MORGAN MUNITIONS BLAST REMEMBERED 80 YEARS LATER
On October 4, 1918, building # 61 in the
T. A. Gillespie Shell Loading Plant in Morgan exploded causing the evacuation of South
Amboy. To this day the cause remains unclear. Initial reports blamed the
explosion on an accidental spark, company negligence and German sabotage. Sixty-four
residents and employees died from the explosion but more than 300 died from an outbreak of
Spanish influenza that came in the weeks after the blast.
South Amboy at the time was home to seven
wartime munitions plants that emplyed the local residents. This particular plant was
one of the largest facilities of its kind. At one time it provided 10% of the shells
used at the front. These shells were stacked on open railroad cars and under floorboards
at the facility. The 7:36 P.M. initial blast was followed by three days of
subsequent blasts. Local historian Frank Yusko has made a video recounting the
ordeals of the explosions. The effects of the blast were felt as far away as
Newark. Most houses in South Amboy suffered shattered windows, crumbling plaster
walls and blown over chimneys. Damage was estimated at $18 million dollars.
The current Victory Bridge was the site of refugees fleeing to Perth Amboy and
Sewaren. Some families were sheltered at Rahway Prison (now East Jersey State
Prison) in Woodbridge.
1918 was the year that the Spanish influenza
claimed lives throughout the United States and these refugees were no exception. The
cold and damp October weather combined with the refugee conditions claimed over 300 lives.
The area has long been littered with unspent
shells. In 1995 shell parts were found on the property of Sayreville's Eisenhower
School. 5,080 shell parts were recovered by the end of 1997 by the Army Corps of
Engineers. A spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers said that it was unlikely
that these fragments posed any serious threat but could not rule out the possibility that
more shells could be found in this area.
Original article appeared in the Home News Tribune on Sunday,
October 4, 1998.
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