Chicago, IL Workmen Asphyxiated While Cleaning Sewer Pipes, Feb 1885

Courier Journal newspaper, Louisville, KY - Friday 13 February 1885


Foul Air Causes the Death of Five Workmen Engaged in Cleaning Out the Sewer Pipes in Chicago


Chicago, Feb. 12 - Five men were asphyxiated in a sewer late this afternoon. Several days ago the main sewer in Menzie Street, five feet in diameter, became clogged, and to-day a gang of eleven men were sent to clear it. Nine went into the sewer with a scraper fitting the conformation of the sewer, dragging it from man-hole to man-hole, while the other two remained above ground to draw up the mud and dirt through the man-holes. Between Halstead and Union Streets an unusually long time was consumed. The foreman, bending down at the mouth of the man-hole, heard a cry for aid, and going down, found the men near the opening, some of them gasping for breath, others lying dead. There was a very strong smell of gas. A rope was passed down to him, as the survivors were unable to climb up the ladder. After two had been assisted up, the foreman found himself failing from the effects of the gas, and was obliged to go to the surface. Another man went down and rescued three, and a third assisted the remaining four. Four were dead when brought up, and another died soon afterward. The names of the dead are MICHAEL LASKI, JOSEPH GILL, JAMES GRADY, DANIEL CURTIS and MATTHEW MASON. All are married except Gill.

The survivors say their first intimation that anything was wrong was when Gill dropped dead. It is not known whether the gas in the sewer was an accumulation of ordinary sewer gas, or illuminating gas from a leaking pipe, or what is known as firedamp.

IL Death Certificates

Curtis, Daniel died 1885-Feb-12 Chicago, Cook County age 50 #00057131
Gill, Joseph died 1885-Feb-12 Chicago, Cook County age 40 #00057372
Mason, Mathew* died 1885-Feb-12 Chicago, Cook County age 47 #00057831
*as spelled in index
Laski, Michael no results
Grady, James no results

Firedamp is a flammable gas found in coal mines. It is the name given to a number of flammable gases, especially methane. It is particularly commonly found in areas where the coal is bituminous. The gas accumulates in pockets in the coal and adjacent strata, and when they are penetrated, the release can trigger explosions.