New York, NY Power Plant Explosion, Dec 1910





Occupants of Passing Street Car and Automobile Are Killed or Injured - Bodies Are Removed from Shattered Building - Seriously Injured Will Total About Twenty-Four - The Company Issues an Official Statement.

(By Associated Press.)

New York, Dec. 19. - Thirteen persons lost their lives, fifty were badly injured and a thousand people badly shaken up in an explosion of car lighting gas tanks and dynamite in the new six story power station of the New York Central railway under course of construction at Fiftieth street and Lexington avenue today.

Nine bodies have been recovered and the bodies of four workmen are believed to be in the wreckage.

A trolley car filled with high school students was blown from the tracks on Lexington avenue. Four passengers were killed and the others were injured.

Illuminating Gas.

Fire Chief Croker says that in his opinion the first explosion was that of lighting gas and the second explosion that of a hundred weight of dynamite which lay within fifty feet of the gas tank.

Ambulance surgeons from many hospitals cared for the injured. The windows of all the buildings overlooking the excavation were shattered; walls were in many cases cracked, a cloud of smoke hung over the scene and bodies were scattered here and there. The Grand Central cut where new track levels are being excavated looked as if a battle had been fought in it.

The force of the explosion shattered hundreds of windows in the big hotels and apartment houses in the neighborhood of the big railway terminal, causing alarm among the guests. The dynamite blast picked up a north bound trolley car, lifted it in the air and sent it crashing down upon an automobile which was passing along the other side of the street.

List of Dead.

Four of the passengers were killed and every one in the car was injured. The railway service was only temporarily interrupted. The new substation power house, where the explosion occurred, is at Fiftieth street and Lexington avenue, which is half a dozen blocks north of the Grand Central station. The following is a partial list of the dead:

Patrick Jordan, laborer.
Frank Kelly, central office detective.
James Ryan, clerk.
Mary B. Pope, 104 East Fortieth street.
Thomas Stagg, a watchman in the power house.
C. McMurrow, address unknown.
E. B. Livermore, New York Central inspector of Pullman cars.
William Poetschke, Corona, L. I.
Edith Offner, stenographer.
Charles Roberts, clerk in Adams Express company.

Fire House Partly Wrecked.

The shock, which could be felt for many blocks, partly wrecked the fire engine house near by and prevented the firemen from getting their apparatus into the street.

Monsignors Lapette and Hayes and Fathers O'Connor, McQuade, Sinnott and Byrns of St. Patrick's Cathedral hurried to the scene and administered the last rites of the church to many of the injured.

The postoffice substation at Fortieth street and Madison avenue, the explosion slightly injured several clerks and scattered the mail over the floor. The New York Nursery and Childs hospital, ceilings were partly shaken down and windows were broken, but fortunately none of the 300 children were badly injured.

Exact Causes Unknown.

The power house, which is built of stone and brick, and is six stories high, caught fire after the explosions and was practically burned out. Just what caused the double explosion probably may never be known. Fortunately for the thousands of commuters on the New York Central lines, the force of the dynamite blasts was directed in an opposite direction from the railway tracks. Otherwise the loaded incoming trains may have been wrecked.

Officials of the railway learned that there were many workmen in the building at the time of the explosion and that very few of these have been accounted for.

Many Persons Feel Shock.

In the Bible Teachers' training school on Lexington avenue, directly opposite the power house, 125 men and women, who were on their way to breakfast, were thrown to the floor by the blast. Many of the men and women were injured and several of them were taken to hospitals. All the windows in the building were blown in and the ceilings fell.

The damage to the powerhouse and other buildings has not been stated, but it was stated that it will likely exceed $500,000.

Was Series of Explosions.

Early reports stated that one of the big boilers in the plant had given way and that this in turn caused a series of explosions. Ambulances were summoned from several hospitals, police reserves were called out and workmen, engaged in the new central terminal, left their work to engage in the rescue.

