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.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Repeated Dynamite and Powder Manufacturing Explosions Rocked Pelham Bridge and Bartow


Foreman Max Cruger was overseeing four of his men hard at work the morning of September 30, 1886.  They were working in the packing house, a one-story 20 x 30 feet long wooden shanty-like structure near Pelham Bridge in Baychester.  As Cruger supervised his men, he noticed some movement outside through a nearby window.  He looked out and saw a hunter in the brush nearby.  Cruger panicked.  He knew the grave risk of firing a gun nearby.  His men were packing dynamite into cartridges to sell for blasting work in connection with the construction of the New Croton Aqueduct.  They were working in the packing house of the Dittmar Powder Works.  Cruger knew that if there were one shot, it would all be over.

Cruger stepped out of the building.  Accounts differ over what happened next.  According to one report, Cruger walked toward the hunter about fifty feet away from the packing house.  He heard a sharp report followed instantaneously by a massive blast that stunned him.  As he fell and looked back, he saw the entire packing house flying in fragments high into the air with a cloud of dust mushrooming into the air.  One report says he saw the hunter running away.

The blast blew out window panes for miles including those in Bartow-on-the-Sound in the Town of Pelham and even the Bayview Hotel on City Island.  The roof of a house in West Farms, four miles away, collapsed.  Crockery was smashed and windows were shattered.  Persons in Morrisania, eight miles away, felt the concussion.  In Bridgeport, Connecticut (and in Stratford, forty miles from Baychester) the ground shook like an earthquake.  Not knowing the cause of the quake, authorities launching a ship at the local shipyard suspended the ceremony for an hour.  

Cruger survived.  His four workers did not.  They were "blown to atoms" as several accounts stated.  Sadly, they were not the first to die working in dynamite and powder works in the Pelham Bridge area.  Nor would they be the last.  Indeed, during the twenty-five year period from 1878 until 1903, there were at least seven major explosions that rocked the Pelham Bridge, Bartow Village, City Island, and Baychester settlements.  

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog begins to document these explosions and collects relevant news accounts of them.

October 10, 1878 Explosion that Destroyed the Neptune Powder Mill

Carl Dittmar opened his Dittmar Powder Works near Pelham Bridge in 1881 by purchasing the assets of the old Neptune Powder Mill after that firm went out of business.  While still in business, however, the Neptune Powder Mill suffered a major explosion at its facility on October 10, 1878 under the most mysterious of circumstances that suggested skulduggery.

For some time, the Neptune Powder Mill near Pelham Bridge had been engaged in litigation with a competitor named the "Neptune Powder Company."  The Neptune Powder Company filed suit against its Pelham Bridge competitor alleging patent infringement.  It also hired "detectives" to watch its competitor's operations.  

At about noon that day, one of those detectives was skulking nearby.  Two workers at the Mill were manufacturing nitroglycerin in a one-story building about thirty-five feet long by twenty-five feet wide.  As they worked, they turned away from a tub holding the newly-created explosive.  Turning back toward the tub, they observed a column of bright fire rising from the tub.  They leaped from a platform and ran for their lives.  Just as they ran out of the building, there was a massive explosion.  According to one account:

"[the entire building] rose into the air, and, with a roar that was heard at Harlem and [City Island], burst into a thousand pieces, not many of them so much as three feet in length.  The blazing fragments were hurled in all directions, some of them going a hundred feet upward, and falling hissing into the waters of the Sound.  The shock was terrific, momentarily stunning all in the region of the explosion, and smashing the windows of houses at some distance. A dense cloud of smoke rose into the air.  When it cleared away not a vestige of the glycerine house was to be seen, though flaming particles of it littered the ground where two minutes before it had been standing."  

News reports never accused the skulking detective directly, but most reports noted that an incendiary was suspected of causing the fire and explosion.

In this instance, no one was killed.  The Neptune Powder Mill was quickly rebuilt.  A year later, however, the Mill and its workers were not so lucky.     

August 28, 1879 Explosion Kills One at Rebuilt Neptune Powder Mill

Shortly before 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, August 28, 1879, the general manager of the Neptune Powder Mill, Richard S. Howe, and one of his workers were preparing to close the facility for the evening.  Howe was a brother of the owners of the powder factory, William M. and R. J. Howe.  

Richard Howe was using a shovel to mix powder in a large vessel.  As he mixed, he carelessly allowed the shovel to strike the interior walls of the vessel repeatedly.  His assistant told him to be careful as the assistant walked to the door to leave for the evening.  As the assistant reached the door, there was a tremendous explosion that blew him out of the door, uninjured.  The building was completely demolished.

The assistant began a frantic search of the debris and found Richard Howe alive but so badly burned about his face that he was unrecognizable.  Howe suffered from burns and internal injuries.  He lingered until 10:00 p.m. that evening when he died.  

Soon the owners of the Neptune Powder Mill went out of business and sold the facility to Carll Dittmar for use as a powder factory.

1883 Explosion in the Acid House of Dittmar Powder Works Killed One Worker

A brief reference in an article published in 1886 (quoted in full below) indicates that there was an explosion in the acid house of Dittmar Powder Works in 1883 that killed one worker.  Although no news account of the explosion yet has been found, the entire reference published in 1886 reads as follows:

"An explosion occurred in the acid house about three years ago, and Heinrich Nieman, one of the workmen, was killed. It was said at the time that the explosion was caused by carelessness on the part of Nieman, and this explanation was generally accepted."

