The following newspaper article was taken from the Chesterton Tribune, published
in Chesterton, Porter County, Indiana, on April 12, 1888, and concerns the Aetna
My thanks to Steve Shook, of Moscow, ID, a former Miller resident, for contributing
3,000 Pounds of Nitro-glycerin
Accidentally Explodes at the Aetna Powder Works.
Three Men Blown Into Atoms and
Parts of Their Bodies Found a Mile Away.
Last Friday at 10 o’clock a.m. Northern Indiana received a shock which, figuratively
speaking, almost startled the inhabitants out of their boots. This shock was
caused by the premature explosion of 3,000 pounds of nitroglycerine in the mixing
department of the Aetna Powder Works, one and one-quarter miles west of Miller Station,
Ind. The shock was plainly heard at Fort Wayne, Ind., a distance of 120 miles, and
immediately after inquiries of the cause went flying over the wires in all directions.
The explosion occurred in the mixing department of the works, a building built against
a sand hill and consisting of four floors. This building is about twenty rods from
the nearest building, which is the engine house, and was the most dangerous department
of the works. It was run by three men, Henry Scott, John A. Gill, and H. L. Jansen.
Here it was that the nitro-glycerin was mixed with pulp, the combination, after
going through certain processes, becoming dynamite powder. Henry Scott was the mixer,
Gill his assistant, and Jansen the trucker, who wheeled the powder to another department.
Just how the explosion was caused will never be known, but the supposition is that
Scott dropped a can of nitro-glycerin on the floor and it exploded.
The building was blown up and broken into kindling wood, iron pipes which ran into
the building were twisted into knots, and the tanks wrenched into all sorts of shapes.
The bodies of the three unfortunate men were blown to atoms, fragments of the flesh
being found on the neighboring sand hills and in the tree tops.
Teams in the neighborhood ran away, their drivers thinking that Gabriel had blown
his trumpet, and they began to run too. One fellow who was standing in the gangway
of a building in the vicinity, was blown out a distance of twenty feet, and fell
on his hands and knees in a sand hill. As quick as thought could return to
his badly shaken senses, he got up and ran. They say he got away form the explosion.
Superintendent J. W. Smith and his men at once began the work of collecting the
fragments of the dead bodies., telegraphed to Chicago for coffins and to Crown Point
for the Coroner. The work of collecting the remains was a horrible one. Her an arm,
there a piece of leg, another place the upper lip and mustache of a man, and so
on. But at last the work was completed and the remains placed in three coffins.
The inquest was simply that the remains were supposed to be those of Scott, Gill
and Jansen, and that 3,000 pounds of nitro-glycerin was responsible for the catastrophe.
That the loss of life was small is remarkable, considering the amount of explosive
that were involved. This is due to the fact that the building was built on piles,
set above ground against a sand hill and away from other buildings. Among the narrow
escapes was that related by Superintendent J. W. Smith. It is his duty and custom
to visit each department of the works daily, and he generally stopped in the mixing
department about the hour the explosion occurred. That day he went past the building
and did not stop, perhaps for the first time in six months. The reason for
this was that the company wanted a new brand of cartridges made, and Smith hurried
to give the necessary instructions to the foreman of that department, when the explosion
took place. Had Smith stopped at the magazine, even for five minutes, he would have
went with the other three men. Another narrow escape was that of Mr. Demass and
his men. Mr. Demass is a contractor, of Chesterton, who is building a railroad
track from the factory to the station at Millers. That day Mr. Demass went to Valparaiso
on business, and had left his orders for his men the day before. The road runs on
the hill where the magazine was, and the men were working further down. Their orders
was to put in the time where they were until noon, and then finish the work on the
hill in the afternoon. Had Demass been there they would undoubtedly have been within
twenty feet of the explosion, and that would have meant instant annihilation.
The financial loss to the company is $5,000. The company expected explosions any
time and had a building ready for such emergency, and work will be resumed in a
short time. This is the second explosion within the last two years, though the first
was not so disastrous. The president of the company evidently expects the worst,
and prefers his cozy Chicago office to the dangers of the works, for whenever business
compels him to visit Miller the works are shut down and nothing is done until he
gets away to a safe distance.
Scott, one of the men killed, was from Wheeler and had been employed in the powder
factory about seven years. Gill was from Boston, and Jansen from Denmark. All were
single men. Scott got $60 month, and Gill and Jansen $2 a day for their perilous
work. Their funeral took place on Saturday, and the remains were buried in the cemetery