed and left beside the ruins of the wagon, and the other tore himself loose and ran away.

About 600 feet distant was the house of Justice Tearney, of the town of Lake. He was lying in bed when he heard the crash, and lie at first though the lightning had struck his own dwelling. An instant later the shower of stones began raining down on the dwelling. The concussion separated the walls and they came down with a crash ad left only a small part of the structure standing. The wall nearest the exploded powder house was pulled out entirely; the ceiling in the front part was loosened in one end and left hanging by the other. Stones went crashing through the building, and that Justice Tearney, his wife, and daughters escaped death was little short of a miracle.

People living within a radius of a couple of miles of the magazine were badly shaken up by the explosion. Many were bruised and cut. Among those nearest and most seriously injured were Peter Hahn, cut and bruised about the face; John and William Kelly, who were passing and were burned on the face and hands by the powder, though not stuck by flying stone and timbers; Eugene Lowell, cut by broken glass, and Mrs. Armour, stunned by shock. Charles Bowler had his right arm broken by a flying stone. Several women were rendered unconscious by the shock. One of these was Eva Donnersberger, who stood by a window in her father’s house, nearly two miles away. She was hurled across the room and did not regain consciousness for two hours. The work of the explosion across Archer Avenue was something beyond belief. Fully half a mile away the trees had been bent from the naturally upright position by the force of the concussion, and in the immediate vicinity of the blast the grass was flattened and black, as if the burning powder had been spread over it. Even the strings of barbed wire upon the fences were torn off.

Continued on page 2