September 30, 1886 Explosion at Dittmar Powder Works Killed Four

The massive explosion described at the outset of today's article occurred on September 30, 1886.  Descriptions of the aftermath of the explosion are terribly gruesome, describing in detail the search for, and discovery of, tiny pieces of body parts of the four workmen who were killed.  One report claimed that the entirety of the human remains found would fit into a single cigar box.  Newspapers throughout the United States carried blaring headlines saying the men had been "Blown to Atoms."

Clearly the explosion was the most massive since blasting to remove underwater obstructions in the Hell Gate area during the mid-19th century.  Barely a glass pane was left in any window throughout the Baychester, Pelham Bridge, City Island, Bartow Village and Pelham Manor region.

Yet, Dittmar Powder Works was rebuilt.

April 5, 1890 Explosion of Dittmar Powder Works Killed Two 

At lunchtime on April 5, 1890, James H. Kellmeir stopped his work to have his lunch in the Running House of the Dittmar Powder Works.  At the same time, the engineer of the facility stopped his own work in the engine house also to have his lunch.  A little before 1:30 p.m., a friend of Kellmeir, Max Schultz, stopped by to say hello and sat with his friend while Kellmeir ate.  The two men were laughing and joking.

At that moment, a massive explosion tore through the running house.  Kellmeir and Schultz were killed instantly.  The facility's engineer in the nearby engine house was struck by falling debris that covered  him completely and likely saved his life by protecting him from even worse destruction.  According to one account, the shock of the explosion "resembled an earthquake" in the region and "even at Pelham Bridge and Bartow, City Island, houses rocked and their foundations were shaken.  For fully half an hour the residents were in a state of panic, and confidence was not restored until the cause of the disaster had been ascertained and the nature of the damage discovered."  Some in the region reported seeing "the 'running house' lifted in the air and stones and bricks scattered in every direction."  The nearby railroad station was badly damaged.  The two men who were killed "were virtually blown to fragments."

Once again, the Dittmar Powder Works was rebuilt.  

November 7, 1893 Explosion at Levi Mason's Dynamite Factory Also Near Pelham Bridge

On November 7, 1893, another explosion rocked the Pelham Bridge region.  For now, it seems that it was an explosion at the Dittmar Powder Works.  However, the only news account located so far describes the facility only as "the dynamite factory at Baychester" that was "owned by Levi Mason."

The explosion occurred in the packing house where about 300 pounds of nitroglycerine and about 500 pounds of dynamite was stored.  The entire packing house was blown to bits, "causing the ground to tremble for miles around."  No one was killed in the accident.

September 14, 1895 Explosion at American Smokeless Powder Company Near Bartow-on-the-Sound

It appears that at least one other powder company operated in the area as well.  According to one brief news account, at noon on September 14, 1895, a factory of the American Smokeless Powder Company exploded in Baychester.  The report stated:  

"Several persons were injured, one of whom will die.

The Injured.

LEONARD, NATHAN, 20 years old, of Westchester.
SEARING, MARY, 14 years old, of Westchester.
WIDNER, FRANK, 25 years old."

October 24, 1903 Explosion of Train Loaded with Dynamite Near Bartow-on-the-Sound

All of these explosives manufactured in the region, of course, had to be transported.  Thus, the last two incidents described in today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog involve transportation of such explosives.

For example, on October 24, 1903 there was a terrible dynamite explosion that destroyed a train carrying explosives on the New Haven Branch Line near Bartow-on-the-Sound.  The freight train included three freight cars, one of which was loaded with dynamite.  The three freight cars accidentally separated from the remainder of the train.  When the front of the train reached the bottom of a steep decline near Bartow, the runaway freight cars came barreling down the same hill and smashed into the rear of the train, exploding violently.  The three freight cars and three other cars were destroyed.  The freight engineer was thrown from his seat and stunned, but managed to shut off the steam, bringing the locomotive to a halt.  

The explosion was so large that a woman in Baychester was thrown from her bed by the force of the blast and was injured.  According to one account, "Nearly every house in Baychester suffered damage from the explosion.  The woman who was thrown from bed is believed to be the only person that was injured by the explosion.  Within half a mile of Baychester station not a pane of glass in any of the houses remained intact."  

June 5, 1914 Dittmar Employee Hauling Dynamite Over Cobblestone Streets

Despite all the explosions, death, and carnage, it seems that even by 1914 the Dittmar Powder Works had not learned any lessons in common sense safety.  That day, a policeman patrolling in Baychester observed a red horse-drawn wagon with a red flag and the word "Explosives" painted on it creaking along cobblestone streets in the area.  

The officer asked the driver and his assistant what was in the cart.  The driver replied dynamite.  The officer asked if the driver had a permit to transport explosives over the local streets.  When the driver admitted he did not, the officer placed him under arrest and escorted the cart to the local police station, wincing as the cart bounced along over cobblestone streets.  The officer vowed that the next time he arrested the driver of a cart filled with dynamite he would escort it only over asphalt streets. . . . 



Engraving Depicting the Aftermath of a Powder Factory
Explosion in 1872.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.


*          *          *           *          *

"BLOWN HIGH IN THE AIR.
-----
A NITRO-GLYCERINE EXPLOSION THAT SHOOK THE TOWN OF PELHAM.
-----
An Astonished Detective Seeing a Building Vanish from Sight -- Two Men Making Haste for their Lives - Suspicion Aroused.

For some time past, the proprietors of the Neptune Powder Mill, in the town of Pelham, near Bartow, have been in a dispute with the Neptune Powder Company, who think that the Pelham people have infringed upon certain of their rights.  The company sent a detective to Pelham to watch the property of the mill owners.  Yesterday that functionary was relieved of a portion of his responsibility by the blowing to fragments of the building in which the nitro-glycerine was manufactured.  

