THREE SEPARATE PROBES INTO ELDRED EXPLOSION FATAL TO FIVE CONCLUDED
Investigators Are Agreed Cause of Blast Can Not
BLAST ROCKS AREA
Explosion Is Heard for Miles; Victims of Blast Identified
|Eldred, PA, Thursday, October 18, 1939 - Three separate investigations
into a mysterious explosion which killed five men this morning at
the plant of the National Powder Company two miles north of here
were terminated tonight with announcements that the cause of the
blast could not be determined. Deputy Coroner George P. Lull of
Bradford said he had certified the deaths as accidental and given
permission for removal of the remains of the victims to undertaking
establishments here, in Emporium and in Portville, NY. H.C. Hutchinson,
of Titusville, district supervisor of inspection for the state department
of labor and industry, and Gurney Bell, of Youngsville, inspector
for the department, also said the cause of the blast could not be
ascertained. Sheriff Merle Dickinson, of Smethport, indicated he
felt the blast was accidental and that a cause could not be determined.
Terse Statement Unamplified
|Officials of the company had not amplified and earlier statement
which identified the victims and said the cause of the blast was
not yet determined. The victims of the explosion were identified
as: John Thomas Devling, 23, and Clair Wise, 22 both of Eldred;
Leo LeRoy Davis, 28, and Merle G. Eldridge, 21, both of Portville,
NY; and Cyril Welton Lewis, 43, of Emporium. The five men were blown
to bits by the explosion, which occurred at 8:50 a.m. in the gelatin
pack house of the plant. The state inspectors reported they had
been informed the men were mixing gelatin, an underwater explosive
similar to dynamite. It was estimated unofficially that approximately
1,200 pounds of the compound exploded. The blast rocked the entire
area and was felt as far away as Bolivar, NY, Port Allegany and
Smethport. The shock wave was especially severe in Eldred and Duke
Center, and many windows in these communities were broken.
|The thirty-foot square structure which housed the gelatin plant
was of framed wood and stone construction, and was covered by sheet
metal. It was blown to bits in the blast. Investigators believed
the main force of the explosion was spent in an upward direction,
as only a small hole was blown beneath the site of the building.
A magazine approximately 1,000 feet from the ruined plant was not
damaged and other buildings were reported unhurt. The plant occupies
a large area of brush-covered ground along the Eldred-Olean highway.
Late tonight the site of the blast was still closed to the public
by officials of the firm. Only authorities had been admitted to
Two Bodies Taken To Portville
|Merle Eldridge, one of the blast victims, was to have been married
next Sunday in Syracuse, NY, friends reported. He is the son of
Everett Eldridge, Jr, publisher of the Eldred and Portville weekly
papers. Deputy Coroner Lull said he had been informed that another
victim, Clair Wise, had been married last Sunday. The remains of
Eldridge and Leo Davis were taken to the Marble undertaking home
in Portville. In addition to his parents, Eldridge is survived by
his grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Everett Eldridge, Sr., and a sister,
Edna, all residents of Portville. Davis is survived by his wife,
his parents and two small children.
|The remains of Devling and Wise were brought to the Marsh funeral
home in Eldred. Authorities said they understood Devling lived here
with his brother. Wise's bride and mother were understood to reside
near Emporium. The body of Lewis was taken to the Coppersmith funeral
home in Emporium. The blast spread dust-like debris for thousands
of yards around the plant, one of the largest in this section of
Pennsylvania. Late this afternoon only scattering bits of the men's
bodies had been found. Forty-five other men employed in the plant
were reported to have escaped uninjured, although Coroner Lull said
he was informed one employee received minor injuries when he was
hit by flying debris.
|L.W. Watkins, foreman in the plant, told state inspector that
he had left the gelatin plant approximately twenty minutes before
the blast occurred. He said he was returning t the plant and was
near the dynamite packing house when the blast let loose with a
terrific roar. He told the inspector that the five men killed in
the explosion all ere in good physical shape, and could advance
no reason for the accident. Clarence Studley, a plant employee,
is believed to be the last man to have left the gelatin plant before
the blast. He told Coroner Lull he had gone to the case house to
unload gelatin and powder there approximately fifteen minutes before
the explosion. The force of the blast knocked him to the ground
but he was uninjured. A Pennsylvania Railroad siding near the ruined
plant was moved almost eight feet by the force of the explosion.
