FIVE BUSINESSES AND $350,000 DAMAGE
→ Gunter’s Pharmacy
→ Mathis and Gifford, Optometrists
→ Phillips 66 Credit Union
→ Perkin’s News Stand
→ Bob’s Grill
Friday, October 9, 1964. Fire destroyed the above five businesses in downtown Bartlesville, Oklahoma, at 4th and Johnstone. It was ironic that the fire happened during National Fire Prevention Week, and so the Fire Prevention parade was called off that was scheduled that weekend. After the fire was under control, everybody breathed easier when there was no loss of life. Or so they thought.
Click on images to enlarge.
The next day the clean-up began. Mixed in the debris that workers carried off contained a jug that was filled with methanol wood alcohol. Methanol is used as antifreeze, solvent, fuel, and as a denaturant for ethanol, and was found in common industrial solvents in paint remover, and cleansing agents. As little as 10 mL of pure methanol when drunk is metabolized into formic acid, which can cause permanent blindness by destruction of the optic nerve. 15 mL is potentially fatal. The actual tragedy is that workers thought the dump was down the street from Gratt’s Place on North Johnstone. However, it wasn’t the city dump, but property that belonged to people who lived on this street.
When six people in that area saw all of the trash debris, they immediately went to investigate what it was. Seeing that it was the fire debris, they started searching through it for copper or anything they could salvage for money. The owners of the business downtown should have poured out the contents before sending it to the dump! But that didn’t happen.
There were two possibilities as where it came from. Either from Gunter’s Drug Store, or Rex Billiard Parlor, that used the compound on their billiard tables. But, it could also have been used as a cleaning solvent in any of the businesses. So nobody took responsibility for the ownership of the jug and its contents.
The men mixed the contents of the jug with soda pop, and drank it.
Three men died of methanol alcohol poisoning:
• Leroy Chambers, 64, 212 N. Johnstone
• Harold C. ‘Teen’ Miller, 52, 200 S. Johnstone
• Clem Amos Winn, 37, Rt. Two, Bartlesville
One man went blind, Leon Jackson, 34, 701 S. Penn. He passed away only recently, and lived blind since the 1964 incident. Elmer Dean Clements, 43, 204 N. Park, was confined to the hospital for two days before being released without many complications. Lonnie Dooley was not confined after drinking only a small amount.
Harlan ‘Pony’ Chambers, 84, gives an interview with Karen Kerr McGraw, on North Johnstone and points out where this tragedy happened. His father, Leroy Chambers, left 8 children behind. (I apologize for the wind interference).
In conclusion, these men were directly influenced by the tragic fire, as were the many family members they left behind.
◊ IN MEMORIAM ◊