Nobody seems to know who are the owner of the powder mill, but a Mr. A. J. Parker of Bridgeport, Conn., is the chief manager.  He was not in Pelham yesterday, and, owing in some indirect way to the legal complications, an extraordinary reticence prevailed among the workmen.  

The property consisted of several buildings, used for the manufacture of blasting powder, and among these was the frame house in which the nitro-glycerine was made.  It was one story high, and about thirty-five feet long, by twenty-five feet wide.  It was heavily built, but was not of any great value.  It contained a platform six feet high, and on this the glycerine was made, and poured, passing through water into holes below.

On Wednesday all the glycerine had been exhausted, and it was necessary to manufacture a fresh supply before any more powder could be made.  The workmen were all discharged with the exception of Oscar Coles, Israel Gore, and Samuel Berriman.  There were, usually, about fifteen men employed, and the remaining twelve were told to return to their work this morning.  

It was just about noon, and the three men whose services had been retained were in the glycerine house.  It is said that the detective employed by the rival company was standing outside appraising, with a practiced eye, the probable value of the building.  Suddenly, before his astonished gaze, the entire fabric rose into the air, and, with a roar that was heard at Harlem and Island City [sic], burst into a thousand pieces, not many of them so much as three feet in length.  The blazing fragments were hurled in all directions, some of them going a hundred feet upward, and falling hissing into the waters of the Sound.  The shock was terrific, momentarily stunning all in the region of the explosion, and smashing the windows of houses at some distance.

A dense cloud of smoke rose into the air.  When it cleared away not a vestige of the glycerine house was to be seen, though flaming particles of it littered the ground where two minutes before it had been standing.  

The three men who were supposed to have been at work in the building were soon found, and one of them told the following story:

A few minutes before 12 o'clock Samuel Berrian went from the house, which stood close to the water's edge, and getting into a boat, shoved off.  His motive in going away could not be ascertained, but immediately after his departure Oscar Coles and Israel Gore determined to move the tub of glycerine just manufactured into another building, as was customary.  There was only one tub of the material in the house, and it contained, probably, about a hundred pounds.  It was on the floor near the platform upon which both men were standing.  Their backs had been turned toward it for some minutes, and just as they turned around, preparatory to descending to carry it away, they were dazzled by a column of light which shot up to the roof.  The nitro-glycerine was on fire.

'I thought at first,' said one of the men, 'of upsetting the tub.  That might have saved the explosion; but before I could get down from the platform the whole place seemed to be in a blaze.  We both knew that when the nitro-glycerine got sufficiently heated it would explode.  There was not a second to spare, and we both jumped from the platform and ran out as fast as we could.  I suppose we had got about forty or fifty yards from the door when the explosion came.  The shock was tremendous.  I was not knocked down.  When we turned around the whole house was in the air, and I had hard work to keep out of the way of the flying fragments.'

The workmen say that the fire was due to some carelessness in the manufacture of the nitro-glycerine -- putting in certain acids in incorrect quantities.  There is, however, a strong suspicion in the neighborhood that an incendiary was at work."

Source:  BLOWN HIGH IN THE AIR -- A NITRO-GLYCERINE EXPLOSION THAT SHOOK THE TOWN OF PELHAM -- An Astonished Detective Seeing a Building Vanish from Sight -- Two Men Making Haste for their Lives - Suspicion Aroused, The Sun [NY, NY], Oct. 11, 1878, Vol. XLVI, No. 41, p. 3, col. 5.

"POWDER MILL EXPLOSION.
-----
[BY TELEGRAPH TO THE HERALD.]

BARTOW, N.Y., Oct. 10, 1878.

The Neptune Powder Mill, in the town of Pelham, near this place, was demolished at twenty minutes past eleven this morning, when a number of acid tanks caught fire and exploded.  The works had been stopped for the day, only two men being employed at the time of the accident.  No person was hurt.  The Neptune Company had been under an injunction on a charge of infringing a patent.  Since then a different sort of powder was being made, and detectives were employed to watch the establishment.  A low, hissing sound was heard by the two men who had been mixing acids, and a minute later the building and its contents were blown with great violence in every direction, one large tank being thrown over two hundred feet.  No part of the mills was left standing except the wind wheel, used for pumping water.  Men were put at work this afternoon clearing away the ruins preparatory to the erection of new buildings.  It is believed the fire was of incendiary origin."

Source:  POWDER MILL EXPLOSION, N.Y. Herald, Oct. 11, 1878, p. 7, col. 4.

"BLOWN TO ATOMS.
-----
EXPLOSION IN THE NEPTUNE POWDER MILL AT PELHAM.

HARLEM, October 10. -- Shortly before noon today an explosion occurred in the Neptune powder mill in Pelham, Westchester County, almost totally destroying the building.  The explosion resulted from its acid tanks taking fire, the work, it is thought, of incendiaries.  Only two men were at work at the time and they escaped uninjured."

Source:  BLOWN TO ATOMS -- EXPLOSION IN THE NEPTUNE POWDER MILL AT PELHAM, The Daily Graphic [NY, NY], Oct. 10, 1878, p. 700, col. 4.  See also Casualties, The Syracuse Daily Journal, Oct. 11, 1878, Vol. XXXIV, No. 23, p. 4, col. 4 (essentially same text).

"HARLEM, N. Y., Oct. 10. -- The Neptune Powder Mills, in Pelham, Westchester County, were almost totally destroyed by an explosion to-day.  No lives lost."

Source:  [Untitled],  The Cincinnati Daily Star, Oct. 10, 1878, Vol. 14, No. 85, p. 1, col. 5.  

