DISASTROUS 1906 DYNAMITE EXPLOSION IN JELLICO KILLED 8, INJURED 200 MORE, WRECKED DOWNTOWN
By Dallas Bogan
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan. This article was published in the LaFollette Press.
The following article is condensed from a reprint of the dreadful explosion, which occurred at Jellico on September 21, 1906. The headlines were as follows:
"Jellico Wrecked by Dynamite Explosion - Car Containing Eleven Tons of Dynamite Lets Go in the Railroad Yard-Killing Eight Persons, Injuring Two Hundred More and Doing Untold Damage to the City."
On Friday morning, September 21, 1906, at 7:47 a.m., a terrific explosion rocked the small towns of Jellico, Tn., and Jellico, Ky., almost to the point of oblivion. The explosion occurred in a railroad car loaded with eleven tons of dynamite, location being on a side track just a few feet across the state line on the Kentucky side. The overall description of this event was one of pure devastation.
It was a bright sunny morning of September 21st, and all 3,000 residents of Jellico were going about their business, tending to their chores, and planning their day. The children were playfully going to school, with no evidence of the fate that was soon to overcome them.
Suddenly, as if a lightning bolt had touched the ground, an explosion occurred, sending the terrified children to their mothers' arms, causing the strong-armed men to leave their chores and rush to help their fellow man. Many men, with blood streaming from their faces, rushed to help the more seriously impaired. On a nearby sidewalk sat a woman holding the head of her beloved dead husband in her lap, and on the hotel porch a father and mother are consoling their little five year old boy, while his older sister violently wrings her hands and refuses help.
A woman, fearful of her husband's fate, rushes wildly up and down the railroad tracks to see her husbands face, but was destined to never see it again. The surviving men were busily searching under the splintered timber for the broken bodies of their fellow townsmen. Physicians, who provided a tranquil spirit, along with a multitude of nurses, were applying the art of their trade to soothe the misfortunates.
Exact reasoning for the explosion of the railroad car has not been determined, but prior to the explosion the nearby cars were being switched and were engaged in bumping into it at about the same time.
Several were killed and about 150 to 200 were injured. The dead were: J.M. Cook, Master Mechanic for L&N RR; Joe Seller, Engineer on Proctor Coal Co's. Engine; Walter Rogers, Agent for Jung Brewing Co.; George Adkins, Lineman for East Tenn., Telephone Co.; Amos Bennett, retired; James Reynolds, Negro, Waiter at Wal-Bruce Cafe; John Gordon, Negro, Restaurant Keeper, and Emmond Norman, Syrian, Section hand on L&N.
Jack Burns, Superintendent of the Proctor Coal Co., states that he crossed the railroad yard just prior to the explosion, and at that juncture he saw Mr. Seller and Mr. Cook talking. Seller's concern was that Cook had left an engine on the Proctor track and was delaying him. During this conservation, Walter Rogers was a short piece down the northwest track shooting with a small target gun at a stake at the bottom. These three men were blown to oblivion, along with the Syrian section hand, who was possibly a passer-by.
No written description could tell of the devastation at hand. Not a plate glass window was left in town, nor was there any trace of any windows left in the small village. The frame buildings near the railroad were completely destroyed.
At this time I will quote from the newspaper article. It goes as such:
"The appalling disaster caused by the explosion of dynamite in out town Friday, September 21st is so great and so far reaching that our people could not begin to grasp the magnitude of it. Every where one turns he faces wreck and ruin. Not a single residence in the town escaped damage; some of course are worse than others. It would be impossible to give in detail all the damage done to each residence; many are so badly damaged that they can never be replaced in their former condition. Hundreds of chimneys were knocked down to the roofs. All the windows were swept out, furniture knocked and piled promiscuously about the rooms; the occupants were bruised by flying debris and cut with glass. Many residences were wrenched and torn so badly that they are hardly fit for occupancy. Many roofs were torn wide open at the comb and the gable ends knocked out, and the houses twisted on their foundations. It is utterly possible to describe the awful destruction to residence property, especially in the territory bounded by a line running east with Church street to the corporation line to the railroad. In this boundary many houses were practically ruined."
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