McCainsville, NJ Atlantic Dynamite Co Explosion, Jul 1886




DOVER, N. J., July 2.---Ten men were hirled[sic] into eternity this morning by the explosion of more than a ton of nitro-glycerine on the outskirts of the little village of McCainsville, distance from this place about five miles. The men entered the mixing house of the Atlantic Dynamite Company's works at 7:20 o'clock. Ten minutes later there was a tremendous explosion. The shock was felt at a distance of 15 miles from the scene. The big mixing house was simply obliterated. The men who occupied it were rent limb from limb. Their bones were ground to powder. Infinitesimal and almost unrecognizable portions of their bodies were picked up a thousand yards away, and so thoroughly had the powerful explosive performed its work that after a day's search by hundreds of people the remains discovered filled but a small space in the single coffin that will be followed to the grave this morning. There were no wounded. The names and conditions of the killed are as follows:

CHARLES H. MILLBURN, 27 years of age; married. Had one child, which is only 10 days old. He lived at Succasunna.

GEORGE HAUBEIL, 29 years of age; married; had three children. He lives at McCainsville.

GEORGE A. AMMERMAN, 34 years of age. He was acting foreman of the gang. He leaves a wife and three children, who live at McCainsville.

THEODORE F. BRYAN, 29 years of age. He leaves a wife and three children. His widow is soon to become a mother. He lived at McCainsville.

JOSEPH W. KINNER, 32 years of age. He leaves a wife and three children, who live at Succasunna. He owned the house they live in. His family is the only one not left in destitute circumstances.

CONRAD LAUBACH, 24 years of age and unmarried.

HENRY LAUBACH, brother of Conrad, 30 years of age and unmarried. The brothers lived at McCainsville.

CHARLES JACKSON, 25 years of age. He was a single man and lived at Drakesville.

GEORGE W. KING, aged 22 years, was unmarried and a resident of Succasunna.

JOHN H. SMITH, 28 years of age and unmarried; lived at McCainsville.

Five of the victims were married and five single. None of them had been in the employ of the Atlantic Dynamite Company less than five years, and all of them were considered industrious and careful men. They understood that they carried their lives in their hands, and knew by heart the rules governing the manufacture of the dangerous explosive which they daily handled in one shape or another. The company employs about 100 men. It owns about 400 acres of land in Roxbury Township, and upon it, placed at wide intervals, are about 60 buildings. Some of these are of brick, but most of them are frame. The nitro-glycerine and mixing houses are a mile from any dwelling. The former is built in the midst of a wood, on a gentle slope. About 200 yards from it, at the foot of the slope, stood the mixing house. It was a strongly built frame building, 60 feet broad by 80 feet long. It was one story in height, and was painted a color not inappropriately known as hurricane blue. To the east, west, and south of the mixing house is a grove of young white birch, with here and there a willow. The ground is swampy. To the north is a large field, its green sod thickly studded with daisies and buttercups. In a southwesterly direction stands the acid house, and further west the soda house.

From the nitro-glycerine to the mixing house ran a large wooden trench. It was rubber lined and covered with a wooden roof. Through this trench the glycerine was carried to the mixing house, where it was poured into a leaden tank six feet in diameter and five feet deep. It was run from this tank to a tub in small quantities, and there measured before it was transferred to three huge saucers. Into these saucers the "dope," which consists of nitrate of soda, sawdust, wood pulp, and other ingredients, was shoveled. Then the dangerous mass was pulled from one side of the saucers to the other and stirred and kneaded with wooden hoes. All the tools used were of wood. The men who handled them wore ordinary working clothes and, so far as known, ordinary boots. They were cautioned against dropping any of their tools and against stamping their feet. In fact, they were instructed to handle everything in the building as if it were made of Venetian glass.

But two of the men employed in the mixing house this morning were mixers. These were Ammerman and Kinner. The others were packers, but had been in the employ of the company so long that they had a general idea of every branch of the business. The company manufactures seven grades of giant powder, four grades of Judson powder, and two of Penniman powder. The capacity of the works is 500,000 pounds per month. There was an unusually large number of men employed in the mixing house this morning, as the company intended to close the works to-morrow and not to reopen them till Tuesday. There was enough material in the mixing house to make four tons of dynamite and near the entrance, on a little railroad, over which loaded cars were drawn to the storehouses by a mule, stood a car. It also contained a quantity of dynamite. Conrad Stumpf, the regular foreman of the mixing gang, did not work to-day. His place was taken by Ammerman. Millburn was not employed in the mixing house, and it is supposed entered it in search of a sponge.

