Thursday, October 14, 2010
Thriller Thursday - The Cleveland Clinic Explosion May 15, 1929
From The May 16, 1929 Benton Harbor, Michigan News-Palladium
CLEVELAND HOLOCAUST STRUCK WITHOUT WARNING, SPREADING POISONOUS GAS.
FIRE QUICKLY FOLLOWS IN WAKE OF DEADLY FUMES.
SECOND EXPLOSION SPREADS TEROR AS PEOPLE FALL IN THEIR TRACKS
DOCTORS, NURSES AND PATIENTS OVERCOME AND DIE IN AGONY AS GAS KEEPS RESCUERS FROM COMING TO THEIR AID -- MOST DREADFUL DISASTER EVER KNOWN IN CLEVELAND -- DEATH LIST GROWS AS VICTIMS SUCCUMB IN HOSPITALS.
Cleveland, May 15 -- (AP) -- Poison gas and two explosions which followed burning of X-ray films in the Cleveland clinic today claimed nearly 100 lives.
Tonight there were 98 known dead and hospital authorities worked desperately to administer artificial respiration to 43 others who were overcome. Victims of the disaster were dying at short intervals and physicians sent out appeals for additional oxygen in the fear that the supply in the city might prove insufficient. Oxygen is declared the only effective means of overcoming the gas burns.
Nearly all of the deaths were attributed to the deadly gas which filtered through the four story brick building slowly at first and then, augmented by a second and greater explosion than the first, rushed up from the basement and cut off escape down the stairways and elevators.
Survivors said those asphyxiated were dead, their faces turning yellowish brown color within two minutes after inhaling the gas.
The fumes were given off by fire of undetermined origin which destroyed X-ray films in the basement. Some pharmacists said it was bromine gas, while DR. WILLIAM E. LOWER, one of the founders of the clinic, said it resembled the deadly phosgene gas employed in the World war.
It was ironic that the disaster occurred in the very place where the most advanced instruments and laboratories of science had been turned against pain and death. The clinic was owned principally by DR. GEORGE W. CRILE, nationally known physician, who was too occupied with relief work to comment of the catastrophe.
Despite the heavy loss of life, firemen estimated the property damage at only $50,000.
The dead were patients, doctors, and nurses who filled the four-story structure at 11:30 o'clock the busiest hour of the morning.
The first explosion came when X-ray films stored in the basement caught fire releasing deadly fumes. The fumes penetrated to the waiting room on the floors above.
The hollow center of the building soon filled with gases. The intense heat below sent the fumes swirling upward. Before any one had opportunity to escape a second blast blew out the skylight and filled every corner of the building with the deadly bromine gas.
Occupants had no way of escape but the windows, and few were able to reach them. These were enveloped in the fumes which hung about the building and they collapsed.
The two street entrances were choked, and the stairways leading to the roof were heavy with fumes. Every piece of fire apparatus available was centered at the clinic and every vehicle possible was commandeered to remove the bodies. An hour and a half later all had been taken to nearby hospitals.
The first blast was heard by Police HENRY THORPE, walking two blocks away. He immediately turned in an alarm and ran to the building, at Euclid avenue and 93rd street.
A block away he was blinded by the gas. The first firemen to arrive turned in a second alarm and police, hospital and county morgue ambulances were concentrated about the building.
Battalion Fire Chief JAMES P. FLYNN, with his driver, LOUIS HILLENBRAND, were the first to enter the building. They reached the roof and chopped a hole leading to a stairway, then dropped a ladder to the fourth floor landing. Below they found sixteen bodies, one a doctor and another a nurse, strewn along the staircase.
The physician, DR. J. L. LOCKE, was taken out first and was revived. Five of the others were taken to the roof and carried down ladders as arriving firemen battered in windows to reach those inside.
Ambulances and taxicabs were used to take them to hospitals. DR. GEORGE W. CRILE, head of the clinic, gave orders that all victims be taken to the closest source of oxygen, their only hope of life.
Some were taken to the Cleveland clinic hospital, adjoining the clinic building. The others were taken to Mt. Sinai, Huron Road and Charity hospitals.
