On July 14, 1966, 47 years ago on Sunday, an event the late Carthage historian Marvin VanGilder, in his book “Jasper County, the First 200 years,” called, “the second most dramatic event in Carthage history behind only the 1861 Battle of Carthage,” blotted out the sun and sent shockwaves, quite literally, across the nation.
“For those of us who lived through that day, we will never forget where we were, what we were doing or how scared we were. Seeing the mushroom clouds bellow and waiting for the "Big"one was a traumatic exprerience. Remember there were NO CELL PHONES back then!” Donna Shay McCoy, Monday on Facebook.
A massive explosion in a powder magazine at the Hercules Powder Plant, located on County Route HH west of Carthage where the Dyno Nobel plant is located now shattered windows on the Square in Carthage and in buildings in Webb City, Carterville and other surrounding communities.
The event captured national news headlines at the time.
“I was home for lunch from working at G&E Tire Capping on Oak st. My Dad Roy Martin was working that day at Hercules Powder Plant. After the blast I jumped in my car and headed toward Hercules as other families did. I wanted to check on my dad. I got to their gate when the last big shot went off that lifted my car about a foot off the ground. After the dirt and earth settled down, someone came by and said my dad had made it out after the last shot. He was in the hospital. Me or my family will never forget that day.” Gary W. Martin, on Facebook on Sunday
News reports say the blast was felt as far away as Springfield and Tulsa. Homes near the plant were badly damaged enough that they could not be repaired.
“I was about 12 years old and home alone because my folks were both working out of town that day. I was getting ready to walk to the pool when the first blast hit and I thought the hot water heater had blown up. I ran outside and another blast hit and almost knocked me down. I went back in to get the dog who was hiding and didn't want to come out. It was pretty scary, but I think I did alright for a kid. My folks were frantic because they couldn't get back in town right away. My cousin Jim Neatherry was working there that summer and he actually drove his car out of there. Later they couldn't figure out how he managed that because it was really undriveable. He got a couple of pieces of metal in his leg that day and that night we all sat out in his parents yard waiting to see if the big one was going to blow.” Donna Evans, on Facebook on Sunday
Page 2 of 2 - According to news reports at the time, the first and largest blast happened at 12:40 p.m. on Thursday, July 14, 1966, and was followed by at least five smaller blasts that kept coming well into the night, keeping stunned residents awake on their toes.
Some feared Carthage would fall into the caves that were said to lace the ground beneath it.
“My family and I lived across the street from Donna Evans' cousin Jim. I was 10 or 11 yrs old. The blast blew the windows out of the kitchen of our house. You could look toward Hercules and see the mushroom cloud. I was scared because the adults were too. We call my aunt and went to her house and stayed w/ her and uncle. The reason being is she lived west of town and the adults said that if the big one went off Carthage being built on a massive cave system would fall in on itself and there wouldn't be a Courthouse anymore. I remember it was hot that day and playing at my aunts house w/my sisters who was really scared.” Doug Murray, on Facebook on Sunday
Initially no one knew how many people might have been killed or injured.
News reports at the time describe a nightmarish scene of flame, smoke, debris, damaged homes and injured people around the plant.
VanGilder, in his book, said McCune-Brooks Hospital in Carthage eventually treated 36 people for injuries from the blast.
One person, Maurice Crowell, 50, died from injuries he suffered in the explosions. A Carthage Press article from two days after the blast describes Crowell as a shipping clerk who had worked at the Hercules plant for 18 year.
Michele Hansford, director of the Powers Museum in Carthage, said Crowell's family donated a large scrap book, created by Crowell's son who was able to collect not only the area newspaper articles, but because he worked for an airline, was able to collect articles published in newspapers across the country.
Hansford said the event vied for national headlines with famous massacre of eight student nurses in a Chicago boarding home by Richard Speck.
The scrap book is available for public inspection at the museum and the event will be part of the museum's new book, “Carthage, Mo — 1940-1990” slated for release in August.