Investigators Are Agreed Cause of Blast Can Not Be Determined
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.
Building Blown To Bits
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 the plant.
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.
Two Bodies In Eldred
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.
Unable To Advance Reason
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.