"EXPLOSION IN A POWDER MILL.
-----
RICHARD S. HOWE LOSES HIS LIFE -- NARROW ESCAPE OF HIS ASSISTANT.

The powder factory at Baychester, Westchester County, owned by William M. and R. J. Howe, of the Neptune Powder Company of this city, exploded Thursday evening, totally destroying the building and killing Richard S. Howe, a brother of the proprietors.

The explosion occurred at 6 o'clock p.m. Thursday, just as the factory was being closed for the night.  There were present in the building at the time Richard S. Howe, who had been employed by his brothers as general manager of the works for five years, and his assistant, Leonard Reed.  The latter, who escaped with slight burns upon the side and arm, states that Mr. Howe while mixing the powder struck the sides of the vessel with a shovel several times.  Reed told him to be careful, and started to turn off the steam for the purpose of closing the works.  Howe told him not to do this just then, as it would be dangerous.  Reed had reached the door by this time, and as he was about to step out the explosion took place.  The building, which was of wood, long and low, was blown to pieces.

Immediately after the explosion search was begun for Richard Howe.  He was found among the debris alive and conscious.  His face was blackened and burned almost beyond recognition, but otherwise his body outwardly was uninjured.  He had received fatal injuries internally, however, from the effects of which he died at 10 o'clock Thursday night.  Previous to his death he suffered no pain, and he was conscious up to the last minute.  He was twenty-two years of age, unmarried, and leaves a mother, sister and two brothers.  He was a young man very generally liked by the residents of Baychester.  At the Coroner's inquest, held yesterday, a verdict was given of accidental death.  Mr. Howe's funeral will take place at 8 a.m. to-day.  The body will be interred at Kingston, N.Y., his former home." 

Source:  EXPLOSION IN A POWDER MILL -- RICHARD S. HOWE LOSES HIS LIFE -- NARROW ESCAPE OF HIS ASSISTANT, N.Y. Tribune, Aug. 30, 1879, Vol. XXXIX, No. 11,990, p. 10, col. 5.

"GIANT POWDER LET LOOSE.
-----
FOUR MEN KILLED AND EVERYBODY STARTLED FOR MILES AROUND.
-----
A Thousand Pounds of the Explosive Ignite in the Dittmar Works -- The Shock Felt on the West Bank of the Hudson and Across the Sound -- Mistaken for Wiggins's Quake.

In a small wooden building of the Dittmar Powder Manufacturing Company at Baychester on the shore of Pelham Bay, there was an explosion of giant powder yesterday morning that killed four men and shook houses and smashed windows for miles in every direction.  Carl Dittmar, who established the company, is a well-known authority on explosives.  He came to this country in 1870, and experimented for a number of years.  In 1881 he purchased the plant in Baychester of the Neptune Company, which went out of business.  About two years later he moved his works to the Palisades, on the Hudson, opposite Hastings, but in 1883 he reopened his factory in Baychester.

Two little frame buildings on the shore are used as an engine house and a storehouse for nitro-glycerine.  A thousand feet inland is a storehouse dug under the side of a hill, in which is stored 5,000 pounds of blasting powder.  Between this storehouse and the buildings on the bank was an L-shaped frame building.  The main part was about 20 by 35 feet, and the addition was somewhat smaller.  The company had a contract to supply the aqueduct builders with blasting powder, but the subcontractor found fault with the quality of the powder and refused to accept it.  Work at the factory was, therefore, dull, and only five men began work at 7 o'clock yesterday morning.  These were the foreman, Max Cruger; Ernest Drahn, 35 years of age, whose wife and two children are in Hamburg; John Roesch, 28 years of age; Max Trachbrodt, 22 years of age, and Ernest Reinhardt, 24 years of age.  The three latter were unmarried, and lived with Drahn in a little canvas-covered frame building a short distance from the factory.  All five of the men went to work in the L-shaped building.  Two of them were engaged in packing dynamite cartridges in boxes, one was trimming the edges of the cartridges, and another was mixing the explosive compound, while Cruger directed the work.

It was just 9:55 o'clock when Cruger, looking out through a little window, saw a man with a gun prowling about the shrubbery near the building.  He stepped out to warn the man away, and had gone about fifty feet from the building when the explosion occurred.  Cruger was stunned.  When he looked around the building was sailing through the air in fragments, while a dense cloud of dust was rising from the spot where it had stood.  All the buildings within a mile were shaken to their foundations, and there wasn't a whole pane of glass left in any house in the neighborhood.

The roof of a house in West Farms, four miles away, tumbled in.  Crockery was smashed and windows were shattered.  Persons in Morrisania, eight miles away, felt the concussion and thought that Wiggins's earthquake had arrived.  Thomas Denwoodee's blacksmith shop in West Chester was shaken like a leaf, and many fragile articles in John Elliott's Bay View Hotel at Pelham Bridge were broken.  In Bartow, across the creek from Baychester, houses were shaken as though they were made of cards.  

Many persons living within a few miles of the factory harnessed their horses and drove to the spot, and in a short time an excited crowd was on hand.  The giant powder had expended its force in all directions.  The building had been blown into little pieces, and a hole several feet deep had been made in the ground.  Several big trees that stood near by had been twisted out of shape.  The crowd learned from Cruger that four men were in the building when the explosion occurred, and men scattered in all directions looking for some trace of them, while a messenger was sent for Coroner Tice.  As soon as the people learned that the little charred lumps that lay around everywhere were fragments of human flesh and bone baskets were procured, and the fragments were gathered up and laid away to await the arrival of the Coroner.

