Ravenswood, NY Gun Cartridge Factory Explosion, Jan 1854






Another of those dreadful occurrences which we are so constantly called upon to record, took place on Saturday afternoon last, in the village of Ravenswood, L. I.
The ball-cartridge manufactory of Mr. Erasmus French, situated about three-quarters of a mile from the village of Astoria, in the lower part of Ravenswood, suddenly exploded with an awful crash at 1 1/2 o'clock on Saturday afternoon. The loss of life by the explosion is ascertained to be seventeen persons. No similar occurrence, attended by the like distressing results, has happened in this City or its vicinity since the memorable explosion of Taylor's factory in Hague Street, some three or four years since. The noise was heard for a distance of two miles around; the panes of glass in all the adjacent houses were shattered, and scarcely a vestige was found of the persons employed in the shattered building. The scene was truly harrowing.
The situation of the premises can scarcely be described without the aid of a diagram, to exhibit the relative positions and localities, but a general idea of the building may be conveyed. The building which was destroyed was located in the rear of a large lot, a short distance off the Williamsburg Road, and fronting on the Dutch Kill's Road. The building was frame, about 15 feet wide by 25 feet in length. On the right was a pile of rocks, on either side of which is a fence, partly of stone and partly of wood. On the extreme right in the next lot, was a foundry, also occupied by Mr. French. To the left of the ball-cartridge factory was the magazine -- a square building of stone, solidly constructed, and distinct from the factory, though very near to it. This magazine was the place in which the gunpowder used for filling the cartridges was stored, as it was brought from the dock. It contained at the time of the explosion, and still contains, between two and three tons of powder. The factory had a door in one corner, opening to the west. The building stood east and west.
The interior of the factory was fitted up with benches rising continuously around the sides, with a small break near the door on the southerly side, to allow free access to the entrance. At these benches sat the girls and boys who were employed in filling the cartridges. The benches were numbered from 1 to 3. Bench No. 1 projected a short distance upon the floor of the building; Bench No. 2 came out perhaps four feet from the benches at the side of the wall. At the right of Bench No. 2 were the stations of four small lads, who were filling cartridges, or saturating them with grease after they were filled.
In the center of the building, as the testimony proves, was a stove, which was frequently red hot, although on the day of the calamity it had very little fire. It appears also, from the evidence adduced yesterday, that the boys were in the habit of dropping a grain or two of powder upon this stove, for the sport of seeing it flash. It does not appear that they were even prohibited from doing this. The forewoman of the shop conducted by Mr. French had received general orders to be cautions, which it appears that the fires were usually made by Mr. French's son, Henry. Previously to the explosion, this young man and the boys and girls attached to the place, had been out upon a frozen pond in the vicinity, for the purpose of exercising themselves by sliding. They had but just returned to the shop, and resumed their tasks when the event occurred.

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