New York, NY Greenfield Candy Factory Fire, Dec 1877 - Looking Back



It was somewhat remarkable coincidence that directly back of the buildings in which the explosion occurred yesterday stood the building that in 1877 was blown up in a similar mysterious manner and with a similar accompanying large loss of life. This building was the Ernest Greenfield & Son's candy factory, at that time the largest manufactory of the kind in the country. Its number was 63 Barclay Street.

The explosion and fire occurred late the place was filled with employes[sic], the approach of the Christmas holidays having caused the factory to be run at its fullest capacity for some time. It was just after 5 o'clock when the disaster happened. Mr. Greenfield, the old gentleman, was standing on the street floor of the place talking with Mr. Dundas Dick. Suddenly, without an instant's warning, there was a blinding flash, and then the whole place seemed to be in flames. Mr. Greenland and Mr. Dick were both badly injured. They made their way out to the street, as did the others who were on that floor. So suddenly had it all happened that nobody was able to give much of a description of the occurrence.

It was known at once that there must have been a loss of life, but how great it was impossible to more than conjecture. The drugstores in the neighborhood were thrown open and the falling stones, brick, and fragments of material, were cared for as fast as they could be brought in. The doctors of the neighborhood turned to and worked with a will without any thought of pay for their services.

Ambulances that were summoned took dozens of the wounded to the New-York and Bellevue Hospitals. They were kept on the ground all night long, in order to be on hand to take away any person that might be dug from the ruins, but for this their services were not needed. After the first ones had been cared for, there were no more to look after, for the simple reason that all efforts to rescue any that were imprisoned under the great mass of masonry that had fallen were fruitless.

Only one dead body was taken from the place on the first day. The second another was found, and then two more were brought out. So solidly was the fallen material massed together that it was hard work to dig it up. Contractors were put to work, with a big gang of men, but still the work went on very slowly. It was weeks before the ruins had been all turned over and it was known that no more bodies were there. By that time the bodies were so badly decomposed that in some instances it was impossible to tell whether one or two had been brought to light. The total deaths resulting from the disaster were about twenty.

The cause of the explosion was never satisfactorily settled. At first it was taken for granted when the debris was dug away it was discovered that the boilers were whole and that theory was abandoned. Then the theory of exploding fine dust was fallen back on, and it was urged that there might have been substances used in the manufacture of the candy that would make a fine dust that would cause an explosion in the same manner that explosions are sometimes caused in flouring mills. It was also urged that there might have been some oils or some materials of that sort about the premises somewhere, and that the accident might have been due to their explosion. In an unused boiler there were found several large cans that held oil, but they were intact.

Like the explosion of yesterday [Park Place Building Explosion - Aug 22 1891], this one of 1877, was followed by a wide-spreading and disastrous fire. The Greenfield establishment had an L that fronted on College Place. This whole building was destroyed. The flames then spread to 61, 65, 67, and 69 Barclay Street, and these buildings became almost total losses. The flames were aided in their rapid progress by the fact that a great deal of wood had been used in the construction of the buildings, so that they burned like tinder.

The New York Times, New York, NY 23 Aug 1891