CAMDEN, NEW JERSEY
EXPLOSION AT THE GAS PLANT
Locust Street & Cherry Street
March 9, 1932
Nick Tulini told me about this incident, where his grandfather was killed. An event of this magnitude is a story worth retelling. Any comments or questions, corrections or additions, are gladly welcomed.
|Camden Courier-Post - March 9, 1932|
Camden Courier-Post - March 9, 1932
"They are in there- dead"
That shrill scream from the chilled lips of a relative of two men trapped in the steel tomb of the purifying box at the Public Service gas plant at Locust and Cherry Streets today almost started a panic among l,000 persons, gathered at the scene a few minutes after a mysterious explosion snuffed out the lives of more than a dozen men.
The cry of horror and grief was taken up by others as they pressed against the woven wire fence about the company s property. Panic was averted by the policemen and firemen who had reached the scene a few minutes after the blast.
The excitement started when Frank Pizzatilla, of Walnut Street near Third, climbed up the narrow steel stairway that led to the top of the purifying box and looked upon a scene of horror within the square steel tomb.
Pizzatilla, who had rushed to the plant with several hundred others when word of the tragedy spread, said he recognized the seared bodies of his father and father-in-law in the seething mass below.
He started to walk down the narrow, steel stairway that formed the only means of reaching the lone entrance to the purifying box. Below the hundreds of relatives and friends of the doomed men watched him with anxiety.
“In There Dead”
are in there- dead,” he screamed.
fell in a faint and
for a fireman, Pizzatilla would have toppled to the ground, fully 20
feet below. Other firemen and policemen rushed up the narrow stairway
and carried Pizzatilla down.
As his inert body was being carried toward an ambulance, cries of bitter hatred were heard. They came from a relative of another victim. He shouted vile curses upon the officials of the company, upon the firemen and upon the policemen. He called them murderers. He yelled for a revolver, shouting that he would avenge the death of the trapped men.
him gathered a number of persons, most of them of foreign extraction, or
colored, for the majority of the victims were colored, The situation
Every policeman and fireman who could be spared from the gruesome work of trying to reach the entombed bodies rushed the crowd. Lieutenant George Ward and several policemen grabbed a heavy, long rope from one of the nearby fire wagons.
the rope was stretched across Locust Street at the intersection and a
tug of war started, with the crowd surging against the rope and
policemen and firemen pulling at both ends, sweeping them backward into
the crowd under control, the police began to search for the man, whose
cries for revenge had started the hundreds milling around in groups, but
he had disappeared in the crowd.
Then Locust Street below Cherry was roped off with little difficulty and a line of policemen took their positions across Cherry Street between the two gas tanks that stand on the northeast and southeast corners. People who attempted to reach the plant were turned back.
use going any farther," the policemen would tell each person who
tried to get up closer. "All the men in
tank are dead and there is nothing anyone can do except remove the
bodies when the tank is cooled down.
These words seemed to have a quieting effect upon the hundreds that had tried to rush the police lines. Gradually the people left for their homes An hour after the blast there was less than 100 spectators at the scene.
Camden Courier-Post - March 10, 1932
So badly were the bodies burned that identification was extremely difficult. It was early evening before identification was complete. The dead are:
John Alberta, 55, of 1275 Walnut Street, father of eight children.
Puzzitiella, 53, of 1005
Street, father of four sons.
Pasquale Curiale, 48, of 338 Walnut Street, father of eight children.
Frank DeLarge, 51, of 324 South 5th street, father of three children.
Nunzio Ferraro, 51, of 1131 South 4th Street, single.
Anderson; 30, colored,
northeast corner Second and Pine
Streets, no children
Williams, 33, colored, of 277 Sycamore
Street, father of
John Pollard, 32, colored, of 1065 Ivins Street, no children.
Watson, 65, colored, of 123
Bilanko, 43, who lived in a club room at Locust Street and Kaighn
Avenue and boarded at the home of Pedro Blair, 1225 Hyde
Farrell Coleman, 44, colored, northeast corner of Second and Pine Streets, single.
The first six were employed regularly by the company. The others were unemployed in the neighborhood, hired especially to clean out the purifier yesterday.
List of Injured
The other injured, all of whom were taken to Cooper
Hillman Bryant, 30, colored, 109 Chestnut Street, burns on face, head and hands.
Harry Read, colored, of 111
Street, burns on the
head and face.
Harry Hall, 27, colored, of 718 South Second Street, burns on the head and face.
Read and Hall were taken to their
homes after receiving hospital treatment.
Patrolman Walter Patton of the First District suffered a cut on his left arm while digging in the debris for bodies. He was treated at the hospital and returned to the station house.
After working with the police and firemen for several
hours, James Bevan, 1447 Kaighn
Avenue, foreman at the plant, collapsed just as the last body was
removed. Physicians treated him for exhaustion and shock and he was taken
to his home.
Another workman, Peter Alemi, 35, of 1010 South 4th Street, a volunteer who helped firemen in removing the last body, was overcome by fumes in the tank and was treated at the hospital.
Red Cross aid to the stricken families of the victioms was offerd by William T. Read, chairman of the Camden County chapter. Public Service officials were informed that the national Red Cross headquarters had listed this tragedy as a “disaster” for which relief was available,.
Nicholas Tulini March 11, 1932
for the Gas Plant Explosion article. I gave my family your web site and
circulated the article. It really made me realize the horrible impact
the tragedy must have had on my family and the other families at that
time. My dad told me that the only way he was able to identify his
father was to have the work boots cut off the bodies so that he could
recognize a bandaged foot from an accident the night before the
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