Emergency equipment was set up outside the building as the fumes lifted and permitted rescuers to work in safety. Police lines were thrown about the district to reroute traffic and hold in check a crowd of several thousand onlookers.
Inside the building firemen found many lying in the spot where the blasts found them. Rooms set aside for clinical examinations were occupied by patients and physicians. Some sat in chairs of the waiting room, overcome as the first cloud of gas swept up from the basement. Others in the front of the building were stretched along the stairs.
The rescuers found evidences of the suddenness with which disaster came to those inside the building on every hand. Hats and shoes were scattered about abandoned in the flight of those able to fight off the fumes long enough to make a frantic attempt at escape.
Surgical equipment lay ready for use in the examining rooms. In the X-ray developing room a roll of film was stretched to dry. A wheel chair with the blanket thrown aside blocked a balcony overlooking the waiting room. A stenographer's half finished letter was found in an office.
Everything was abandoned as the victims realized too late that the brown fumes curling through door casings and along the halls carried death.
Most of them were to make no attempt to save themselves. No bed patients were kept in the clinic and many of those there had appeared for medical examinations, were able to attempt escape. But so sudden was the catastrophe that none had time to reach the open air and safety.
Emergency provisions were made at the hospitals and as these became overflowed a residence near the clinic was made into a temporary first aid station. Cots were set in halls at Mt. Sinai hospital and as fast as the victims succumbed they were removed for the oncoming line of ambulances. The unknown dead were taken immediately to county morgue, which was taxed as never before. Anxious relatives who arrived at the clinic to learn that members of their families had been removed gathered at the morgue and the hospitals to learn their fate.
Identification was slow. As rapidly as the names of the victims were learned they were posted at the morgue and police established another bureau of information at central station.
The work of identification went or tonight. Police declared it might require several days to complete the roster of those who were killed.
Discoloration hampered identification of some, although none of the bodies were disfigured otherwise.
The blasts shot through the building with an intensity of heat which even the masonry could not resist. As the fumes leaped from the compression of the narrow quarters in the basement they scarred the woodwork and charred stair rails.
Hardened plaster was blistered and peeled from the walls. A steel floor was blown in and the fumes filling a hollow compartment between a balcony roof and the roof of the building, ripped out the brick and mortar as if it had been pasteboard.
Steel network of the plastering was peeled from the walls and hung along the balconies. The casings of the skylight buckled and warped under the force of the explosion and the broken glass was rained on the floor of the waiting room three floors below.
The suction after the explosion shattered glass doors reinforced with steel. Compression in the hollow center of the building packed air into the halls and staircases and when this force was released by the blast the air rushed back into the center of the bulding smashing the doors with the force of battering rams.
Heavy fumes hung about the building and for two hours after the blast rescuers were unable to remain inside for long intervals.
The explosion came at a few seconds past 11:30 A. M. A clock on the third floor balcony stopped at that time.
The fumes were so strong as to act almost instantly. Pedestrians caught outside the building fell to the ground and lay unconscious until dragged to safety when the gas lifted. One woman smashed a third floor window and was preparing to leap as firemen spread a life net. She stood poised, the amber gas swirled about her shoulders, and she collapsed, falling inside the building.
Some at unbroken windows, pounding wweakly against the glass, and then dropped from sight as the gas choked them. Most of the victims lay clutching their throats, stifled and fighting at the last for air.
STEPHEN WEIZER, elevator operator, was in the car in the basement. He shot the car to fifth floor penthouse and escaped with burns about the face and hands. Two workmen in a coal bin below the X-ray film storage room were jarred but not otherwise injured.
Some of those given oxygen immediately after their removal were expected to live. Hope was despaired of for others where noxious poison had destroyed the membranes of the lungs.
One policeman described the scene as worse that his experiences in the world war. He had carried out 25 bodies, he said. DR. CARL HELWIG an intern at another hospital, went to Mr. Sinai hospital to aid in resuscitation and came upon his wife who had gone to the clinic for examination. She died as he worked to save her.
LOUIS SOBOUL, whose appointment was cancelled, walked from the structure an instant before the double explosions. SOBOUL said he turned to see victims with their clothes torn away, fighting at the windows for air. Billows of gas swept about them and he fled to Huron road hospital to spread the alarm as the fumes filled the street.
