Archive for the ‘ Urban Exploration ’ Category

Welcome to Cellblock 3: The Ghosts Here Are Probably Coughing

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Frequent visitors to Eastern State Penitentiary (ESP) in Philadelphia are familiar with the red cross on the gate— it’s the cellblock that visitors have been trying to sneak into for 20 years!   Cellblock 3, known as the hospital wing, has long held the public’s curiosity.  Abandoned for many years after the prison closed in 1971, it’s now open to the public for guided tours.   Visitors have long wished to explore this space, but its severe deterioration has made touring the hospital block almost impossible – until now.

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Opportunities to step past that head gate with the iconic cross have been few and far between. In the past, ESP has offered rare glimpses of the space with sporadic hard-hat tours, but the area was never stable enough to allow the normal foot-traffic of daily visitors.  To allow the public to view Cellblock 3, staff and volunteers had to stabilize the crumbling cellblock, remove debris, and create an informational experience for tourists.  The effort cost nearly $200,000 to complete.  The bulk of the money was raised through private funds and their Halloween fundraiser, Terror Behind the Walls.

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Now visitors can enter the former surgical suite that served thousands of prisoners, including Al Capone who had his tonsils removed there.  During his imprisonment at ESP, Capone had two surgeries. The second was most likely a circumcision–a procedure that was utilized at the time for treating syphilis.

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The rest of the hospital wing’s rooms are visible only from their doorways.  Described as a “monument to misery”, the rooms reflect the myriad of maladies suffered by the prison population and the treatments available to them. The hospital wing treated typhoid, influenza and common colds, among many other ailments. It also treated injuries from accidents and violence that occurred within the prison. Visitors can view the laboratory, X-ray lab, hydrotherapy room and the psychiatric department, along with specially designed cells that were meant to aid in the treatment of certain conditions.

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Known as one of the most haunted places in Pennsylvania, ESP was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world. Today it stands in ruin–a haunting world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers. Some 47 years after it was shuttered and abandoned for its intended use, noise–now from tourists and not from shouting inmates–reverberates. If there truly are ghosts there – a concept promoted each fall in the historic site’s Halloween fundraiser — chances are they are coughing.

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While in operation, tuberculosis was its most prevalent health issue inside the thick prison walls.  Before antibiotics, there was no cure for tuberculosis. The prison was dark, damp, and crowded with coughs and sneezes filling the air. Inmates eventually diagnosed with the contagious disease were moved and quarantined in special cells called “solarium cells” that provided more access to light, ventilation, and fresh air. TB patients also had their own hydrotherapy room, gymnasium, and recreation yard.

Most of the deaths that occurred at Eastern State Penitentiary happened in Cellblock 3.

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Cheri Sundra © 2018
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Tee Time No More –Abandoned Mini-Golf

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If you’re looking to play a few rounds of mini-golf, you may be out of time. It’s become such an increasingly difficult business climate for miniature golf courses that it’s now trendy for owners to  leave the business behind and cash in on their property instead.

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Miniature golf as we know it today started in the 1950s when David Lloyd opened a Putt-Putt Golf course in Fayetteville, North Carolina, with two unique innovations.  On his Putt-Putt course, each hole was encased by an aluminum barrier and the carpet was specifically designed for playing conditions.

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Within 20 years the Putt-Putt Golf Corporation had franchised out dozens of locations across the southeastern United States.

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The popularity of mini-golf began to slow down during the 90s with the rise of at-home technology.  Customers started to seek more interactive forms of entertainment.  And in the age of computers, kids just aren’t as interested in outdoor activities.  Some minituare golf course owners survived by evolving into “fun centers” by adding on additional activities like laser tage arenas, batting cages, bumper cars, go karts, and arcades.  Golf-only sites used to be the norm within the Putt-Putt Corporation, but today they’re few and far between.  Miniature golf by itself just doesn’t draw in customers anymore.

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We’ve experienced the same trend here in Northeastern Pennsylvania.  Rich’s Golf Center in Wyoming still remains closed after announcing that it wouldn’t open for the 2016 season.  And there was a miniature golf course on the Dallas Highway, right before Harvey’s Lake, for as long as I can recall– but it’s gone now.  The wooden sign out front said LAKEWAY GOLF.

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I don’t know anything about the history of that location other than information online indicating that it may have opened in 1955.

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After sitting as an abandonment for quite some time, it was eventually demolished well over a year ago.  Sadly, it’s another place that seems fated to become a part of our lost history.  If you know anything about LAKEWAY GOLF and have stories or pictures to share, please do.

