New York, NY Park Place Building Explosion - cause of the explosion

ny new york park place building explosion cause of disaster



The weight of testimony points to an explosion as the primary cause of yesterday's disaster. So general was the conviction among those who first appeared upon the premises that is was an explosion that it was at once attributed to a suppositious boiler in the basement of one of the stores in Park Place. But this was clearly not the case. There was no steam engine in operation, which obtained its motive power from the New York Steam Company, whose pipes run through Park Place, and had a large stop-valve in the street directly in front of the wrecked building.

There was one other engine in the building but it has not been in operation since January last. Power was supplied to all the establishments in the building, except the South Publishing Company, by a system of shafting from the engine and power plant of an establishment in the Knapp Building, which fronts College Place in the same block.

But there was material enough of another kind on hand and in a sufficiently dangerous place to furnish an explosion of force sufficient to wreck such a building. Furthermore, there is a testimony of a number of eye-witnesses that there was an irruption[sic] of steam and dust and debris just over the place where this explosive material was stored, and immediately preceding the collapse of the building.

The occupants of 70 Park Place were Louis Rosenfeld & Co., dealers in fresco supplies. In the basement of their establishment was stored a considerable portion of their stock, which included several barrels of turpentine and varnish and from 50 to 100 gallons of bronze liquid, also a highly-volatile compound. Next door to the west was the dry and wet drug-supply store of F. W. Trippe. In the stock of such an establishment there is always more or less explosive material, and this appears to have been no exception to the general rule.

Mr. Trippe, himself a victim to the terrible affair, had a vault built out from the basement of his store, under the sidewalk, as a storage place for this class of materials. Access was had to it from the basement through a wooden door. In this it was intended that all the extra-hazardous substances in the stock should be stored. But this intention appears not to have been as rigidly observed as should have been. The basement was recently known to contain a larger quantity of highly volatile and explosive material than the vault out in the street.

Included in it were barrels of turpentine, benzine[sic], boiled oil, petroleum, varnish, alcohol, and rubber cement. When it is borne in mind that but a few feet down the street from Trippe's vault was a stopcock of the New-York Steam Company, that undoubtedly destroyed the natural coolness of the vault upon which dependence had been placed for the security of the explosives from expansive and inflaming temperatures and disturbances, and converted the vault into an exceedingly hazardous place for such stuff, it will be realized that all the conditions were present to furnish an explosion of force sufficient to wreck a building many times stronger than the one which collapsed.

Beyond all this there is the testimony of men whose business it is to analyse[sic] such matters and of eye witnesses of the disaster. Chief John J. Cashman of the First Battalion Fire Department was the first member of the department to reach the scene of the disaster, quickly followed by Foreman John J. Cooney of Engine No. 29. Chief John J. Honan of Hook and Ladder No.1, and Chief Jerolemon of Hook and Ladder No.10, and their respective companies. All of these early-comers concur in the opinion that it was an explosion and nothing else which wrecked the building.

Chief Cashman said: "Most assuredly it was an explosion. I had but a short distance to come, and was the first member of the department to reach the scene, and when I arrived here the building lay in ruins just as you see it now. I say it was caused by an explosion, because the whole front of the building fell outward, some of the bricks flying clear across Park Place to the buildings on the opposite side. The windows were blown out, debris was blown across the street, and the bricks present the appearance of having been stripped clean to dust by a severe blast of some kind. Then, too, the whole street was filled with a dense cloud of dust and vapor when I arrived here.

"If the building had collapsed from the weight of material on the upper floors it would have fallen differently. If the presses had borne down the top floor the walls would have buckled, one part tumbling in a heap on the sidewalk, and perhaps a little way into the street and the top of the wall falling in upon the top floor beams and roof. I cannot believe otherwise than that it was an explosion---of what, remains to be seen."

A pressman in the employ of William Stiger & Co., at 65 Park Place, directly opposite the ruined building, said that he was seated in the third floor window eating his luncheon and flirting with three girls in the opposite window of Liebler & Maass establishment, when he heard a rumble and saw a cloud of dust and vapor blown up from the front basement and sidewalk, and immediately the walls fell out and his merry young friends were buried in the ruins. The whole building did not fall all at once, but the front walls of 70 and 72 seemed to go out and down first, and then the rest of the building followed, the whole disaster producing a double crash, or a prolonged crash that was like rolling thunder, with loud crashes at the first and last.

John J. G. C. Schmidt, clerk for Liebler & Maass, was one of the employes[sic] of that establishment who escaped from the building. He said he heard the report of the explosion and at the same time felt the building shaken as if by an earthquake. He was, with several others on the top floor near the Greenwich Street end of the building, and near the window looking over Park Place. He glanced out of the window and saw the walls at the further end of the building tottering.

He exclaimed, "My God! The building is falling," and sprang with several others who were on the same floor with him, through the connecting doorways, into the part of the building fronting on Greenwich Street, and reached the ground in safety by the fire escape on the Greenwich Street front.

Mr. Schmidt said that there were about seventy persons in all employed by Liebler & Maas and in the building at the time, of whom he thought at least thirty escaped in safety.

A waiter employed in Peterson's restaurant, Greenebaum by name, was one of the fortunate's who escaped with nothing more serious than a terrible fright. He was attending to his usual duties, there being some thirty odd persons in the restaurant at the time, including ten cooks and waiters and the proprietor, when he heard a loud puffing noise and felt the floor bulge up under his feet and saw clouds of dust and vapor or steam rolling up from the basement. He was in the front of the establishment at the moment and lost no time in getting into the street and as far away from the scene as possible.

J. C. Hoag, an employe[sic] of Leibler & Maas, who was on the third floor of 76 Park Place, heard the explosion and felt the shock to the building. He thought the whole building was going down in an earthquake shock, and ran to the Greenwich Street window and jumped down upon the elevated railroad tracks without injury.

Another and dramatic confirmation of the explosion is found in the fact that the first six victims taken from the ruins lay upon their faces, their heads directed away from the building, showing that they were in the act of fleeing when they were knocked down by the falling walls.

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