The Cleveland clinic was established by DR. CRILE a few years ago and rapidly rose to a place of prominence in the city's medical centers. The surgeon, noted for his operations for goiter, associated himself with other physicians in the Cleveland clinic foundation and in 1924 a hospital was build for the care of patients.
Official inquiry into the causes of the blast was opened immediately after the bodies had been cleared away.
Coroner A. J. PEARSE prepared plans for an inquest as fire department officials attempted to learn the origin of the fire.
POLICEMAN GIVES LIFE SAVING 21
Cleveland, May 15 -- (AP) -- Policeman ERNEST STAAB, 30, of Number 1 emergency wagon, sacrificed his life to achieve the removal of 21 persons from the blazing gas filled Cleveland clinic. STAAB arrived while the fumes still clogged the entrance but time after time pushed his way into the darkened halls, facing almost certain death.
Some of those he removed were alive tonight, some died as he carried them to open air. But STAAB worked away as the fatal gas slowly destroyed his lungs. The policeman collapsed after carrying out his twenty-first burden. He followed those he rescued to an emergency cot and died a few hours later.
Plattsburgh, New York Sentinel May 17, 1929
NEW LIST OF CLINIC DEAD AND INJURED.
(By Associated Press)
Cleveland, May 16 -- Revised list of dead and injured in Cleveland Clinic disaster:
DR. HARRY ANDISON, Cleveland Heights, staff physician.
PHILLIP BADER, Cleveland.
MAX BARTHOLOMEW, Medina, Ohio, sketch artist.
EVELYN BERNLER, clinic employe.
R. E. BISSELL, Cleveland Heights, engineer and patient.
DR. JOHN BORELLO, staff physician at clinic.
DR. ROY A. BRINTNALL, Lakewood, physician on Clinic staff.
WILLIAM J. BROWNLOW, East Cleveland, artist at the clinic.
W. W. BUSBY, Indianapolis.
MRS. W. W. BUSBY, Indianapolis.
MRS. CARL, Cleveland.
MRS. MAY B. CARSE, Cleveland.
ROMEO CASINIO, Cleveland.
MRS. ROSA CASINIO, Cleveland.
RICHARD COLLINS, Cleveland.
MISS MINNIS COSTLEY, Cleveland.
HELEN CHARLOTTE DE HART, Clinic nurse.
MISS FANNIE DEMBROW, Cleveland.
MRS. FLORENCE EPSTEIN, Chicago.
MISS ZANNA FAHEY, technician in X-Ray department at Clinic.
MRS. EVELYN FAYDUER, Akron, Ohio.
HUGO FIELDS, Akron, O.
LILLIAN FIELT, Franklin, Pa.
VIRGIL FLEMING, repairman, Cleveland.
MISS GEORGEIANNA FOWLER, clerk at clinic.
MRS. JOSEPH FRANK, Dunkirk, N.Y.
HERMINE FUERST, East Cleveland, patient.
R. B. FULTON, Cleveland, patient.
MISS GLADYS GIBSON, telephone operator at clinic.
MINNIE GLUMPLIN, Cleveland.
MISS GWENDOLYN GREET, Cleveland.
SAMUEL HAAS, Cleveland Heights.
MRS. CARL HELWIG, Cleveland.
LENORA HOLLENBECK, Middlefield, Ohio, patient.
JEANETTE HOROWITZ, Cleveland.
DR. EDWIN S. HUNTER, staff physician at clinic.
NATE HURD, Cleveland.
MRS. ROSE KAUFMAN, Cleveland.
MISS BERTHA KEMINSKY, Akron, Ohio.
MRS. SAM KORNISISKI, Lakewood.
HENRY LANE, Cincinnati, Ohio.
DR. CHARLES E. LOCKE, Cleveland Heights, brain specialist.
FRANCES LOGAR, Eucil Village.
C. H. LONG, Barberton, Ohio.
MRS. C. H. LONG, Barberton, Ohio.
MRS. FRED LONG, Parsons, W. Va.
MRS. HOPE NADTIER, Youngstown, Ohio.
MARY E. MARKELL, Madison, Ohio.