The inquest will be held at 5 o'clock this evening.  There was 1,000 pounds of powder in the building besides a number of 12-bore cartridges that had been made for Bogardus, the sharpshooter.  Nearly all of these cartridges were found to be intact.  Foreman Cruger could give no explanation of the cause of the explosion.  The men were at the same work they had been engaged in for some time.  An explosion occurred in the acid house about three years ago, and Heinrich Nieman, one of the workmen, was killed.  It was said at the time that the explosion was caused by carelessness on the part of Nieman, and this explanation was generally accepted.  The loss will amount to about $2,000.  There is no insurance.

NYACK, Sept. 30. --  A heavy shock, like that of an earthquake, except that it was unaccompanied by any rumbling, was felt in this vicinity at 9:56 this morning.  Many superstitious people were badly frightened.  Especially did terror reign among the colored people.  In South Nyack a negro family named West rushed into the street crying and wildly inquiring as to the nature of the shock.  Their horror was increased when a man told them it was an earthquake from Charleston.  A team owned by Capt. Louis Sheek ran half a mile along the Boulevard before they could be stopped.  Prof. Oliver Bass, milk inspector and teacher of ichthyology to the Nyack dock rats, was so scared that he dropped overboard a string of tomcods which it had taken four hours and seven bait clams to catch.  The mere intimation of the Judgment Day is enough to make a Nyackian's hair stand on end.

BRIDGEPORT, Sept. 30. -- The shock of the Baychester explosion was thought here to be an earthquake.  Windows were jarred in every part of the city, and at some houses women were frightened and ran out of doors.  The pupils in Miss Emily Nelson's young ladies' seminary believed that Wiggins's earthquake had struck the city, and for half an hour they were wild with excitement.  In State street the concussion was severe enough to knock a lamp from a mantel.  In West Stratford a lady fainted when the shock came, and men who were launching a vessel at the shipyard suspended operations for an hour.  It is forty miles from this city to Baychester in a straight line.  In Stratford the sensation was similar to that of the earthquake a year ago.  In Norwalk windows were shaken and women frightened. In Danbury the greater portion of the community felt and heard a distinct shock.  The shock was felt in Ansonia, Derby, and Birmingham.  At one of the factories in Shelton the hands refused to work and went out in a body.

NEW HAVEN, Sept. 30. -- At 10:10 this morning the telegraph operator at Branford reported that slight shocks had just been felt there.

PORT JEFFERSON, Sept. 30. -- A continuous rumbling was felt here at 9:58 o'clock this morning."

Source:  GIANT POWDER LET LOOSE -- FOUR MEN KILLED AND EVERYBODY STARTLED FOR MILES AROUND -- A Thousand Pounds of the Explosive Ignite in the Dittmar Works -- The Shock Felt on the West Bank of the Hudson and Across the Sound -- Mistaken for Wiggins's Quake, The Sun [NY, NY], Oct. 1, 1886, Vol. LIV, No. 31, p. 2, col. 5.  
"A TERRIFIC EXPLOSION
-----
Of Giant Powder at Bartow-on-the-Sound, N.Y.,
-----
Shattering the Building to Splinters and Blowing Four Men to Fragments.
-----
Blown to Atoms.

BARTOW-ON-THE-SOUND, N.Y., Sept. 30. -- A terrific explosion occurred at the Ditmar [sic] powder works, Bay Chester, on the Harlem river branch of the New York and New Haven railroad about 10 this morning, resulting in the instantaneous death of four men employed in the factory.

The explosion occurred in the packing house, a one-story frame building 20x30 feet, in the center of the grounds, about 200 yards from the main factory, a large building near the water, where the bulk of the giant powder and nitro-glycerine used in the new aqueduct work was manufactured. 

The men were hard at work putting up and packing cartridges, when suddenly, without warning, an explosion occurred, shattering the building to splinters and blowing the four men to fragments.

The exploding powder, of which there was a large quantity, shot up into the air as high as fifty feet, and splinters of the building were blown a mile distant.  The names of the men killed are as follows:

BLOWN ALL TO PIECES.

Earnest Dralen, John Rusch, Max Shafbolt, Mr. Reinhart.

Nothing was left of them except fragments of their bodies.  Their hands, legs, feet, arms, pieces of skulls and backbones and charred bits of flesh were scattered in every direction from 500 to 600 feet from the packing house.

Max Cruger, foreman of the works, says the explosion was caused by two men shooting into the building.  He was in the packing house at the time, and, going out, found two men who said they were shooting squirrels.  He says he threatened them with arrest, and they became impudent.

As the explosion occurred the men were seen hurrying away.

ONLY A BOX OF FRAGMENTS LEFT.

R. G. Stausfeld, superintendent of the Thorite powder company, near by, picked up a box full of fragments of dead men, and others assisted in the work, and the remains were all put in a heap to await the coroner's arrival.

One of the dead men leaves a family in Germany, but the others were single.  The manufactory of the Ditmar works was nearly wrecked, one end being blown to pieces, exposing the interior.  After the explosion the lower timbers of the building took fire and burned fiercely.  A large tree near by was torn up by the roots, and branches of other trees were blown away.  The ground around for half a mile was strewn with fragments of the dead, splinters, packing paper, etc.

EFFECTS OF THE EXPLOSION.

The violence of the explosion shook houses in Bartow, across the creek from Bay Chester, and many windows in John Elliott's Bayview hotel at Pelham Bridge [sic; at City Island Bridge], over a mile away, were shattered.  Thomas Dinwood's blacksmith shop at West Chester was shaken violently, and the windows in many houses in the same village were broken.  

This is the second explosion that has occurred in these works this year.  One last winter blew a man to fragments.

The remains of the men killed to-day could not possibly be identified.