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Abandoned Summit Resort: Saxy Sal, Dirty Dancing, & the Heart Shaped Bar

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The Summit Resort

Photo Courtesy of Jennifer O’Malia 

In 1995, the New York Daily News ran an article celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Honeymoon Industry in the Poconos. The Honeymoon Capital of the World began when Rudolph Von Hoevenberg opened the first resort, The Farm on the Hill, in 1945. The Farm was a very rustic operation consisting of some simple cabins and a main lodge.  Honeymooning brides were required to make beds and clean cabins, while grooms had to wait tables, which management said was their way to prepare their guests for married life.  The resort was so popular they had to institute a waiting list.

During the 1940s and 1950s more plush resorts began emerging in the area, which started a period of massive growth for the Honeymoon Business in the region.   In 1963, the first heart-shaped tub was introduced to Pocono honeymooners, and 1971 ushered in the racing era, when the Pocono International Raceway opened its 2 ½ mile superspeedway.  During the 1980s, whitewater rafting, outlet shopping, and golfing served to broaden the four-season appeal of the regional resort industry.  The 1990s were a bitter-sweet era, with several well-regarded resorts closing, while others made significant capital improvements to their facilities.

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The Summit Resort

Photo Courtesy of Giovanni Adavelli

According to that Daily News article, newlyweds planning a basic Poconos getaway in 1995 expected accommodations that included “a heart-shaped tub, heart-shaped bed, heart-shaped swimming pool or a 7-foot-tall champagne-glass whirlpool bath for two”.  The article states:

“The Summit Resort (Tannersville) prides itself in matching the splendor of the natural surroundings to its indoor space luxurious suites, sports facilities, dining rooms and exotic nightclub. Just steps from your bedside is a private pool with mirrored walls, romantic woodland mural and swirling jets of water.”

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*All Brochure Photos Courtesy  of Flickr’s colleen25g

Many have described the resort as an outlier.    The Summit, which was built in 1968, closed in September 2002, after the owners, Farda Realty LLC, decided they wanted to open an outlet shopping complex on the property, an idea that never became a reality.  Since then, the property structures have been condemned to existence as abandonments, with their glorious past long gone and no hope for their future.

Among those in the know, the plush, vinyl-clad, heart-shaped bar, once used as the glorious centerpiece of the Arabian Nights-themed “Scheherazade Night Club and Kismet Cocktail Lounge”, is considered the jewel of abandoned resort bars by photographers.

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While information about the resort is a little hard to come by, former guests looking to see if the beloved resort is still open are doing their part to keep memories alive by posting about their experiences on various travel sites.

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At least two former guests posting to those sites have said that The Summit was reminiscent of the resort in Dirty Dancing, the 1987 hit that takes place at the fictitious Kellerman Resort, which is, in the movie, located in the Catskills.  Just like the fictitious resort, The Summit offered activities such as hiking, horseshoes, ping pong, limbo, bowling, badminton, and volleyball, but the Poconos also had the Alpine Slide at Camelback!  And one couple staying at The Summit in 1983 recalled that “It was the only resort at that time that offered the pool and Jacuzzi tub in the room.”

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The Summit also had “breakfast in bed” which arrived in a wooden box that looked like some sort of animal trap, which was left at your door while the employee knocked and quickly ran away. One person wrote “We stayed in one of the little cabins and loved to light up the fireplace at night and swim in the heart shaped bathtub with lots of bubbles!”

 

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Gio The Summit 3Photo Courtesy of Giovanni Adavelli

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Those commenting say that the staff and food were great.  Some mentioned collecting love potion glasses by playing newlywed games.  The lobby was described as “a little piece of paradise”.   It had koi ponds, a footbridge, a lit rock walled waterfall and even a parrot!  Many returning guests said they liked taking a new picture of the waterfall each year they had the opportunity to return.

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Former guests most often post about “Saxy Sal”, a saxophone player for The Graci Brothers Band who said “bonswa” and always made everyone feel like family at The Summit.  Unfortunately, Salvatore Graci passed away in 2011. Many praised The Graci Brothers Band with comments like “the best band we ever had the pleasure of dancing to”.  A few recalled The Graci Brothers Band’s version of Carlos Santana’s “Smooth” as a personal favorite.

Other Summit employees leaving an impression among the guests were Tex, an activities director from 1987 and/or 1988; a show host reminiscent of Benny Hill;  a woman named Loretta who seated them at breakfast, lunch and dinner; Laxmi, a dining room server;  the “fun to be around photographer” that everyone called “Flash”;  The Astonishing Neal, a hypnotist; “a character” called “Smoky” who was the master of ceremonies in 1977; and “Fred Beven and the Difference in Brass” with their Big Band sound. Also scoring a few mentions were the chocolate crème pie and the Baked Alaska.