CLIFFORD E. MARKEL, Madison, Ohio.
MISS SUE MATZ, Rochester, N.Y., nurse at clinic.
MISS MARGARET McKENNA, East Cleveland.
ELTO MOELLER, Elyria, Ohio.
CHARLES MOORE, Cleveland.
MISS EDITH MORGAN, East Cleveland.
MRS. W. C. MULCAHY, Cleveland.
MRS. FLORENCE E. MULLEN, Cleveland. (Florence Henry Mullen - left three small children)
MISS HELEN O'CONNELL, Elyria, Ohio.
MRS. MARY O'KEEFE, Rome, Ga.
MISS LITTA PERKINS, Lyndhurst, executive secretary of clinic.
DR. JOHN PHILLIIPS, co-founder of clinic and one of its directors.
MISS META PRIMO, address unknown.
MRS. ALICE QUAYLE, Mississippi.
JOHN RALSTON, Wellsville, Ohio, patient.
MRS. HARRY RAMASK, East Cleveland, patient.
C. K. REESE, East Cleveland.
JAMES T. REESE, South Euclid, Ohio.
MRS. FRANCES T. REESE, South Euclid, Ohio.
MRS. FRANCES RICH, New Brunswick, N.J.
MISS MARY RICHARDS, Ashtabula, Ohio.
PATRICK ROGERS, Cleveland, Iceman.
WILLIAM T. ROGERS, Cleveland.
PAUL ROQUEMORE, East Dallas, Tex.
MOLLY ROTHSCHILD, Cleveland.
C. E. SCHERBARTH, Lakewood.
MRS. C. E. SCHERBARTH, Lakewood.
MRS. THEODORE SCHILL, Pittsburgh, Pa. (Loretta Henry Schill, left two young children.)
MISS FRANCIS SERTELLE, Cleveland.
CHARLES SEWALD, Williamsport, Pa.
MRS. ELIZABETH SEXAUER, Akron, Ohio.
MISS MARY SCHAEFFER, East Cleveland.
MRS. ALMA SHERMAN, Cleveland.
J. BARKER SMITH, secretary and general manager of the Cleveland Athletic club.
W. L. SPELLMAN, Forest, Ohio.
MRS. CHARLES STAGE, Cleveland.
MRS. ANNA STAHL, Youngstown, Ohio.
MRS. MAZIE STEELE, Erie, Pa.
HARRY STEINBERG, Denver, Colo.
GEORGE STRAPP, Cleveland, fireman.
MISS JULIA SZUBRA, Cleveland.
FABRICO TANGLEDO, Minnesota.
ADAM TIGHT, Sandusky, Ohio.
ARTHUR TIGHT, Sandusky, Ohio.
DR. VANDUSEN, address unknown.
CHARLES WARD, Cleveland.
MRS. NIXON WALFORD, Emienton, Pa.
JOHN WARD, Cleveland.
MRS. MAY WARDEN, East Cleveland, nurse.
MRS. MAY WASHBY, East Liverpool, Ohio.
RUTH WILDEY, Boulder, Colo., employe.
BLANCHE YOUNGE, employe of clinic.
MISS MABEL YOUNG, East Cleveland.
LUELLA SCHOEN, Cleveland.
MISS PORTER, address unknown.
OSCAR BIELFHEIT, address unknown.
MAX ENGELMAN, Cleveland.
AGNES LOGAN, Cleveland.
MARY MULLEN, Cleveland.
MISS MARGARET MULLEN, Cleveland.
SAMUEL NUCCIO, Cleveland.
MISS MINNIE PONTIUS, Cleveland.
MISS LAURA ROBERTS, Cleveland.
MISS FAY F. ROSS, Ashland, Ohio.
NIXON WALFORD, Emlenton, Pa.
M. R. SHAW, address unknown.
MILO ALTRO SCHRIEBER, address unknown.
MRS. H. L. MORTON, Cleveland.
(Many thanks to GenDisasters for putting all this information at my fingertips. There are many many articles out there on the web, but this was the most concise description of events. This originally appeared on GenDisasters on Nov 12 2007 and was transcribed by Stu Beitler.)
Copyright 2010, ACK for Gene Notes