The Douglas Archives

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In the Dynamite Explosion at Oliver’s Mills – Two Girls Hurt—Narrow Escapes

With a roar that could be heard for miles, the nitroglycerine building of the dynamite department of the Oliver Powder Mills at Laurel Run, on the Wilkes-Barre Mountain, [Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, USA] exploded yesterday [4th August 1904] afternoon at 1:25 o’clock, killing one man and injuring two girls. So great was the concussion that windows and doors in all parts of Wilkes-Barre rattled and the report was heard in Pittston and Nanticoke.The cause of the accident is a mystery, the only man who could give any information in regard to it having been killed. James Douglass, Sr., together with his son, James Jr., were employed in the building. Mr. Douglass, Sr., had charge of the manufacture of nitroglycerine and his son served as his assistant. Just before the explosion, the elder man told his son to go and eat his dinner and left the building and went to the boiler house nearby and was eating at the time the explosion occurred.

He was knocked from the bench on which he was seated and the machinery in the building was badly wrenched and twisted. He hastened outside after recovering from the shock and discovered that the building he had just left and in which his father was working, was entirely destroyed.Another building just back of the boiler house was occupied by two girls who were seated in front of a window, filling cartridges. The concussion blew in the window behind which they were seated and the flying glass injured them to some extent.The sound of the explosion and the cries of the girls brought the other employees to the scene and the girls were quickly taken from the ruins of the building and hastened to the office, where their wounds were dressed.

After the girls had been taken care of, the employees made a search for the body of Mr. Douglass. The search was continued until late in the afternoon but not a vestige of his body could be found. A small portion of the trousers which he had worn, were found some distance away in the woods, but outside of this nothing was found and it is supposed that his body was blown to atoms.

... the dead man ... was one of the most valued men in his employ. He had been with him about ten years and was always placed in charge of the plant during the absence of Mr. Houghton. He was an exceptionally bright man and had been well educated. He was quiet and unassuming and was a great reader, never reading anything but the highest class of literature. He was valued for these qualities and because of the fact that he could always be depended upon to keep control of himself during danger. His loss will be deeply felt at the plant, and Mr. Houghton says no one, except the members of his family, will feel his loss more deeply than he. He seems to have been a favorite among the men also and they speak highly of his heroism, stating that at one time when a fire broke out in the plant, all the rest of the men ran away and Mr. Douglass stayed and put out the fire. He often stated that he would never leave a building when it was on fire, and this may have been the cause of his death yesterday. He is survived by his wife and five adult children. Two daughters live at home and are employed at the dynamite mill. Another daughter is married and her husband is employed in the black powder mill. James, Jr. was an assistant to his father, but narrowly escaped death, as noted above. The other son lives in Paterson, N.J. Mr. Houghton says that Mr. Douglass was an extremely careful man and he cannot account for the accident.

James Douglas born July 1847 in Glasgow, Scotland; died Aug. 4, 1904, Oliver Mills, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, USA

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