Harrisonburg, VA Beauty Shop And School Explosion, July 1947




Harrisonburg, Va., July 30. -- (AP) -- Mayor Bernard T. Denton launched an investigation today into the cause of an explosion in a combination beauty shop and school yesterday that killed ten women and injured 30 other persons, wrecked the one-story structure and shattered glass windows in buildings in the area.
Rescue workers completed the task of searching through the wreckage at 11 o'clock last night and officials said today that no further probe of the debris for bodies or injured was planned.
Nineteen persons remained in Rockingham County Memorial Hospital today and attendants reported their condition "about the same." Three of these were described as critically injured.
Mayor Denton said he did not know how long it would take to complete the investigation, in chich he will seek to establish the cause of the explosion and the necessary steps to prevent any similar accidents in the future.
Witnesses will be heard at the explosion scene, and the hearing later will be moved to the city council chambers, Denton said. A representative from the state fire marshal's office is expected here, he added, to participate in the investigation.
Five of the women apparently were killed outright, three were dead on arrival at the hospital and two died after being admitted to the hospital. All were residents of Harrisonburg or nearby towns.
MISS DOROTHY GAIL BOWMAN of Mount Jackson, getting a permanent wave as a 20th birthday present from her parents when the explosion occurred, and MISS BONNIE CATHERINE SITES, 16, of Keezeltown, a student at the beauty school, died at the hospital.
The blast was felt as far away as four miles. Stained glass windows in a nearby Methodist Church were blown out as were those in several homes and business establishments. Chief of Police Julius F. Ritchie said he looked out of his window and saw heavy black smoke all over the business area of this Shenandoah Valley town of 10,000 persons.
Two brothers, John and C. W. O'Neill, were working on opposite side of the building as plumber and painter.
"I had just left a building and turned in time to see the roof rise in the air and settle back down again," said C. W. O'Neill. "A pall of yellow smoke rose from the building."
John O'Neill, who was painting a wall of a residence said he heard three explosions, two small ones and then a terrific blast. The walls began to cave and he saw through the broken wall two bodies hurled through the air.
The cause of the explosion was undetermined. An early theory that a boiler had exploded was discounted last night. Coal was being unlaoded into the basement at the time of the explosion, 2 p.m., yesterday, and rescue workers said they distinctly smelled gas in the debris.
Nineteen of the thirty persons injured remained in the hospital for treatment. One was termed critically hurt while the injuries of six others were considered serious. Six of the nineteen were men, three of these negroes.
One witness said the beauty shop, known as Pauline's Beauty College, "looked like a bomb hit it." Serious damage was also done to Rhodes Jewelry Store, next door, and silver and jewelry were scattered into the street. The wall of a building on the other side of the jewelry store, which was being renovated, was also damaged by the terrific force of the blast. Some of the injured were in the jewelry shop and at least one was a workman in the next building.
A crowd of 2,000 people swarmed to the shop area on Main Street, many fearful that relatives had been caught in the explosion. Streets for blocks around were hurriedly roped off by firemen and policemen to keep the crowd from interfering with rescue efforts. Blood plasma was rushed from Richmond by aeroplane and calls were sent out for doctors, nurses and ambulances.
Patrons of the beauty shop who were not seriously injured emerged dazedly in clothing torn and bloody.
Only a small fire followed the blast and this was quickly put out by the fire department before it could gain headway. Both dead and injured, however, showed signs of having been burned, apparently by whatever gas caused the explosion.
Two women in the beauty shop were blown through the roof.
MRS. PAULINE KLINE SULLIVAN, owner of the beauty shop, escaped injury by leaving the business shortly before the explosion. JESSE JAMES MULLEN, truck driver unloading coal, also escaped.
Twenty-one women were in the beauty shop and school when the explosion occurred -- six customers, four operators, one instructor and ten students. All were either killed or injured.

Harrisonburg, Va., July 30. -- (AP) -- Ten women were killed and 20 persons hospitalized with injuries in the blast that demolished a downtown Harrisonburg beauty shop and wrecked an adjoining jewelry store.
The Dead:
MISS DOROTHY GAIL BOWMAN of Mt. Jackson, who was in the beauty shop getting a 20th birthday present permanent. She died of injuries in the Rockingham Memorial Hospital.
MISS PAULINE MARIE SHEFFER, 23, of Lone Fountain, a student at the beauty school run at the shop.
MISS DOROTHY ZARUBA BATZOLD, 20, of (RFD 2) Waynesboro, another student.
MISS ELIZABETH SEIZLE, Harrisonburg, student.
MISS HARRIET ANN GARBER, 52, Harrisonburg, beauty shop patron.
MRS. CHARLOTTE McALLISTER SHRECKHISE, 32, Weyers Cave, a teacher in the school.
MRS. ANNA PAYNE BAKER, 43, of 812 Norfolk Avenue, Staunton, student.
MISS WILDA GULLEY, 18, of Swoope, student.
MISS BONNIE CATHERINE SITES, 16, of Keezeltown, student.
MRS. REBECCA SHERMAN CRABILL, of near Harrisonburg.

The Bee Danville Virginia 1947-07-30