Middlesex Co., New Jersey
Genealogy and History
a small part of the NJGENWEB and USGENWEB Projects
New York Tribune
New York City, New York
October 5, 1918
Page 1 And 4
Originally transcribed for the newspaper abstracts
archives at Rootsweb in 2001 by Jacqueline Ryckman.
'TNT' WRECKS SHELL PLANT; NEARLY 100 LOSE LIVES 1,500 POUNDS OF EXPLOSIVE STARTS BLASTS IN BIG GILLESPIE FACTORIES THIRTEEN UNITS OF WORKS BLOW UPSOUTH AMBOY CITIZENS IN PANIC AS ALL WINDOWS IN TOWN ARE SHATTERED PERTH AMBOY, N.J., Oct. 4 -- The explosion of 1,500 pounds of trinitrotoluol in one of the thirteen units of the government shell loading plant managed by the T. A. Gillespie Loading Company, at Morgan, five miles from here, followed by a series of smaller explosions and a widespread fire, wrecked the plant, the largest of its kind in the United States, last night and killed and injured a large number of workers.
The number of dead has not been determined, for early this morning the fire was still burning and it was impossible to approach some of the buildings. The police believe that they will amount nearly to a hundred, with more than that number seriously hurt.
Early this morning only eight bodies had been recovered. One of these was reported to be Arthur H. Stanton, of Perth Amboy, superintendent of the destroyed unit of the plant. This has not been confirmed.
EXPLOSIONS' CAUSE NOT KNOWN
The first explosion took place in one of the loading buildings of the factory, known as unit 6-1-1. Its cause has not been determined. Department of Justice officials are making an investigation.
All night long ambulances kept rushing back from Morgan with their loads of injured. The hospitals in Perth Amboy and South Amboy were soon filled, and the scores of physicians who responded to the emergency call from nearby towns had more than they could do.
The Parker House, a Perth Amboy hotel, was transformed into a temporary hospital, but even with this addition the injured at times lay in longer lines on the streets awaiting treatment.
SOARING SHELLS EXPLODE
Besides the heavier blasts, caused by entire buildings exploding, there was the additional horror of shellfire. Hundreds of loaded shells were set off by the flames and soared through the air like monster rockets, exploding in the streets and over the roofs of Morgan.
Many of the small buildings of which the plant is mainly composed went skyward in the series of blasts that preceded the fire, or else were burned thereafter. In all there were twenty or thirty explosions in the space of five minutes, shortly after 8 o'clock. Immediately thereafter the sky was lighted by the glare of widespread flames.
TWO HUNDRED IN BUILDING
Two hundred men were at work in this building. Of those only seven have thus far been accounted for. Officials of the company believe that many of the workers fled to their homes. They will be able to give no accurate list of casualties until the payroll is checked up today.
Following the first and heaviest blast, the electric lights of Morgan went out of commission. From then on the work of rescuing the injured went on only by the glare of the towering flames./
ERECT TENT FOR WOUNDED
A tent was hastily erected on the outskirts of the industrial etnere, and here the wounded were brought for first aid as rapidly as they were picked up. The ground about the demolished buildings seemed to have been literally strewn with them.
Many had been hurried broadcast by the force of the explosions. Others had run from the buildings badly hurt and had kept on until they dropped. Men with stretchers went about the length and breadth of the plant searching for victims. As the fire died down their work became increasingly difficult. Most of the night they groped about, hunting with flashlights and lanterns.
Dazed and knocked about by explosion after explosion, the telephone operator of the Gillespie Company stuck to her switchboard. Every pane of glass in the building was broken, and for a time it was believed that it too would take fire. She remained at her post however, and did invaluable service in sending in calls for physicians and fire apparatus.
Rescuers not only had their hands full with care for the injured, but at times they were forced to aid in fighting back the crowd of frantic women whose husbands and sons worked in the plant. They poured out of the employees' homes in Morgan and South Amboy; they stampeded across the Raritan trestle, and fought hard to break through to where the buildings were flaming in order to search out their relatives./
In the five minutes that followed the first explosions this part of New Jersey was shaken by a series of blasts like the rapid firing of heavy artillery. Perth Amboy was thrown into confusion by the tremendous concussions and South Amboy was badly damaged.
Immediately all available assistance, firefighting and medical, was rushed to Morgan. While the explosions were still crashing ambulances started on the dead run from Perth Amboy Hospital. A few minutes later and the wires were hot, summoning every available bit of fire apparatus from New Brunswick, Rahway and Elizabeth.
South Amboy, a mile and a half from Morgan, suffered heavily. Every pane of glass in the town was shattered by the force of the explosions. Rocked by blast after blast, choked by smoke and dazzled by fierce bursts of flame that ran along the horizon after each concussion, the people of the town, mainly foreigners, were thrown into panic.
Gathering up the most precious of their household goods, they fled. For an hour the bridge across the Raritan, which links the community with Perth Amboy, was chocked by hundreds of refugees, fleeing to safety on foot, by horse and by automobile. Women lost their husbands and children lost their parents in the push that fought and struggled across the causeway. The clanging of the ambulances from Perth Amboy and the hooting of fire engines from other cities, as they ploughed their way as rapidly as possible through the terror-stricken mob of fugitives, added to the confusion.
In the hour following the first explosion, South Amboy was stripped of half of its normal population.
As far as can be learned, the first of the series of explosions occurred about the time the night shift was to go to work. The explosion was followed by others, in quick succession There was a lull, and then came a dozen or more of the explosions. Some of these were so severe they were heard miles away, and in some instance/s glass was broken in houses and stores five to ten miles from the scene.
People living in Westfield, Metuchen, Plainfield and other municipalities in that part of the state felt the detonations and were certain the explosions had occurred in their immediate vicinity.
For additional information see: T. A. Gillespie Company Shell Loading Plant explosion AKA Morgan Depot Explosion at Wikipedia