4.  Tales of Destruction...Thawing Can Be Hell

Fate is not satisfied with inflicting one calamity.--Publius Syrus

McLaurin went on to say, "The sensation produced by the first fatality had not entirely subsided when the second victim was added to a list that has since lengthened appallingly.  To ensure comparative safety, the deadly stuff was kept in magazines located in isolated places.  In 1867, the Roberts Petroleum Torpedo Co. built one of these receptacles two miles from Titusville, in the side of a hill excavated for the purpose.  Thither Patrick Brophy, who had charge, went as usual one fine morning in July of 1868.  An hour later a terrific explosion burst upon the surrounding country with indescribable violence.  Horses and people on the streets of Titusville were thrown down, chimneys tumbled, windows dropped into atoms, and for a time the panic was fearful.  Then the thought suggested itself that the glycerine-magazine had blown up.  At once thousands started for the spot.  The site had been converted into a huge chasm, with tons of dirt scattered far and wide.  Branches of trees were lopped off as though cut by a knife and hardly a particle could be found of what had so recently been a sentient being, instinct with life and feeling and fondly anticipating a happy career.  The unfortunate youth bore an excellent character for sobriety and forcefulness.  He was a young Irishman, had been a brakeman on the Farmer's Railroad, and visited the magazine frequently to make experiments.  To this day no cause has ever been discovered and admittedly there was nothing left in the way of clues to go on.  This incident caused the magazine to be relocated."

The Titusville Morning Herald reported the Brophy mishap, "About a quarter before three o'clock yesterday afternoon our citizens were deafened and appalled by a concussion which shook every building to its foundations, prostrated men in the streets, shattered widows, and seemed veritably the crack of doom.  In an instant the streets were filled with people, looking about for the cause of the disaster, which was indicated by a spiral column of smoke rising from the northwestern part of the city.  There were but few buildings in the city that escaped the effects of the explosion.  Two panes of the large plate glass front of R.T. Hazzard's dry goods establishment were broken into minute particles and added to the general terror of the pedestrians upon the street by its crash upon the sidewalk.  Nearby the entire front of Patrick Goodwin's salon were thrown in and splintered, as were the windows of many residences upon Spring St.  In Fletcher's block large lights of glass were shivered, as were those of nearly every building upon Franklin St., clear to the bridge that crosses Oil Creek.  Several windows of the Union School Building were shattered and the scholars in all the departments rushed tumultuously out, screaming in fright.

"The force of the explosion came perceptibly from the northwest, and it is the south side of Spring and the eastern side of Franklin Streets that suffered the greatest destruction.  The force of the concussion is indicated by the fact that the bell in the Presbyterian church struck two or three times.  Chimneys were thrown down in some parts of the city, while in many houses plastering fell and doors were burst open.  People on the street said the first intimation of the explosion was the falling glass from broken windows, and before the report of the explosion reached this point a crackling sound similar to the sound of rustling paper was heard, followed immediately by the grand concussion which so startled the city and threw teams of horses to the ground.

"At once there was a rush of people towards the scene of the disaster, which lay a few rods north and east of the Driving Park beyond the city line and about one mile from the Post Office.  Hundreds of people were soon congregated near the smoking debris of what was known as The Roberts Petroleum Torpedo Co.'s nitroglycerine magazine, but no one ventured to approach it within a hundred yards.  The effects of the explosion in the vicinity of the magazine can only be imagined by those who have witnessed the terrible destruction attendant upon heavy artillery firing, or the explosion of shells upon forest and field.  For a hundred yards in every direction the earth was torn up and ploughed up as in a newly ploughed field.  Trees a foot in diameter were cut up and splintered as if by the lightning stroke, and those left standing were nearly denuded of limbs.  Heavy logs were lifted from the ground where they had lain embedded for years and hurled an eighth of a mile over the tree tops.  Stones weighing from 10 to 500 pounds were thrown over one and one sixteenth mile from the scene of the explosion, one granite boulder weighing sixty pounds being picked up near Buckland's tavern on the Hydetown Road [If this were true it is over 3 miles distance].  The high board fence surrounding the race track was thrown in every direction, while the ground for many yards beyond the scene of destruction was covered with fresh earth, bits of timber, splinters, and fragments of the torpedo shells or cases used to contain the glycerine when in the torpedo.  The entire field occupied by the race track, together with the highway leading from the city to the trotting course, was literally covered with pieces of cast iron which in many cases, were driven far into the earth by the effects of the concussion.

"Dr. Walter B. Roberts the brother of Col. E.A.L. Roberts, who was on the ground soon after the explosion, expressed the opinion that a considerable quantity of nitroglycerin remained unexploded and there was an imminent peril of a second explosion.  He further stated that previous to the explosion, the magazine contained six thousand pounds of nitroglycerine.  He said that the only person to have been in the magazine at the time of the explosion was Patrick Brophy, employed by the company as an agent.  Brophy had stated that he intended to visit the magazine that afternoon for the purpose of thawing out some nitroglycerin.  He had received no special instructions from the company, and appears to have acted upon his own responsibility.  The fact that there was at least one victim of the explosion was plainly apparent in the fragments of a human body and little shreds of clothing which were found scattered about the fields, and were collected together by pitying hands.  The sum total of his remains ever found consisted of a few shreds of clothing and flesh, the largest portion of his body being a section of the hip joint!"

McLaurin tells this sad story of thawing nitroglycerin in 1870,  "In the fall a young man lost his life almost as singularly as Fetterman.  He attended a well at Shamburg, seven miles south of Titusville.  The well was torpedoed on a cold day.  To thaw the glycerine a tub was filled with hot water, into which the cans were put.  When sufficiently thawed they were taken out, the glycerine was poured into the shell and the torpedoing was done satisfactorily.  The tubing was replaced in the well and the young pumper went to turn on the steam to start the engine, carrying a pair of tongs with him.  He threw the tongs into the tub of water. In an instant the engine-house was demolished by a fierce explosion.  The luckless youth was killed and his body mangled.  A small amount of glycerine must have leaked from the cans while they were thawing, as the result of which a soul was hurried into the presence of its Maker with alarming suddenness."

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