Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Night Nearly Everone in the Town of Pelham Died: April 17, 1904

On the evening of April 17, 1904, the 5,000 residents of the Town of Pelham narrowly escaped asphyxiation in their sleep due to a massive gas main break. Citizens of nearby towns also were in peril and fumes made 100 sick.

The quick action of a Police Sergeant named Walter Grant and the work of telephone operators who rang home phones "violently" to arouse residents saved many lives. An article on the incident appeared in the April 18, 1904 issue of The Evening World.



Thousands Placed in Peril by Break in Main of Westchester Company Are Rescued by Police and Firemen.


To the quick action of Police Sergeant Walter Grant in sending in an alarm of fire, the hard work of the telephone girls in arousing 2,000 subscribers by violently ringing their telephones and the inspection of every house by firemen and police the 25,000 people of Mount Vernon and the 5,000 residents of Pelham and North Pelham and Pelham Manor owe their escape from possible asphyxiation by gas fumes, which placed the towns in peril for hours last night.

According to reports from all the officers received by Sergeant Devaugh, at Police Headquarters to-day, no one was asphyxiated, although they report there were many narrow escapes.

A valve cock on one of the big mains at Eastchester which supplies Mount Vernon with gas broke last night and the gas went out for a few moments. Then the employees of the Westchester Lighting Trust turned the deadly fumes on again, and the death-dealing fluid passed through the open jets. Many children and elder people had retired, leaving the gas burning in the sleeping rooms or else had gas logs and radiators burning to keep warm in lieu of the furnace, and the gas made more than a hundred people deathly sick.

Two Escapes from Death.

The two most narrow escapes were reported to the police before midnight. Mrs. William H. Martens, wife of a rich real estate broker of Chester Hill, said that her family had nearly been overcome.

Mrs. Al Buckley, wife of a butcher on South Fourth avenue, was found in a semi-conscious condition by her husband and he carried her to the open air. He also felt the effects of the gas.

Mayor Brush was out almost all night and he had all the fire companies patrolling the streets with the different apparatus. Fire and church bells were kept tolling, the big compressed whistle on the engine house on South Third avenue was kept sounding warnings at frequent intervals and amid the din caused by the fire engine whistle and the shouts of the firemen, consternation was created throughout the city."

Source: Fumes of Gas Made 100 Ill, The Evening World, Apr. 18, 1904, 11 O'Clock Night Extra, p. 12, col. 1.

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