New York City, NY Plaster Mill Explosion, Sept 1857




Yesterday afternoon about 5 o'clock a terrific explosion occurred in the Knickerbocker Plaster Works, located at Nos. 509 and 510 West Street, by which the factory and two dwelling houses adjoining were totally demolished. One person was instantly killed and about ten or twelve persons seriously if not fatally injured.
The Plaster Factory was three stories in height, 44 feet front and 54 feet deep. The boiler was located in the cellar, and exploded during the temporary absence of the engineer. There were at the time at work in the establishment about a dozen persons, nearly all of whom were more or less injured.
So violent was the explosion, that it completely demolished the factory, together with the adjoining buildings, Nos. 511 and 512 West Street. The alarm of fire for the Third District was sounded by the City Hall and other bells, and in a little time the firemen were on the ground.
A rumor was circulated about the city relative to the violence of the explosion, and that 30 persons were killed, and this served to draw hundreds of people to the ground. The scene in and about the ruins was most appalling. The shrieks and cries of the wounded among the ruins could be distinctly heard, while here and there about the streets in the vicinity might be seen men, women and children in the wildest state of excitement, wringing their hands, and bewailing the loss of relatives and friends.
The firemen soon mounted the ruins and commenced removing the rubbish in order to rescue the wounded and recover the bodies of the dead, if any. Huge beams were borne away upon the shoulders of the firemen, and great piles of brick were removed in the search after those who were known to be in the building at the time of the explosion. In the short space of an hour sufficient of the rubbish was removed, and the following persons were taken from the ruins of the factory:
WILLIAM WATERSON, engineer and fireman, seriously injured by the escaping steam from the boiler. Removed to his residence in King Street.
JOHN WALSH, badly injured.
HENRY BULLMAN, badly injured.
JAMES McADEN, slightly injured.
THOMAS WELSH, seriously injured. His spine is supposed to be broken.
ELLIOT JOHNSON, foreman of the plaster works, slightly injured.
JOHN RYAN, was the only person at work in the factory who escaped uninjured.
There were three or four persons at work in the establishment whose names we could not ascertain, but who we heard were slightly injured.
The building No. 511 was of brick and three stories in height, and was occupied by the following families:
First floor by JAMES FARRELL, as a liquor store.
Third floor by JAMES FARRELL and family, consisting of wife and sister-in-law, MISS CATHARINE DUGANNE.
MRS. FARRELL was slightly injured.
CATHARINE DUGANNE was instantly killed and her lifeless body, horribly mutilated by the falling rubbish, was removed from the ruins by the firemen.
The upper floor was also occupied by WILLIAM McDONALD, wife, three children and an old woman called WIDOW DUGANNE, mother of CATHARINE, deceased. The mother and her children escaped with slight injuries. The old woman was badly bruised and one of her legs broken.
The second floor was occupied by BRYAN CARPENTER and wife, both of whom were slightly injured.
The persons who were in the liquor store escaped with slight injuries.
Building No. 512 was three stories high and of brick, and was located corner of West and Horatio Streets. The first floor was occupied by RICHARD ELFERS as a liquor store.
Second floor by CHRISTOPHER BROCK and wife, SAMUEL ANDERSON, wife and two children.
Third floor by MICHAEL CORY, wife and three children, LARRY FARLEY and wife, JOHN RYAN, boarder with FARLEY, and an old woman named HUGHES.
At the time of the explosion there were four persons in the store, ELFERS, the proprietor; his barkeeper, a boy named HERMAN KITCHEN, and two men, HUGH GILMOUR and CHARLES GRIMME. The two latter were conversing together when, to use the language of the latter, "The first I knew of the affair was a great hissing sound, and in a second, I was covered with rubbish, and GILMOUR was lying across me. I told GILMOUR to have courage. The steam and hot water then poured in and nearly suffocated me." Both of these men were badly injured, and were removed to their homes.
The proprietor and his boy were taken to the Hospital.
ANDERSON was also taken to the Hospital, badly injured.
The remaining occupants of the house were more or less injured, but not seriously, it is thought.
The Factory belonged to J. B. King, who was absent at the time, or was not known to be on the premises. Loss on the building, $6,000; on stock and machinery, $10,000. The stock and machinery are insured for $5,200 in the Equitable and Harmony Insurance Company.
The loss on the other buildings is estimated at $5,000.
No. 511, owned by Mr. King, is insured for $800 in the United States Insurance Company, and No. 512, owned by Mr. King, is insured for $1,200 in the Greenwich Insurance Company.
The boiler was made by J. S. Bunce & Co., two years ago last January. In was 20 feet long by 6 feet 6 inches high, was made in the most substantial manner, and cost very nearly $1,200. It is as yet too much covered by the ruins of the buildings to admit of an examination, but no fragments of it have been discovered.
The cause of the explosion appears to be a perfect mystery, but from the situation in which the engineer was found, it is believed that he had left his post and gone into the upper part of the building. Inasmuch as scarcely one brick remains upon another, even to the foundation of the building, it is truly wonderful that a single individual escaped. Of the nine persons taken from the ruins, in a single instance only was life found to be extinct. The shock occasioned by the explosion was so great, that it caused a lady who was making tea more than a block distant let the cup fall from her hand.
Long after dark the excitement about the ruins was intense and hundreds of persons during the evening visited the scene of the disaster. Excepting the loss of life, this explosion was quite as violent as the Hague Street explosion. The telegraph wires and poles for some blocks along West Street were disarranged.
A strong cordon of police from the Fifth, Eighth, Ninth, Fifteenth and Sixteenth Wards promptly repaired to the scene of disaster, and worked most vigorously in extricating the victims from the ruins. Deputy Superintendent Carpenter was also on hand. Engine Companies Nos. 3, 16 and 34; Hose Companies Nos. 12, 23, 40 and 57; also Hook and Ladder Company No. 14 likewise promptly responded to the call upon them and were very effective in their exertions. Mr. John Cregier, Assistant Engineer, acting as Chief of the Fire Department was present, and directed the firemen in their labors.

