Jersey City, NJ Hudson River Tunnel Cave In, July 1880

Seven of the panic-stricken men succeeded in getting into the air lock. The eighth man was in the doorway when a mass of earth and iron plates crushed in and closed the door upon him, killing him inistantly. At the same time water began pouring through the great break in the roof. The men in the air lock tried to close the door, to prevent the water from rushing into it and drowning them, but the body of their companion was so wedged into the doorway that it was impossible to do this. Then they stripped off their clothes to fill up the crevice. They shouted for assistance, and tried to force open the outside door of the air-lock, but it resisted their efforts. There was still a terrible pressure of air against it. One of the men shouted to another near the end of the lock to "break out the bullseyes," meaning the large circular discs of glass through which light was admitted to the airlock. After considerable effort those were broken, and the air rushing through, enabled the men, with aid from outside, to open the door and make their escape.
When the earth caved in it took with it part of the shed built over it. One of the workmen outside saw this and called to Michael Hurley, outside superintendent on the surface, and the two, realizing to some extent the nature of the calamity, hastened down the ladder of the working shaft. The bullseyes had just been shattered, and a dozen voices cried, "Help us open the door, for God's sake!" The two men outside worked with a will, and the door was forced open a few inches, but it was hard work, as the air lock was more than half full of water, and the door opened inward. When, however, a partial opening was made the water rushed through into the working shaft, and when it had lowered somewhat, the united exertions of the men were successful; the door was swung back, and the seven men were free. The water rose so rapidly in the shaft that it was up to the armpits of some of the men before they could go up the ladder, and before many minutes had elapsed the water had risen to the level of the surface of the Hudson River, thus cutting off all hope of saving the twenty-one still below.
At the time that the seven men who were saved succeeded in getting into the air lock, every other man in the tunnel undoubtedly knew of the danger. The warning had been given sufficiently early for the furthest workman to have been apprised of the impending calamity. Those who were in the air-lock could hear the cries of those coming after. It is known that a large number of the men was close behind the one who was crushed in the doorway.
The news of the disaster spread with the greatest rapidity. Crowds from Jersey City gathered about the working shaft in a very few moments after the seven men had escaped. The names of a few of those who had perished were known, and the list was rapidly completed. Men, women and children were on the ground, looking for brothers, sons, husbands or fathers. There were many sad scenes; mournful news had to be broken, and the grief of some of those so suddenly bereaved was terrible to witness. Many of the women refused to abandon all hope, and the question was asked again and again if the men might not have been able to retreat into some part of the tunnel, where they might still be alive and be reached by digging. One woman gazed upon the sunken earth, and refused to leave the place. She would wait until the men had dug down and released her husband. When she was told, however, that the tunnel was completely filled with water, she fell into violent hysterics and had to be taken from the place. An aged mother was there looking for her son. She shuddered when she saw the great working shaft almost filled to the top with muddy water. She trembled with emotion as she blindly turned her steps from the awful grave in which her hopes were buried, and agonizing sobs came from her. There was no sadder picture than that presented by the children who had been orphaned. Some of them had seen death and could appreciate it.
In a short time the news reached New York. A great many persons went over to the scene of the disaster at an early hour.
The tunnel entrance is near the foot of Fifteenth St., a short distance from the old Erie Canal boat dock. There is a long, low, wooden building over the working shaft and machinery belonging to the tunnel works, and outside of this there is a field filled with heavy cast-iron plates to be used in sheathing the interior of the tunnel, and with huge piles of bricks, iron pipe and machinery used for the works. At a short distance outside the building and around it a rope was stretched to keep the people from crowding in and hindering the work. A number of policemen walked around within the lines and restrained the crowd from breaking through.

Continued on Page 3.