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Sadly, those staying at The Summit in 2000 and 2001 shared experiences that included negative comments about the tackiness of the décor, primarily mentioning the shag carpeting that permeated every inch of many cabins, a filmy substance covering the pool, a broken miniature golf course, and cabins they described as dirty, outdated and feeling “too much like the 1970s”.

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Yet, many staying at The Summit during the 80s said they hoped to return for their 25th anniversary.

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It was Jennifer O’Malia who introduced me to the concept of Urban Exploration

Style Photography in 2010.  Jenn, who has the unique vision of a

social documentarian, is now offering her services as a freelance photographer.

 Photo by Jennifer O’Malia 

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For Lovers Only–Abandoned Penn Hills Pocono Resort

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Photo Courtesy Rich Zoeller aka THAT KID RICH  

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Photo Courtesy of Jennifer O’Malia

Welcome to JizzneyLand!  Celebrated as the “Paradise of Pocono Pleasure” and “a place of unbridled passion”, the honeymoon resort known as Penn Hills catered to Swinging Young Couples.  With tacky, lust inspired décor like round beds, heart-shaped whirlpool bathtubs, gaudy floor-to-ceiling shag carpeting, and mirrors on the ceiling, the Hotel California had nothing on this place!

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Photo Courtesy of Adrienne Shellenberger aka GRAVE EXPECTATIONS 

If these walls could talk they’d tell stories of love, infidelity, lust, corruption and Mob connections! As soon as I started posting pictures from this location on social media, I had several women reach out to tell me tales of visiting here with suave Italian “business men”, who owned fancy cars, printing shops, drop ship businesses, video distribution companies, and other undefinable “business interests”.  Of course, no one wanted to be interviewed in detail “on the record”, but Billy D’Elia is the name that came up, in association with these men, several times as the three different women shared their stories with me.

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Photo Courtesy of Katherine Rogers

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Photo Courtesy of Katherine Rogers

While this location started as a tavern in 1944, the 500 acre resort grew to include skiing, golf, swimming, archery, ice skating, snowmobiling, tennis, an indoor game room, a massive dining hall, and a night/comedy club.  The property also contained one cool historical feature–modernist streetlights from the 1964 World’s Fair.

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1964 World’s Fair Street Light at Penn Hills

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Photo Courtesy of Jennifer O’Malia 

During its prime in the 1960s and 1970s, Penn Hills was so popular that reservations often had to be made months in advance.  Anyone living in the Tri-State Area during the 1970s will remember the TV commercials with the slogan: “Penn Hills for lovers only.  You’re never lonely at Penn Hills….. Just 90 minutes from New York City!”

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Photo Courtesy of Jennifer O’Malia

Located in Analomink, Monroe County, Pennsylvania, the resort began its decline in the late 1980s, along with many of the resorts and hotels in that same region.  Some blame the rising affordability of air travel at that time, coupled with the inexpensive packages available at all-inclusive resorts at destinations in countries like Mexico.  Others say the resorts in the Poconos were built up in anticipation of legalized casino gambling in the state of Pennsylvania, which didn’t materialize as quickly as developers assumed it would.

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Photo Courtesy of  Adrienne Shellenberger aka GRAVE EXPECTATIONS

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Photo Courtesy of Jennifer O’Malia

For whatever reason, lovers visiting Penn Hills in the new millennium found the accommodations horrifying during the last few years that it was open.   Consumer reviews from online travel sites definitely articulate how much the resort and its services deteriorated since its hey-days as a honeymoon destination spot.  Consumers described a resort that was deserted and scary.   They depict rooms that smelled moldy, contained outdated furniture, chipped paint and non-operational whirlpool tubs.  Accommodations were full of bugs, stains, and littered with graffiti containing slogans such as “We got screwed at Penn Hills”.  They also claimed that the drinks at the bar were watered down, the food was barely edible and the property was literally falling apart.   Reviews say that the wood on the buildings was rotting, the pool was peeling, the tennis courts had potholes, archery targets were no longer standing upright, and most of the buildings looked abandoned.