Recapitulation of Killed and Wounded.
CATHARINE DUGAN, a native of Ireland, aged about 25 years, single, dead. Her body was conveyed to the Ninth Ward Station House.
WILLIAM WATERSON, engineer and fireman, injured internally very badly. Taken to his residence in Jane Street.
THOMAS WALSH, a native of Ireland, aged 21 years, laborer, an employee, legs badly mashed, so that bones protruded through the flesh. Taken to the City Hospital.
JAMES MCADEN, laborer, an employee in plaster factory, severely injured, was found fast under a stone.
HENRY BULLMAN, a German employed in the factory, injured, but to what extent was not ascertained.
SAMUEL ANDERSON, had his leg broken.
WILLIAM McDONALD, severely injured. Taken to the Hospital.
HUGH GILMOURE, of 279 Bleeker Street, married, had his ribs broken. Taken to his residence. At the time of the catastrophe he was engaged in cutting stone in the street.
C. GURNEY, of No. 72 Gansevoort Street, a lamp-lighter, was in the liquor store of ELFERS when the explosion occurred. Received a very severe cut under his chin, and had his legs badly bruised. He was taken to his residence.
MRS. MARY FARRELL, wife of JAMES FARRELL (keeper of the "Irish American" porter house, No. 511 West Street, adjoining the plaster factory) had one of her arms broken.
RICHARD ELFERS, keeper of the grocery and liquor store at the corner of Horatio and West Streets, had his legs badly mashed.
HARMANN KITCHEN, clerk in the store of ELFERS, was severely injured.
JAMES MAHAN, aged 23, a married man, very badly bruised. Taken to the City Hospital.
JOHN KINE, injured, but to what extent could not be ascertained.
A child whose name was not learned, was also very severely if not fatally injured.
ELLIOTT JOHNSON, foreman in the establishment, was slightly injured.

New York Daily Tribune New York 1857-10-01