Brockton, MA Explosion and Fire, Mar 1905

Then it was that acts of sacrifice and heroism were performed. One man, whose legs were caught under an iron beam, cried to the rescuers that they could not extricate him and must help the girls behind him. Stretching out his arms, he lifted several girls, one by one, and passed them to the rescuers. Then the fire reached him and he died.

A woman who was entangled in a shoe machine cried out that she was dying and commanded the rescuers to attend to others who might live. She begged to be shot. Soon the flames enveloped her.

Among the first to arrive on the scene was the Rev. James A. O'Rourke, curate of St. Margaret's Roman Catholic Church, near by. At the risk of his life he removed seven persons from the ruins, and was returning for the eighth time when he fainted from the effects of the smoke and the shock. Father O'Rourke administered the last rites of the Church to many Catholics before they perished.

Father O'Rourke's Story of Horror.

Father O'Rourke, from his residence near by, had witnessed the disaster and had rushed to the factory to do what he could.

"Pinned beneath heavy pieces of machinery, timbers, and twisted coils of pipe," he said tonight, "were many poor men and women suffering terrible agonies. In order to reach these imprisoned sufferers we had to crawl through the débris. With the aid of a large timber we raised the wreckage which held fast several men and women, and in this manner, and by brute strength, pulled out seven employes.{sic}

"By this time the flames were almost upon us, and we were about to flee for safety, when on poor fellow begged that a last effort be made to save him. Three of us grasped the man by the shoulders and arms and tugged and pulled until suddenly he cried: 'My God, my leg is pulled off.' it was especially terrible because a moment later, with our clothing scorched, we were ordered away by the Chief of the Fire Department, and were compelled to leave the poor man to his fate.

"Just before leaving I saw at least fifteen of the poor imprisoned people, some already suffering untold agonies from the flames and others watching them with terror-stricken eyes, knowing that a moment or two would bring to them similar suffering, and then death."

Many were the persons who rushed into the ruins and pulled out the injured at the imminent danger of their own lives.

Imprisoned operatives, too far away for rescue, and who knew that their lives would last but a few moments, spoke words of encouragement to those who seemed nearer escape. Some prayed aloud. Others pleaded with the rescuers to say "Good-bye" to relatives, while not a few were shrieking from pain and fright.

The dreadful spectacle unnerved many who were trying vainly to get to the victims, and some turned away sick and fainting.

Woman's Marvelous Escape.

Perhaps the most pathetic incident of the explosion was Mrs. Lena F. Baker's escape from what looked like certain death, with the assistance of an unknown man, who afterward lost his life.

Mrs. Baker worked in the stitching room on the fourth floor, and a moment or two after the explosion she rushed for the roof. At that time the building began to crumble, and as she started up the stairs her feet became wedged between two timbers. Near by was a man with his legs so heavily pinned down that escape for him was an impossibility.

Exclaiming: "Thank God, if I can escape myself I can help some one else to do so," this unnamed hero, to whom the slightest motion of his body caused excruciating agony, leaned forward, to apart the timbers which imprisoned Mr. Baker's feet, and then fell back fainting. Even at this time the flames had reached Mrs. Baker, and as she sprang out on the roof her clothing was ablaze. The firemen below saw her as she stood on the edge of the roof, and a stream of water extinguished the flames upon her clothing. The woman hesitated a moment, and then signaled that she would jump. Three men gathered on the sidewalk and caught her, breaking her fall. She was taken to her home suffering from burns, bruised and nervous shock.

Edward D. Mallory, a young colored man, was in the stitching room at the time of the disaster. His bench was directly over the engine room. He had just returned to his bench with a fresh supply of work when the explosion occurred, and all was dark for an instant. He had just time enough to vault off the bench into the aisle, but he had not gone ten feet before he was pinned to the floor by a falling beam. With difficulty he extricated himself, and then rushed to the aid of Miss Mary Saxton and William Jones, who were caught against a bench by heavy beams.

The roof had been carried away directly above them. Then the floor began to sink rapidly. The three struggled through the débris and succeeded in climbing to a part of the roof which had not caved in. From this point they proceeded until they came to a sky-light. Mallory broke this in and , finding a fairly clear passage, assisted Miss Saxton and Jones down. No stairways were left, so the three had to crawl along the floors and drop from story to story. They reached the ground floor badly bruised, but not seriously injured.

Members of the Fire Department with ladders, aided greatly in the work of rescue, but their time for work was short, for within a brief interval fire closed over the wreckage and the cries of the doomed were hushed.

Fire Spreads to Other Buildings.

In the meantime the fire was spreading from the Grover factory. It leaped across Calmar Street to a three-story brick block at the corner of Main Street, owned by Charles F. Dahlburg and occupied as a hardware store and storehouse, and then to a two-story wooden lodging house owned by William Lawrence, a dwelling house on Calmar Street, and small buildings, all of which were destroyed.

From the rear of the factory the flames stretched across Denton Street to the dwelling house of Mrs. Sophia Peterson and family and to the residence of Charles O'Brien.

The entire Fire Department and all the police reserves were on the scene, but with the high wind blowing the flames could not be checked and soon reached the homes of Sylvester Rice and John W. Taft. All these buildings were practically ruined, but at this point the fire was stopped.

The house to the north of the factory through which the exploded boiler crashed was owned and occupied by David W. Rockwell, the engineer in charge of the boiler, who was among the killed. The house was demolished, the roof being ripped off and two walls torn down. Mrs. Rockwell, who was sitting by the kitchen stove, had a miraculous escape from death, receiving many cuts from flying bits of timber.

Crawling through the mass, Mrs. Rockwell snatched up her two children, who were uninjured, and started for the home of her nearest neighbor, Mrs. Etta Hood. She found that this cottage had been practically rent asunder by the boiler, the head of which was buried in the middle of the structure. Miss Ella Pratt, seventy-eight years of age, a relative of the Hoods, was alone in the house. The cottage was thrown several feet off its foundations and Miss Pratt was knocked down and stunned, but recovered.