Many persons living miles away drove hurriedly to the scene and some of them helped to gather together the fragments of the dead men.

Windows, sashes and doors in the railroad station at Bay Chester, not far from the works were blown to fragments, and windows in other houses were damaged, but no one outside of the factory was hurt."

Source:  A TERRIFIC EXPLOSION -- Of Giant Powder at Bartow-on-the-Sound, N.Y. -- Shattering the Building to Splinters and Blowing Four Men to Fragments -- Blown to Atoms, The Bronson Pilot [Bronson, KS], Vol. 4, No. 34, Oct. 7, 1886, p. 2, col. 2 (Note:  Paid subscription required to access via this link).

"BLOWN TO ATOMS.
-----
Instantaneous Fate of Four Men in a Dynamite Factory.
-----
An Explosion Which Shook the Earth for Miles Around.
-----

In the Hudson River towns and along the shore of Long Island Sound people were startled the other forenoon just before 10 o'clock by a shock resembling an earthquake.  It was not an earthquake, but concussion from the explosion of half a ton of dynamite at Baychester, in Westchester County, N.Y., on the Long Island Sound.  The mixing-house of the Dittmar Powder Manufacturing Company there was splintered and four workmen were blown to pieces.  How it happened can never be learned, as the four men were the only persons in the place at the time.  They were:

Ernest Drahn, aged thirty-five; leaves a widow and two children in Germany.
John Roesch, aged twenty-eight, single.
Max Trachbrodt, aged twenty-two, single.
Ernest Reinhardt, aged twenty-four, single.

The Dittmar works were scattered about over twenty or thirty acres on the shore of Pelham Bay, just north and east of Baychester station, on the Harlem River branch of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad.  In 1881 Carl Dittmar, who says he is the inventor or dynamite, and who ws the first to use it in this country, began making the explosive at Baychester.  His two sons were associated with him in the business.  Until recently they furnished most of the dynamite used on the new aqueduct.  Only five men have been employed at the works recently.  The other morning Foreman Max Kruger was in charge.  They were in the mixing and packing house, a low, rough frame structure little more than a shanty, that stood about 200 yards from the boiler-house.  Some sportsmen had been gunning in the neighborhood during the morning, and between 9 and 10 o'clock Foreman Kruger went out to drive them away.  When he left the workmen were making cartridges.  Kruger had been absent only a few minutes when there was a sharp report and a terrific shock.  The windows in all the houses for miles around were broken.  There was a flash just before the earth quaked.  Instantly all the debris that fell in showers on the site of the mixing-house was aflame.  Sacks of pulverized sawdust smouldered long after the splintered timbers had been consumed.  Foreman Kruger, with the assistance of several people who flocked to the scene, began hunting for the remains of four victims.  During the day four boxes full of charred pieces of human flesh and bones were gathered.  Coroner Tice ordered these remains to be locked up in the powder magazine.  This is a dugout in the side a a little mound, with six feet of earth on top and similarly banked on three sides.  In this are 5,000 pounds of blasting powder.  It was about the only structure of the company that was not damaged.  

The earth was scooped out to a depth of six feet, like the crater of a volcano, where the mixing house stood.  That and heaps of ashes are all that are left of it.  Chunks of charred wood and splinters were hurled 500 yards away and the ground literally covered with chips.  A big cedar tree was torn up by the roots and the branches stripped as dry and clean as a bone.  One end of the engine-house was blown out by the strong current of air rushing to fill the vacuum created by the explosion.  The directions of the blast was to the northwest and, fortunately, there were no buildings in its track.  The detached shops and buildings of the company were all damaged, though some escaped with only broken windows.

Foreman Kruger told a reporter that he thought one of the poachers fired a shot that entered the mixing house and ignited the explosives.  A. C. Dittmar, who was summoned from New York, thought the accident must have been due to carelessness.  He said he worked all about the works and was never afraid of an explosion."

Source:  BLOWN TO ATOMS -- Instantaneous Fate of Four Men in a Dynamite Factory -- An Explosion Which Shook the Earth for Miles Around, Republican Watchman [Monticello, NY], Oct. 8, 1886, Vol. 61, No. 30, p. 2, col. 3.  

"WESTCHESTER COUNTY. . . . 

Coroner L. D. Tice, of Mount Vernon, yesterday concluded the inquest in the matter of the explosion at the Dittmar Powder Works, at Baychester, on Sept. 30.  Only three witnesses were examined and then the jury rendered a verdict to the effect that the men killed came to their deaths from the result of an explosion, &c., the origin of which was unknown to the jury."

Source:  WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. Times, Oct. 6, 1886, Vol. XXXVI, No. 10,950, p. 8, col. 3 (Note:  Paid subscription required to access via this link).

"BLOWN TO FRAGMENTS
-----
Terrific Explosion at a Dynamite Factory in Baychester.
-----
THE FORCE OF THE BLAST.
-----
It Was Felt Miles Away -- The Two Victims Were Workmen, and Not Enough of Their Remains Have Been Recovered to Identify Them.
-----

NEW YORK, April 6. -- The little town of Bartow, in Westchester county, was shaken Saturday by a dynamite explosion, the shock of which resembled an earthquake.  So far as known two men were killed instantly and one building was blown down, while even at Pelham Bridge and Bartow, City Island, houses rocked and their foundations were shaken.  For fully half an hour the residents were in a state of panic, and confidence was not restored until the cause of the disaster had been ascertained and the nature of the damage discovered.

In the center of Baychester, a little village just outside the limits of Bartow, are situated Dittmar's dynamite works, and in one of those buildings, known as the 'running house,' the explosion took place.  It was stored with dynamite.  Fortunately there were only very few workmen in the house at the time, otherwise there would have been a large loss of life.  Two men are known to have perished and their bodies were blown to atoms.

