The date was Monday afternoon, October 9, 1916. The location was South Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and the address was south of 14th Street between Osage and Cherokee. Enter Grant G. Mears, a nitro glycerine hauler for the Eastern Torpedo Company of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Nestled in his white truck were 150 quarts of nitroglycerin canisters. And exactly 4:30 in the afternoon, it is assumed that Mears truck hit a bump that caused a violent explosion that shook the entire city, and caused Mears’ body to be blown into so many pieces, in so many directions, that most of the body pieces could not be found.
The explosion ripped a hole in the road, 18 feet across and three feet deep. If there had not been a solid limestone rock base, the damage would have been greater. Everybody in Bartlesville either felt the blast, or had damage done to their homes and businesses.
Some of the damage reports were:
– First National Bank Building downtown lost their south side plate glass window, in addition to other windows.
– Telephone poles were shattered and burned.
– A wrench was thrown as far as 1304 Dewey, where it struck the side of W.L. Harned’s house.
– Two children nearby were cut on their foreheads by flying glass.
– Hundreds of panes of glass had to be replaced, along with many homes with roof damage, as well as structural wall damages to several homes.
The house at 1400 Delaware (2017 picture) received the most structural home damage:
Newspaper articles dated in October, 1916 (click to enlarge):
Grant Mears lived in West Bartlesville, Oklahoma, at 116 Kaw, and had recently been married. Mears had the reputation of being a dependable man in the business, and had handled nitro for 28 years. His remains were shipped to Fayette, Missouri for burial.
Probably the morbid aspect of this story was the behavior of the citizens of Bartlesville. When the blast first happened, there was a panic in downtown Bartlesville with people thinking the city was being bombed. But once the real story was understood, hundreds of people rushed to the site for ‘souvenirs’. If pieces of flesh were found, they were turned over to the funeral parlor. But pieces of the truck, or anything that was part of the explosion, were carried off by scores of people for ‘souvenirs’.
AMERICAN GLYCERINE COMPANY
The American Glycerine Company’s nitroglycerin plant was located at Torpedo Switch, approximately 3 miles outside Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Many years ago, the KATY Railroad abandoned the track that runs from Bartlesville to Oklahoma City. Torpedo Switch was a settlement along this Katy railroad, where the nitroglycerin warehouse was located. It was blown up in 1922, which I will write about later, in another bizarre explosion. Torpedo Switch today, 2017:
“Shooting” was used to stimulate oil wells. Liquid Nitroglycerin (LNG) has always been a favored explosive for well shooting. These explosives were poured into metal canisters called “torpedoes” and lowered into the well. The problem was very few people really understood the explosive. As a result, many people were blown to pieces from nitroglycerin accidents in the Bartlesville area, before being outlawed. This included children who would find old nitro canisters that had been buried, while out playing in fields, and pick them up. There were also stories of nitroglycerin canisters being buried in the Caney River. I would think with violent storms and floods that we have from time to time, would have caused any ‘stray’ canisters to explode. We can only hope that is the case! Just in case, if you are out digging for history, and you see old metal type canisters, call 911 and stay away until experts can investigate!