At 7 o'clock this morning, Alfred Lovell, the Superintendent of the works, reached the nitro-glycerine house. The mixing house was then unoccupied. Twenty minutes later he saw the men enter it. King, the father of one of the men who was killed, also entered the building, but left it immediately, carrying in his hand a can which he had been ordered to fill with ammonia. Arthur Epner also saw the mixers reach the scene of their labors from the acid house. These three men were looking in the direction of the mixing house when the explosion occurred. King felt its force less than the others. The ground trembled as from an earthquake. He saw a black cloud rise with inconceivable rapidity from the earth and as quickly melt away. The mixing house had disappeared. Lovell witnessed the appalling catastrophe, but was so overcome by the shock that he did not realize what happened until a shower of debris fell upon the building in which he was standing. He then appreciated the full scope of the disaster, for in May, 1876, he had witnessed the total destruction of the predecessor of the mixing house and the wiping out of its two occupants.

Epner, the man who stood in the acid house, had a narrow escape from death in two forms. When the nitro-glycerine burst its bonds the atmospheric pressure on the acid house seemed to be from within. The windows were blown to atoms, and the walls bulged outward. The roof fell, but in falling the rafters formed an arch. From beneath this arch Epner crawled, while the air was full of acid. The latter scorched the ground as it fell, and its stifling fumes rose in clouds from the steaming earth while daylight lasted.

Every building on the company's property rocked and groaned. Window panes were shattered in the surrounding villages of McCainsville, Succasunna, and Drakesville. Windows rattled in Hackettstown, 14 miles away. Walls shook and shivered in this place. Heavy articles of furniture were moved about. Horses were frightened, and to the explosion may be credited several runaways. The force of the explosion was principally directed to the south and west, and in those directions it was checked by hilly ground. The woodwork of the mixing house was transformed to sawdust. Nothing remained of it to tell whether it had been made of wood, brick, or stone. One of the foundations, a boulder weighing 500 pounds, was buried a distance of 100 yards. Nothing remained of the car of dynamite.

The beech trees were stripped of their branches and bent toward the ground. The bark was riven from them as if by hand. The ground was covered with a thin layer of leaves that had been rent into miniature copies of their original state. Where the nitro-glycerine tank had stood was an immense crater. Where the saucers had been were smaller craters. For a square of 100 yards, the ground was a succession of mounds and depressions, the latter resembling huge buffalo wallows. A wild cherry tree that grew 150 yards distant from the mixing house was denuded of its bark and limbs. Only a few trees were torn up by the roots, but a hundred were pressed to the ground as by a tremendous weight.

The cause of the explosion seemed to be at once divined by all who heard it and hundreds crowded to the spot. They noticed that the hot water pipes by which the building had been heated were untouched. There was absolutely nothing else by which to judge of the exact location of the building. A search for the remains was at once begun. Men, women, and children tramped through the woods and fields on their sorrowful quest. In an oak tree that grew 500 yards from the mixing house was found a portion of a trunk. A boy found a foot and piece of an ankle. On the foot was a shoe that crumbled at a touch. Here and there, but always at a great distance from the scene of the explosion, was picked up a bit of charred humanity. The bits were generally so small that it was impossible to say with certainty of what portion of a body they had once belonged. The largest fragment discovered was the portion of a body they had once belonged. The largest fragment discovered was the portion of a trunk, to which a part of a thigh bone was attached. The remains were placed in a box which had once held dynamite cartridges. Identification was out of the question, and it was decided to enclose them to one coffin.

Undertaken James Jardine, of Succasunna, was instructed by the company to prepare them for burial. He obtained a rosewood casket, to which will be affixed a plate on which the names and ages of the ten men will be engraved. The families of the dead men gave their consent to this disposition of the remains, and also that they should be buried to-morrow morning in the Methodist cemetery of Succasunna. Two funeral sermons will be preached on Sunday; one by the Rev. Mr. Reed, of the Methodist Church, and the other by the Rev. Mr. Stoddard, of the Presbyterian Church. The Odd Fellows will conduct funeral services on Monday. King and Ammerman were members of that order.

No inquest will be held. Coroner J. C. Buck, of Succasunna was on the ground at 10 o'clock this morning. He made what he called a proclamation. It was a verbal affair. He said that as there was no blame attached to any one, and as none of the victims' relatives objected, he declared an inquest unnecessary. He did so, he said, by authority of the State of New-Jersey. With the exception of Millburn's father, and brother, none of the victims' relatives visited the ground. Some very affecting scenes occurred at the homes of the killed when the news of their terrible death was conveyed to wives and children.

Superintendent Lovell and Chemist Penniman could not account for the accident. They were certain it was not due to carelessness, and hoped the word would not be used. The men were sober, careful, and industrious. They appreciated the dangerous nature of their work. It was simply one of those accidents which no amount of care could avert. They rather depreciated the force of the explosion, and seemed anxious to create the impression that it had been little felt in the other buildings of the company. Men were engaged this afternoon in replacing the glass which had been broken in the office. The latter is at least a half mile from the mixing house. Mr. Small, of Small & Schroeder, agents of the company, whose office is at No. 245 Broadway, was on the ground before noon. The funeral to-morrow will be conducted according to his instructions and at the company's expense. It will doubtless be one of the largest witnessed here for years. The people of Roxbury and adjoining townships will attend, almost to a man.

The New York Times, New York, NY 3 Jul 1886