The Victims.

James H. Kellmeir and Max Schultz were the victims.  The former was a workman who, instead of going home to dinner like his companions, had the meal brought to him.  Schultz was not employed on the premises, but was a friend of Kellmeir, and called to pay him a visit.  Kellmeir was sitting down eating his dinner, and both men were laughing and joking when the explosion came.

How it happened no one knows.  The time was 1:30 o'clock, and without warning of any kind a loud roaring sound was heard.  People rushed from their houses in alarm, believing that it was caused by an earthquake.  They were just in time to see the 'running house' lifted in the air and stones and bricks scattered in every direction.  Both men had been blown through the windows, and enough of their remains have not yet been recovered to identify them.  They were virtually blown to fragments.

The Engineer's Miraculous Escape.

One hundred feet away from the scene of the explosion was the engine house, occupied by the engineer, who was attending to his duties.  His escape from death was miraculous.  The explosion threw him off his feet, and before he could recover the plaster from the walls and large pieces of iron and timber used in the construction of the engine room were falling around him.  Several stray pieces struck him, but he was not seriously injured, and when dragged from the pile, some time afterward, he was able to walk to his home.

Force of the Explosion.

The extent of the shock is beset known from the fact that the station on the Harlem branch of the New Haven and Hartford railroad was badly shaken.  Simultaneously with the explosion the windows were smashed and the woodwork broken.  The ticket agent, however, escaped uninjured.

After the explosion a large crowd gathered around the scene of the disaster.  A hole six feet deep and twenty feet in diameter ws found, marking the place where the 'running house' had stood.  No one could advance any theory for the explosion.  Some suggested that either Kellmeir or Schultz had tampered with the dynamite.  Both were unmarried."

Source:  BLOWN TO FRAGMENTS -- Terrific Explosion at a Dynamite Factory in Baychester -- THE FORCE OF THE BLAST -- It Was Felt Miles Away -- The Two Victims Were Workmen, and Not Enough of Their Remains Have Been Recovered to Identify Them, The Ogdensburg Journal [Ogdensburg, NY], Apr. 8, 1890, p. 3, col. 3.  See also BLOWN TO FRAGMENTS -- Terrific Explosion at a Dynamite Factory in Baychester -- THE FORCE OF THE BLAST -- It Was Felt Miles Away -- The Two Victims Were Workmen, and Not Enough of Their Remains Have Been Recovered to Identify Them, Buffalo Evening News [Buffalo, NY], Apr. 7, 1890, Vol. XIX, No. 148, p. 1, col. 7 (same text).

"A terrible explosion shook the buildings and broke window panes at Bartow, City Island and Pelham Bridge, N. Y., Saturday afternoon.  One building of Dittmar's dynamite works, in Baychester, had blown up, killing James H. Kelmeir and Max. Shultz.  Fragments of their bodies were found at a distance."

Source:  [Untitled], Staunton Spectator [Staunton, VA], Apr. 9, 1890, Vol. 67, No. 34, p. 2, col. 2 (Note:  Paid subscription required to access via this link).

"On last Saturday afternoon the residents of Bartow and vicinity were startled by a terrific explosion which shook the buildings and broke the window panes in many houses at Bartow, City Island, and Pelham Bridge.  It was soon found that the building known as the running house at Dittmar's Dynamite Works in Baychester had blown up and two men had been killed.  There were in the building James H. Kelmeir and Max Schultz.  Schultz was not an employee of the establishment, but had come to the establishment to pay a friendly visit to Kelmeir.  The latter was sitting eating his dinner and conversing with Schultz, when, without apparently any warning, the building was blown up.  In the engine house, about one hundred feet away, sat the engineer eating his dinner, but he was not seriously hurt, although badly stunned by the shock.  Large pieces of iron and timber fell from the wreck all about him and his escape from death was miraculous.  Kelmeir and Schultz were blown into atoms, and not sufficient of their bodies could be found to fill a cigar box.  The explosion left a hole about six feet deep and twenty feet round where the building stood.  It is a mystery how the dynamite exploded.  whether Kelmeir and his friend Schultz had tampered with any of the dynamite will probably never be known, as they were alone in the small frame building at the time of the explosion.  Kelmeir and Schultz were both unmarried.  The railroad station within a quarter mile of the explosion was badly damaged, the windows and woodwork being broken.  The residents of this section are becoming alarmed at the numerous dynamite explosions that have occurred.  It is thought that some action will be taken to compel the removal of the dynamite works from this part of the county.  The dynamite works turn out dynamite cartridges which are used in excavating on the new aqueduct."

Source:  [Untitled], The Eastern State Journal [White Plains, NY], Apr. 12, 1890, Vol. XLVI, No. 2, p. 2, col. 3.  

"DYNAMITE FACTORY BLOWS UP.
-----
A Man Blown Through the Roof Escapes Serious Injury.

WESTCHESTER, N.Y., Nov. 7. -- A loud explosion, which shook the surrounding country, was heard here at about 10.15 this morning.

Investigation showed that the dynamite factory at Baychester had blown up.  The building, a large, low frame structure, was completely demolished.  

Information received here is that no one was killed.  

The works are owned by Levi Mason.  The explosion occurred in the packing-house, where there were 300 pounds of nitric-glycerine and 500 pounds of dynamite, causing the ground to tremble for miles around.

Frank Leonard, who was in the powder mills, was blown through the roof, but escaped serious injury.  Mr. Mason was slightly injured.

The damage will not exceed $2,000 to the powder mill.  The windows in many houses for a considerable distance from the works were broken by the force of the explosion."

