From the Greene County, Indiana Message Board comes a post that illustrates in horrifying detail my contention that The Good Old Days weren’t always good:
The following is a newspaper article regarding the Hunter Bros. Mill Explosion of 1877 in Greene County, Indiana. All that I had found before was a brief mention in Goodspeed’s 1884 History of Greene & Sullivan Counties on page 303.
The article is copied word for word from a single column article that originally appeared in the publication "The Weekly Bloomfield Democrat," the year 1877-- day and month are unknown. It is very sad, and it gives a lot of personal details that wouldn't be shared in newspapers today. I am very interested in receiving a photocopy of the original if possible.
This copy transcribed by Benita Sheets Steyer, from a copy obtained by Mable Crites Johnson in Greene County, Indiana May 2008.
Benita Sheets Steyer
Message Board Post:
The Bloomfield Weekly Democrat 1877
Harvest of Death: Terrible Boiler Explosion!
Greene County's Horror!! Fearful Loss of Life!! Particulars, Incidents, &C., &C.
Never before has it been our duty as a newspaper reporter to chronicle a more sudden, brief, and terrible disaster, in which the elements of horror, pain and suffering were more closely interwoven, than in describing the awful death that befell almost a score of our fellow citizens on last Friday morning. While the storm clouds of Heaven were marshalling their forces for a terrific war of the elements, and a deep unnatural gloom was settling down upon the earth like a funeral pall, the boiler in the mill of Hunter Bros. Situated about nine miles northeast of this place, exploded, and carrying, in all its terrible force, death and destruction to many of our fellowmen.
During the past week some new grinding machinery had been placed in the mill, which was formerly a saw mill and a number of the neighbors gathered there on Friday morning to see the machinery work. The day was cold, disagreeable and rainy, and those who were present naturally gathered about the engine and boiler to warm, when without a moments warning the boiler exploded, wrecking the building completely and killing twelve person, and wounding eight. The machinery was thrown in every direction and not a particle of the mill left standing. The cause of the awful accident was beyond question, a dry boiler, and someone one doubt connected with the mill discovering this, commenced pumping water into the empty boiler with the above fatal result. The following is complete list of those who were killed: Abner Vandeventer, aged 60 years cut in two; John Speltz, aged 75 years gash in the forehead; John Wilkie, aged 30 years crushed with a mill stone; James Hunter, aged 34 years, slashed across the abdomen; Irwin B. Rea, aged 20, portion of the head severed from the body; John Hunter aged 20 years head blown away; Wash Bender, aged 13 years, leg blown off, John Hamilton, aged 15 years, head blown entirely away; Ed Hunter, aged 7 years, and Howard Hunter, aged 5 years, portions of their heads severed from their bodies; Owen Sarver, aged 14 years, head blown off; Jacob Brubaker, aged 14 terribly mutilated, died the next day.
The wounded are Walter Hunter, aged 7 years right arm fractured and body badly scalded; John Bender, aged 11 years not seriously injured; Wm. Bland, aged 20 years, leg injured; Henry Bland scalded, Ahart Brubaker, leg scalded. Those who are wounded will probably recover, although some are seriously injured and may yet die.
This is beyond question the most horrible and fatal accident that ever occurred in Greene County, and has desolated many homes, and caused mourning in many hearts. Four of those who were killed were heads of families; the rest young men and boys.
No one in or about the mill escaped death or being wounded. A man, who was unloading corn at the time, was killed and his wagon torn to pieces, strange to say, his horses escaped without a scratch.
Three little boys were seated on a bench on top of the boiler warming themselves when it exploded. One was killed instantly, and the other two badly wounded and scalded. One boy was thrown into a tree and fell from there into a branch of water by the mill, and was one of the first to escaped and tell the story of the great horror.
The scene of the disaster was pitiable in the extreme. Pieces of men's bodies, torn clothing and portions of the machinery were all thrown promiscuously together. The greater number of those killed were buried Sunday and a gloom sorrowful beyond expression seemed over the entire community. The wreck was visited by hundreds of people during Saturday and Sunday, and the sympathy of many hearts flowed out to the afflicted and bereft relations of those who had been so suddenly called away from earth. Death is terrible at any time, even when we watch at the bedside of those who we know are doomed to die. We feel that he is truly the "king of terrors," but when our loved ones go from us in the morning well, happy, and the promise of long life before them, and before the noon are brought back mangled corpses, then and then only, can we measure the depth and extent of the suffering the stricken relatives of those who were killed in this disaster must experience.
It will long be remembered as a "black Friday" in the history of Greene County, and we indulge the hope that we may never again be called upon to write such a story of suffering and sorrow.