Brooklyn, NY Trench Cave In, Nov 1891


Four Laborers in a Brooklyn Trench Killed by a Cave-In.

Without Warning the Conduit Collapsed and Covered Them.

Loose sand caved in upon a trench at the corner of Crescent street and Liberty avenue, Brooklyn, N. Y., a few afternoons ago. Four men were killed and three injured. It was thought that the accident might cause a water famine in Brooklyn.
One of the men lost his life while attempting to rescue his fellow laborers. The others were smothered or drowned in the water which poured into the excavation from the broken main of the Long Island Water Supply Company. The dead are:
PHILIP ASKONI, twenty-five years old, an Italian;
JOSEPH COSINE, twenty years old, an Italian;
HUGH MURPHY, thirty-one years, of Crescent street, near Liberty avenue;
Unknown Italian.
The men who were caught were forty-eight feet below the surface of the street. Valentine & Cranford have the contract for building the new conduit, which is to supply water to the new reservoir, located along side the old one on Ridgewood Heights. The new conduit, consisting of forty-eight inch pipes is being laid beside the old brick aqueduct, which is eight feet in diameter.
The trench crossed Liberty avenue at an acute angle. Through Liberty avenue run the pipes of the old New Lots Gas Company and the Long Island Water Supply Company. They are eight-inch pipes, are only four feet below the surface and were completely undermined by the laborers. The soil is of a sandy nature. An immense pile of dirt had been thrown up on either side of the excavation, which was about fifty feet in length. On the west bank was a small shanty, with a derrick which was used to lower the iron pipes.
There had been fears for several days that the bank would cave in and the laborers worked with reluctance. The contractors, however, assured them that there was no danger. Men were bracing the banks of the excavation when the landslide occurred.
Foreman HUGHES was superintending the strengthening of the ranges(?) and one of the pipes was being lowered by means of the derrick when at half-past one o'clock, without any warning, the east bank caved in. The majority of the seventy-five laborers were at work on the top of the bank and only seven men were at the bottom. They were buried under the immense pile of sand and dirt.
Six men were looking after the braces. The majority of them were near the top of the trench. They were the victims.
It came in the twinkling of an eye. Few people saw it. Almost before one could turn his head it was over.
Some of the laborers turned and ran. It looked to them as if the bottom had dropped out of that part of the earth.
FRED CRANFORD, the son of the senior member of the contracting firm, and the superintendent of the work, was looking towards the excavation when the cave-in occurred. With startling suddenness the shoring seemed to melt away and the sand rushed together like mad waters. There was no cry of warning, no scream for help. Everybody was dazed. The Italians trembled and many ran away trembling with fear.
The fall of the east bank weakened the support on the west side and that also caved in. The Long Island Water Supply Company's main was broken and there was a rush of water which quickly filled the cut. The gas pipe also parted and the gas escaped in volumes.
Word was sent to the office of the water company and the supply was at once cut off. The gas company also turned off gas and within half an hour the work of digging out the buried laborers had begun.
The Italian laborers went to work in a half hearted fashion to rescue their fellow workmen. They acted as if they were afraid that there would be another cave in, and few of them could be induced to descend to the bottom of the cut. They worked with difficulty on account of the nature of the slide, which filled the excavation to the depth of ten feet in a slanting direction. On the day after the accident only one body had been recovered.
Brooklyn was on the verge of a water famine because of the break in the conduit. Manufacturers in Brooklyn were warned not to use the city water, and householders were told to use it sparingly.

The Cranbury Press New Jersey 1891-11-27