Source:  DYNAMITE FACTORY BLOWS UP -- A Man Blown Through the Roof Escapes Serious Injury, The Evening World, Nov. 7, 1893, p. 2, col. 4 (Note:  Paid subscription required to access via this link).

"EXPLOSION OF SMOKELESS POWDER.
-----
Three Persons Injured, One of Whom Will Die.

New York, Sept. 14. -- An explosion occurred at noon today at the factory of the American Smokeless Powder company at Baychester, N.J. [sic; Baychester, NY]  Several persons were injured, one of whom will die.

The Injured.

LEONARD, NATHAN, 20 years old, of Westchester.
SEARING, MARY, 14 years old, of Westchester.
WIDNER, FRANK, 25 years old."

Source:  EXPLOSION OF SMOKELESS POWDER -- Three Persons Injured, One of Whom Will Die, The Chicago Sunday Tribune, Sep. 15, 1895, Vol. LIV, No. 258, p. 1, col. 3 (Note:  Paid subscription required to access via this link).

"DYNAMITE CAR EXPLODES SHAKING WHOLE VILLAGE
-----
Every House in Baychester Suffered Damage and Semi-Panic Reigned in Worcester.

Associated Press Dispatch.

NEW YORK, October 24.

Three freight cars, one of them loaded with dynamite, that had run away from a freight train on the Harlem River - New Rochelle branch of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad at Baychester, before daylight this morning, collided with the remainder of the train at the bottom of a steep decline and the car with the explosive in it was blown up, demolishing three other cars.

Engineer Carrigan was thrown off his seat and was for a few minutes slightly stunned.  He managed to regain his presence of mind, however, and shut off the steam, bringing the train to a stop.

Nearly every house in Baychester suffered damage from the explosion.  The woman who was thrown from bed is believed to be the only person that was injured by the explosion.  Within half a mile of Baychester station not a pane of glass in any of the houses remained intact.  

In Westchester village almost a panic reigned.  Men rushed to the post office armed with clubs, guns and knives, believing that burglars had blown open the safe.  The policemen went through the village from end to end, but at first could not discover what had happened.

At the office of Superintendent Shepard of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, it was said that according to the official information ten kegs of black powder in the freight car had exploded, setting fire to the car, with the result that five cars were consumed.

According to the railroad men the powder was ignited by the concussion of the collision, resulting in the explosion."

Source:  DYNAMITE CAR EXPLODES SHAKING WHOLE VILLAGE -- Every House in Baychester Suffered Damage and Semi-Panic Reigned in Worcester, Democrat Chronicle [Rochester, NY], Oct. 25, 1903, p. 2, col. 4 (Note:  Paid subscription required to access via this link).

"HAULED DYNAMITE THROUGH STREETS
-----
Discovery by Policeman when He Stops Wagon Inscribed 'Explosives'
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500 POUNDS ON BOARD
-----
Made by Baychester Firm, Who Say They Have Bond Put Up With City
-----
BUT WHERE IS PERMIT?
-----
Case Will Come Up in Court -- Meantime Bail Is Asked of Man Under Arrest
-----

While Policeman Morrissey was patrolling his beat on the east side at 11 o'clock this morning, he saw a covered wagon, painted red and flying a red flag, proceeding up South Columbus avenue, near Fulton.  Painted on both sides and rear of the wagon was this word:  'Explosives.'

'Say, what have you got in that wagon?' demanded Morrissey of the driver, as he hurried out into the middle of the street and halted the conveyance.

'Nothing m'sieu, except a little dynamite,' replied the driver, with a French accent.

'Nothing only dynamite,' whistled Morrissey.  'Say, move over closer beside the curb.  Aren't you afraid something might come along here and bump into you?  What do you call a little dynamite?'

'Oh, maybe 500 pounds.  Ten boxes inside there, each holding 50 pounds,' he said, jerking his finger over his shoulder and pointing into the interior of the wagon.

Morrissey then asked the driver if he had a permit to transport explosives through the city streets, to which the driver said that he did not think it was necessary to have a permit, as the firm for which he was employed, the Dittmar Powder Works, of Baychester, had put up a bond with the city.  Morrissey debated this for a time.  'Well, come with me,' he finally determined:  'go along to the police station and we will find out about it.'

On the way up Third avenue the wagon rattled over stones in the roadway, and every time this happened the policeman wondered how well packed that dynamite was.  The driver and his helper who was seated with him did not seem to mind it all.  Morrissey mentally resolved that the next time he arrested a mine on wheels he would lead it to the station over an asphalt paved street.

Arrived safely at the police station, the driver described himself as Peter Bax, 51, of Baychester.  He was locked up on the charge of violating the city ordinance in transporting explosives without a permit.  Lieutenant Clark, the desk officer, said he would not go into the legal phases involved, but would have to detain Bax until he got bail for his appearance in special sessions tomorrow.

The Dittmar works was notified of Bax's predicament and one of the officers said he would be over to bail Bax out, but at 1:30 o'clock this afternoon the red wagon with its warning sign was still standing before the police station on South Third avenue.

The dynamite was consigned to White Plains, where it will be used in blasting."

Source:  HAULED DYNAMITE THROUGH STREETS -- Discovery by Policeman when He Stops Wagon Inscribed 'Explosives' -- 500 POUNDS ON BOARD -- Made by Baychester Firm, Who Say They Have Bond Put Up With City -- BUT WHERE IS PERMIT? -- Case Will Come Up in Court -- Meantime Bail Is Asked of Man Under Arrest, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Jun. 5, 1914, No. 7468, p. 1, col. 4.   

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