Morgan Munitions Blast Remembered 80 Years Later

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October 20, 1998                     MIDDLESEX COUNTY NEWS                                   PAGE 2


        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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