There was much excitement in hotels in the vicinity of the Grand Central station, as the force of the explosion rattled the windows. Every window in the babies' hospital on Lexington avenue was broken and several infants were covered by showering glass.

Official Statement Issued.

A statement issued from the offices of the New York Central railway at 9:30 o'clock this morning is as follows:

At 8:20 o'clock this morning an explosion occurred in an electric sub-station which furnishes power to the third rail system to the New York Central railway.

"The explosion was of great violence and was immediately followed by fire. The list of dead and injured will be large. The number of seriously injured will probably reach twenty-four.

"The employes of the railway have been unable thus far definitely to assign the cause of the explosion, but it is believed a large quantity of dynamite stored in magazines close to the sub-station was responsible for the greater part of the damage.

Massive Building of Stone.

The building was a solidly built structure of stone and brick, six stories in height, about 150 feet long by fifty feet wide. The brunt of the explosion was taken by the portion of the building known as the battery rooms which were completely wrecked. The walls of the building for the most part stood, but the partitions and woodwork within the building were demolished. "There were only about twelve workmen in the building at the time of the explosion. It is likely that the names of everyone of these will be found in the list of dead or injured.

"The other dead and injured were passengers in a Lexington avenue street car which was passing the building just as the explosion occurred. The full force of the blast appears to have struck the street car broadside and many of the passengers were injured as the car overturned in the street.

"The force of the explosion was directed away from the tracks and the train service in both directions went on almost without interruption.

"Aside from the damage to the sub-station building the explosion caused considerable damage to buildings in the vicinity particularly structures facing the Lexington avenue side of the sub-station."

Some Unusual Incidents.

A workman on a scaffold was hurled from the top of the powerhouse and as he fell he grasped a dangling rope. He hung there until rescued by firemen. Of the seventeen firemen in the fire house opposite only one was injured.

A little school girl was about to enter a candy store on Fifty-first street when the blast came. She was picked up bodily and carried through the plate glass door of the store and ropped uninjured in front of the candy counter. There were many rescued by the police and passersby. Six men were hauled from a hole by a patrol man.

Fire Chief Croker said it will be at least a day before his men can get at the bottom of the debris covering the battery room where the explosion occurred and where the bodies of the five missing workmen are supposed to be interred.

District Attorney Whitman visited the scene of the disaster and conferred with a number of officials of the New York Central. He said the explosion was caused by illuminating gas. Cornelius Vanderbilt, whas also on the scene and made an investigation.

At least two of the injured in the Flower hospital are so severely hurt that it is believed they will die. These are: Mrs. Belle Hawkes, both legs broken and severe internal injuries; Andrew Harris, collar bone and shoulder broken and internal injuries. Patrolman Toomey was blown across the street and his uniform almost completely torn from him. He got up and was starting to help in the rescue work when he fell unconscious.

A gang of more than fifty bricklayers on a scaffold sixty feet in the air near and the scene of the explosion, had a remarkable escape from death or serious injury. An air cushion, formed by the explosion, hoisted up the big scaffold on which they were wrocking [sic] tilted it inwardly and tossed the men over the wall they were building and into a first scaffolding constructed on the other side of the wall. Only one man of the gang was injured.

One woman in the wrecked trolley car had her hair caught and held in a firm grip between jammed portions of the debris. She had fainted and could not be lifted out until firemen cut her hair. She was found to be only slightly hurt

The following statement was issued this afternoon at the New York Central offices: "A careful investigation made by Chief Engineer Kittredge, Construction Engineer Harwood, Electrical Engineer Kratte, and Manager Whaley of the Grand Central terminal, indicates that the explosion was the result of an electric train backing over a bumping post in the storage yard, and breaking a gas pipe, the escape from which penetrated the lower part of the substation power house and became ignited there from some cause unknown."

The Daily Northwestern, Oshkosh, WI 19 Dec 1910