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Photo Courtesy Rich Zoeller aka THAT KID RICH Kat Penn Hills_DSC5735 copy Photo Courtesy of Katherine Rogers

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Photo Courtesy of Jennifer O’Malia

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Photo Courtesy of Adrienne Shellenberger aka GRAVE EXPECTATIONS

When Penn Hills co-founder, Frances Paolillo died in 2009 at the age of 102, the resort closed less than two months later. According to multiple internet sources, the workers’ final paychecks were never issued.  The Monroe County Tax Claim Bureau reported that Penn Hills owed about $1.1 million in back taxes and was on a payment plan since 2006 to defray that debt. Portions of the property were sold at tax sale. In June of 2013, the remaining parcel was purchased for $25,000 at a repository sale by Penn Resort Investment, LLC, based in Jim Thorpe.  According to newspaper reports, Stroud Township officials have been trying to get the new owners to secure the property.

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Photo Courtesy of Adrienne Shellenberger aka GRAVE EXPECTATIONS

Since declining into a state of abandonment, the resort, which was already in serious disrepair, has fallen victim to copper thieves, flooding, vandalism, and recent fires.  According to newspaper reports from December 2014, there have been a total of 98 instances requiring a police response at the resort since its closure, because of suspicious circumstances, burglary, and theft.  Stroud Township says if the current owners don’t cooperate, the township could eventually demolish the old resort and put a lien on the property.

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Photo Courtesy of Katherine Rogers

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Photo Courtesy Rich Zoeller aka THAT KID RICH 

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Photo Courtesy of Jennifer O’Malia

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Photo Courtsey of Adrienne Shellenberger aka GRAVE EXPECTATIONS

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Some of My Own Photos From That Location:

The Laugh with Abandonment Comedy Club

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The Abandoned Gift Shop

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The Abandoned Skating Rink

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Guest Rooms (some don’t seem totally “abandoned”)

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Guest Room 3

Abandoned Indoor Pool (no, that’s not ice)

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Abandoned Indoor Poolside Bar

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Ghost Estates: The Sanctuary

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If you try really hard, you can almost feel the positiveness of the developers when they named this sacred future hamlet, located in Mountain Top, Pennsylvania.  The land was purchased for development from Bishop James C. Timlin and named The Sanctuary. But the hulking abandoned shell of what was going to become a townhouse, which is the predominant view in your line of sight when entering this wanna-be housing development, tells a completely different story.  This place is like a blank page at the end of the last chapter of a book.  The street signs and hydrants may have been erected, but this mostly abandoned development is nothing but an attempted mirage of suburbia.  It’s the American Dream gone wrong.

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While cruising the desolate and primarily house-free streets, admiring the asphalt roads and empty lots, you realize that this Ghost Development is not entirely dead.  One house in the back is obviously occupied, and from another in the front, a dog could be heard yipping away from inside one of the cookie-cutter townhouses.

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Yet there are also partially landscaped yards in the process if reverting into scrappy, weed infested spaces, in front of dwellings left half-finished, abandoned and deteriorating.

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According to past newspaper reports, The Sanctuary has transformed into one couple’s suburban hell.  In an interview from 2009 with the only homeowners living in The Sanctuary at that time, they disclosed that water tainted by a dangerous industry solvent flows beneath their dream house with the cozy fireplace, expensive hardwood floors and spacious kitchen.   The homeowners voiced concern about being left with a $400,000 mortgage on a home that was worth considerably less in a stalled housing development.  To contribute to their problem, the housing development is linked to figures in one of the biggest scandals ever to rock Luzerne County.

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Sanctuary was conceived and developed by W-Cat Inc.   Federal prosecutors are very familiar with some of the names associated with that development company.  Three of them, former Luzerne County judges Michael T. Conahan and Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. and attorney Robert J. Powell, were key figures in what has become known as Kids for Cash, a judicial corruption scandal.

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Hotel Sterling Demolition: One Year Later

NOTE:

To mark the one year anniversary of the demolition of the Hotel Sterling, Welcome to the Zombie Hotel Sterling will be available as a FREE digital download on Amazon from July 25th thru July 29th.  Get ’em while you can!  If you don’t have a Kindle, the  app  is free too.

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Once upon a time, the city known as Wilkes-Barre enjoyed days of prosperity, primarily because of the growth of the anthracite industry in neighboring towns.   This hub of transportation and business activity  created a need within itself  to build a new hotel, during the golden era of the Grand Luxury Hotel.

When newspaper headlines said “Construction Work on Sterling Will Begin This Month”, a survey by “recognized authorities” concluded that the original plan for a strictly commercial hotel would not sufficiently meet the needs of the community.   It was “decided advisable to provide for a first class modern building in every way”.  The construction cost was estimated at $225,000.

In 1897, the Wilkes-Barre Times ran these GROUND PLANS for the hotel:

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That edition of the paper was so popular, due to the community buzz about the construction of the hotel, that the paper had to reprint the edition “by the request of those who wish, but cannot get copies to send to friends and relatives in other cities”.

