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Rifton Glen, NY Powder Plant Explosion, Mar 1896

The drying house is the place where the powder is thoroughly dried out after its manufacture, and from there it goes to the glazing house to have the final touch of glazing put on. It was in the glazing house that the initial explosion occurred. Sparks of the ignited powder may have been blown to the other building, or the concussion may have caused the second explosion. It almost always happens that when one powder mill blows up another within a short distance follows it. In this case there were other buildings as near as the drying house, but the main force of the explosion seems to have followed the direction of the wind, which blew from the glazing to the drying house. Powder men say that the greatest force of a giant powder is up in the air and down the wind.
It was too dark when a Sun reporter reached Rifton Glen this evening to see the effects of the explosion, but the employees tell of some remarkable freaks of the tremendous powder. A tree a hundred yards from the glazing house was broken in half, the upper half lopping down. Another tree was found bristling with small splinters which had been driven into it at right angles. Up in a small sapling which stands quite near the ruins there is something embedded, which seems to be a coin or button. It may have belonged to one of the victims, though the employees are supposed to carry no metals of any kind while at work.
A rail fence near the roadway was blown into the tops of a clump of trees a few rods away, and many of the rails are still there. At one spot in the bank of the ravine a big hole is scooped out and this hole is lined with what looks like a job lot of toothpicks.
One of the freaks of the explosion was to leave the houses of the employees, many of which are within a few rods of the place, comparatively unharmed. Beyond broken glass in the windows and crockery smashed by falling, there is little damage done to them. In one house the kitchen door was open, also a window at the other side of the room. A very small part of the explosion's force went through here, and in the draught that resulted all the small movable articles in the kitchen, including the dinner in process of perfefction, fitted through the window, and distributed themselves about the yards. But for her size, which wxceeded the capacity of the window, the housewife would have followed. She got a hard bumping against the easement, but was not worse hurt than a little bruising.
The powder men are unable to give any estimate of the damage. There was no insurance. No company will take powder mills as a risk at any price. The fact that the teams of the company had started with their loads doubtless saved not only considerable money, but also loss of life. Had they been loading up they would have been standing near the glazing house, and probably their loads would have exploded, destroying drivers and horses. One of the freaks of the explosion was that it was felt at a considerable distance with a force fully as great as that in the ravine. Le Fevere Falls, three-quarters of a mile away, got a terrible shaking up. Houses trembled windows were smashed, and the inhabitants ran out into the open air in terror. A teamster was blown from his seat by the concussion and fell to the road, cutting his head open. Half a mile out of town Farmer Gregory, driving in his top buggy along the creek, was overturned and his horse ran away, but was caught before and damage was done.
At Kingston, in the Court House, there was a panic. The building seemed toppling over, and there was a general rush to get outside. Other buildings in Kingston were shaken too. It was generally supposed there that an earthquake had visited the city. Every town and village within ten miles was shaken, those to the south getting the heavier shock.
This is not the first time the Empire mill has blown up. Two years ago, in January, there was an explosion that killed four men. Its effect in the immediate vicinity was greater than that of this explosion, although it seems that it was not felt over so extended an area. At that time a grove of trees was felled, the trunks of the trees being cut clear through about ten feet from the ground, as if by a gigantic scythe.
About ten years back there was another disaster, in which a dozen men were killed. This was in the summer, and the manufacture of dynamite was going on. It was the dynamite that exploded. The victims of today's disaster all lived in this vicinity. They were ordinary workmen, receiving from $1.75 to $2.25 a day.
Services for them will be held on Friday. Services for them will be held on Friday.

The Sun New York 1896-03-19

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