The main tracks of the railroad and the Allegany River also are
near the plant. The office building of the company is located on
the main highway, approximately 2,000 feet from the shattered plant.
Officers T.C. Buchter and H.F. Gorka of the Smethport barracks of
the state motor police were called to the plant to direct traffic
which jammed the highway until late tonight. The National Powder
Company is an independent concern. Frank Wilson, President, and
Lawrence Minnich, General Manager, of the company were not available
late tonight. Other officials said both men were absent on business
from the plant today.
Separate Funeral Rites For Five Men Planned
|Separate funeral services are being planned for the five victims
of a gelatin explosion which yesterday wrecked a portion of the
National Powder Company's plant north of Eldred, it was reported
today. Services will be held in Portville, NY, for two victims of
the blast, Leo LeRoy Davis, 29, and Merle Eldridge, 21. The funeral
of Mr. Davis will be held at 2:30 p.m., Saturday, October 21, at
the home of his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Floyd Davis, with the Rev.
George Loehr, pastor of the Portville Presbyterian church, officiating.
Burial will be in Port Allegany. Mr. Davis is survived by his wife,
Mrs. Gladys Carr Davis, formerly of Smethport; two sons, harry and
Eugene, his parents; two sisters, Mrs. Ralph Bailey of Coneville
and Mrs. Vincent Tucker of Olean; and his grandmother, Mrs. Rhoda
Davis of Portville. Services for Mr. Eldridge will be tomorrow also
in the Portville Presbyterian church at 2:00 p.m. Mr. Eldridge was
to have been married next Sunday to Miss Clarice Preston of Syracuse,
NY. The officiating clergymen will include Rev. Loehr, the Rev.
Vincent Growney, pastor of the Portville Catholic church, and the
Rev. Homer Evans, pastor of the Portville Methodist church, former
pastor of the Asbury Methodist church in Bradford.
Funeral services for two other victims of the blast, Cyril W. Lewis,
43, and Thomas Devling, 23, will be held in Emporium. The funeral
of Mr. Lewis will be held at 2:00 p.m. Saturday at the Emporium
Methodist church, with the Rev. William Armstrong, pastor, officiating.
Burial will be in Newton Cemetery, at East Emporium. Surviving of
Mr. Lewis are his wife, Mrs. Bessie Lewis, and a daughter, Mrs.
June Wheaton, both of Emporium. Funeral services will be held at
2:30 p.m. at Sterling Run Methodist church, near Emporium, Saturday.
The young blast victim was the second generation of his family to
die in a powder explosion. His father, Delbert Devling, was killed
nine years ago in an explosion at a powder company in White Haven,
PA. Three generations of his family have been employed in the manufacturing
of explosives. Surviving are his mother, Mrs. May Devling of Sterling
Run; four brothers, William and Leo of Eldred, Francis of Camden,
OH, and Earl of Sterling Run; and two sisters, Mrs. Marie Summerson
and Miss Maxine Devling, both of Sterling Run. Burial will be in
the church cemetery.
Services for another victim of the blast, Clair N. Wise, 22, will
be held Sunday afternoon at the Leavy funeral home in Clearfield.
Mr. Wise was married last Sunday in Smethport to Norma Davis, of
Smethport, who resides in Eldred. Other survivors include three
sisters, Miss Mary Wise, Mrs. Josephine Kennedy and Miss Thelma
Sonke, all of Clearfield; and five brothers, Edward, Robert, Blake
and Blair of Clearfield, and James of Malvern, OH. The Rev. R.G.
Zimmerman, pastor of the Clearfield Methodist church, will officiate
at the services. Burial will be in Hill Crest cemetery there.