Alongside the plans were some of the names suggested for the hotel by readers of the paper.  The suggestions included The Susquehanna, Hotel Hollenback, Hotel Anthracite, The Anthracite, Rivera Hotel Sterling, Hotel Susquehanna, The New Century, The Keystone, Hotel Ganoga, Riverside, Hotel de Sterling, Hotel Farragut, The Phoenix, The Gertrude, The Waldegrave and The Parish.

The Hotel opened in 1898, and the good times began!

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Hotel Sterling Crystal Ballroom during an event

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Hotel Sterling, Crystal Ballroom 2012

Sadly, a little over a hundred years later, the Hotel Sterling found itself in a community struggling to find a practical use for its aging and now out-dated structure full of history and sentiment.  Wilkes-Barre is a community struggling to reclaim a sustainable economy and way of life,  and memories aren’t enough to fund historical preservation projects.  Demolition began on the Hotel Sterling on July 25, 2013.

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How did the Hotel Sterling morph from a much anticipated Grand Luxury Hotel into a hopeless abandonment?  Hear the tale as told by the Hotel Sterling in:

WELCOME TO THE ZOMBIE HOTEL STERLING

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July 25th Thru July 29th on Amazon.com

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Abandoned Firework Factory: They Always Go Out With A Bang (Part 1)

Happy 4th of July

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Plugging the terms “Scranton & Black Powder Plant & Explosion” into a search engine can yield some horrific results. (WARNING to the faint of heart: Just stop reading here and wait for the less graphic follow-up post that will be available soon)

Apparently during the late 1800s and early 1900s, newspaper editors felt no need to shield the public at large from the graphic details of violent, industrial-related death.

Headlines like “Victims Blown To Pieces” and “One Man’s Heart is Found On The Roof Of Another Building” will leave even the most disgruntled office worker feeling slightly relieved that they get to earn their living shackled within the bland walls of their veal-pen-like cubical, away from material that is likely to blow them to smithereens at any given moment. It’s highly doubtful that you will ever be blown 150 feet in the air while responding to even the most explosive email, or that you will be violently repelled 200 feet away from your work station while employed as a corporate paper pusher.

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These historic newspaper accounts about black powder plant explosions tell the tale of those who report to work only to end up “horribly mangled” and “charred”.

One exceptionally gory account, published in 1892, about a black powder plant explosion in Moosic, Pennsylvania, describes a scene with bodies scattered in all directions, and a man who was hurled four hundred yards with his hands and his legs burned off. The majority of the victims were granted the “blessing of instant death”.   Emergency responders spent hours searching for the limbless trunk of one victim who was “hurled fully 400 yards away” when 50 kegs of powder exploded at the plant.

One survivor gave the following account of his experience to reporters:

“I was at work at the press with THERON COOLBAUGH. We heard the report from the glazing mill and we ran out. Then the Corning Mill blew up. We dashed wildly into the woods, expecting that the press would go next. There we saw GEORGE ELLIS all on fire. He was running around, and when he saw me he shouted: ‘DAVE, pull off my clothes. Oh, hurry and help me.’ I ran up to him, and in an instant my clothes were ablaze, too. They were my powder clothes. Whether they caught fire by my placing my hands on ELLLIS, or whether the burning grass did it. I cannot tell. I tried to tear my clothes off and fought the fire as hard as I could. Then WILLIAM WEIR, who was washing in the wash shanty, came running out with two coats that had been soaking in the trough. He said: ‘Lie down quick, DAVE.’ I did so, and he threw the wet coats over me. This put the fire out and I was saved except as to my feet. My work in the press was to shovel powder, and my shoes for that reason easy to be set afire. The flames were worst about them, and that is the rason (sic) my toes are so badly burned. WEIR and COOLBAUGH also succeeded in helping ELLIS, but he was badly burned.”

He went on to describe one of his co-workers: “arms had been burned off to the elbow and his face greatly disfigured. His appearance was still more terrible on account of the fact that the culm into which he had fallen made him still more blacker than the devastating powder had originally made him. His body was nearly burned in two at abdomen.”

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Most reports about black powder plant explosions during that era end by saying something such as “whatever of the remains of the victims could be found were gathered together and placed in rough wooden boxes”. And then the  final word goes to the monetary loss that will be experienced by the owner of the plant. In the case of the plant in Moosic, it was expected to be $10,000. No mention is made about the loss that was going to be experienced by the families and loved ones of the deceased workers.

Please have a SAFE and happy holiday weekend!~~Cheri

P.S.  Be sure to check back soon for Part 2!

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