New York City, NY Ferryboat WESTFIELD Explosion, July 1871
Within the hospital the scene was harrowing in the extreme. Here upon the floor of the middle room lay a boy of 10 writhing and twisting in the agony of worse than death. His little body was scalded from head to foot, and the tortures that the poor child suffered were intense. Near him lay a strong man bruised and burned beyond the possibility of recognition, his once healthy frame now one horrid mass of broken flesh. In another part of the room was a finelooking young man, whose head and shoulders were raw, and whose lower limbs were burned to livid whiteness by the boiling water. In all the rooms were men, women, and children in all stages of distress. Two wee things of perhaps five months of age, and apparently twins, were brought in at three o'clock, their bodies torn and scalded most terribly.
A woman of thirty-five was suffering the last pangs of a distressful death, and another, with hardly a stitch of clothing on her body, filled the air with her heartrending screams of agony. At this time there were perhaps sixty wounded people in the different wards, the women occupying the upper floors. The surgeon and assistants were indefatigable in their efforts to soothe the pain and agony of the sufferers, and their various aids deserve more than praise for the tenderness and care with which they treated their suffering charge.
Within two hours after the arrival of the first victim, death began to move among the ranks and relieve the terrible torments of the sufferers. Those who died were at once removed from the sight of the living to New street station, and thence to the Morgue, where their bodies lay awaiting the identification of friends and relatives.
A passenger of the boat says: "Just before the time for starting I went ashore to by some peaches. I had got only a few yards from the boat when the boiler exploded. The passengers rushed forward, and many jumped overboard. While dozens were in the water, some of the passengers and deck hands began to throw the wreck overboard. (By the wreck I mean the loose timbers torn away by the explosion.) This operation was, in my opinion, the cause of many fatalities, for the plank and other timbers struck the strugglers in the water even while they were being drawn over the side of the boat by their friends."
"I saw two heads to which no bodies were attached. Women ran about the ferry-house with the skin scalded from their bodies, and for three-quarters of an hour they had no care."
The principal surgeon, of the hospital, finding that several of his patients must surely die, sent a volunteer messenger for a Catholic priest, and soon two were on the spot administering to the sufferers the consolation of religion. This duty was a very sad one, as the priest's admonitions were often interrupted by the shrieks of the children and the groans of adults.
Around the dead-house, the great excitement reached its culmination. Scarcely had the first ambulance wagon with its sad freight of mutilated humanity, reached the hospital gates when the quickly increasing crowd made a rush for the Morgue, pushing and crowding for a front place to view the horrifying spectacle. But there were those there who were drawn thither by the dread necessity of looking for those dear missing ones for whom they had searched eagerly elsewhere before daring to think of the Morgue. That was a possibility they would not allow themselves to contemplate.
One poor fellow appealingly informed the Warden that they were a party of seven on the boat, all his own family; that his wife was dying at home, one child dead at home, and he was searching for the others. In a moment MR. BRENNAN took his arm and led him around to inspect the terrible array, now amounting to thirty corpses, "My God," exclaimed the poor fellow, "there's my little TILLY," pointing to a child about eighteen months old. For a while MR. BRENNAN stood holding his hand, and after "ticketing" the poor little thing silently drew him away to look for his other lost ones. Another poor fellow was almost maddened as he searched among the bodies for his sister, whose husband had only been dead three months.
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