It is somewhat hard to believe, but the most bizarre explosion in the history of the oil industry happened in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, on Friday, March 10, 1922! I don’t know if we still claim that honor these 85 years later, but I would sure think so!

The Enterprise story, in its entirety:

“One of the most peculiar accidents recorded in the history of the oil industry occurred late yesterday afternoon 4 miles south of Bartlesville when a blazine oil-saturated rabbit caused the explosion and total destruction of the Eastern Torpedo Company’s plant. The shock of the explosion was felt in Bartlesville. There were no casualties except the rabbit, and the loss is less than $5,000.

When R.C. Camblin, the glycerin maker went to the factory yesterday afternoon to fire up preparatory to manufacturing a new supply of nitro-glycerin, he started a fire in the boiler box and turned in the oil from the fuel tank. It seems that a rabbit had been asleep in the boiler box. He became saturated with the oil and caught on fire in making his escape over the blaze. When the rabbit darted by Camblin standing in the door, he was a blazing streak. He ran for the first opening in sight which happened to be a hole under the factory. Camblin knew that there was stored in the factory at least fifty quarts of nitro-glycerin and that an explosion was a matter of only a few minutes. “I knew it was my next move,” said Camblin this morning, in telling the Enterprise reporter of the affair. He moved to such good purpose that he was a quarter of a mile from the scene when the explosion occurred.

The plant was not a large one, but it was a total loss. Very little of value was salvaged and the complany will have to build an entirely new factory. The factory which was destroyed yesterday afternoon is a successor to the plant which nearly cost H.O. Dixon his life almost seventeen years ago. Dixon was making glycerin and had to run for his life when the glycerin caught fire. He and two men with him were only about a hundred yards from the factory when the explosion occurred and all escaped unhurt.”

Back in the teens and twenties, when nitroglycerin plants were in business, I would guess there were few rules and regulations, other than run if something goes wrong! Becky Tallent of OK News writes about the nitroglycerin business:

After the wells were drilled, the crews fractured the holes with nitroglycerin, something Wolf said was nothing to be afraid of unless you wanted to get hurt.

“It ain’t the nitro that would hurt you, it’s the cans. If the guy who welded the cans (fracturing cans dropped into the holes) didn’t get it all soldered and you dropped some on the walk, then if you stepped on it coming back, it would blow you clear off the track. It wouldn’t hurt you, just blow you a few feet away.”

Wolf said he worked several jobs in the Covington-Garber field, from firing the boilers and dropping the nitro to flying cigarets and gasoline to other fields.

The boom for that area ended in 1922, he recalled, when the price of oil dropped to 50 cents a barrel. The field re-opened during the last part of 1927, but died again in 1932 when oil dropped to five cents a barrel. “You couldn’t give it away then. Gasoline was probably nine cents a gallon,” he said.

Although oil companies are once again going into the old field with the newer techniques for enhanced recovery, Wolf said it is nothing like the old days when 2,000 to 3,000 people lived in the oil field among the rigs.”

I notice in these articles a lack of respect for the explosive. That may be what led to so many people being killed or loss of limbs, if they lived! Carelessness was evident in every area of Bartlesville, Oklahoma. The first danger was that the nitro haulers were always driving the streets of our city, and some of them left their nitro trucks parked all night long on Second Street, where plenty of bars and drinking happened. On September 19, 1917, people were up in arms and said if the police wouldn’t stop these hauls through the city, they would do something about it themselves, warning that another accident was imminent. Grant Mears had already been blown up on 14th Street, in a nitro accident, and people were tired of the danger on a daily basis.

The second danger of the carelessness at nitro plants were the canisters that were found lodged in drifts at Sand Creek, and the Caney River. When these nitro buildings were flooded, which happened on a regular basis, the canisters would end up in the creeks and rivers close by. Some still think these canisters are buried in fields and around the creeks and the Caney River.

Torpedo Switch was not the only area where the nitroglycerin plants were located. There was one at Coon Creek, one in east Bartlesville, and several more. I have noticed that sometimes the name of the nitro company changed, to the point where I can’t give a clear and precise history of their name and actual address. Other than the Torpedo Switch location, all of the rest used addresses of ‘East Bartlesville’, ‘Coon Creek’, ‘South Bartlesville’, etc. Then at some point, they blew up, and wouldn’t be rebuilt. But for every nitro plant, there was always a tragedy of how somebody was blown up, regardless of how many years experience they had.

This next picture is just a few steps away from the above Torpedo Switch picture, taken just yesterday, May 4, 2017. It is so ironic, but there is a structure that looks like it was in an explosion of some type. It is right off the highway, County Road 2706, in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. I’m still somewhat amazed since working on this story the last couple of weeks:

Some nitroglycerin stories that were published in the Bartlesville newspapers, 1909 through 1922. Great reading for people to understand the early days, and to watch the evolution of the oil fields, and the toll it took on human lives (please click on image to enlarge):













It has been said there are some nitro canisters that are still buried in fields, streams, and rivers around Bartlesville. Although I doubt it, you just never know. I would suggest if you ever run across a metal canister while out hiking, fishing or hunting, to call 911 immediately, and do not try to pick it up or remove it. I’m sure the chances are very slim to ever run across one, but better safe than sorry!

Marilyn Monroe visits the Osage Theater in Bartlesville, Oklahoma!

Marilyn Monroe came to Bartlesville, Oklahoma’s Osage Theater on July 15, 1955….in the form of a life size die-cut cardboard image. The beginning of the famous graphic event happened on September 15, 1954 when Sam Shaw photographed the famous “flying skirt” image of Marilyn Monroe on Lexington Avenue between 52nd and 53rd Street in New York City.

Photography by Sam Shaw

The first giant life size poster was a fifty-two foot figure of Marilyn Monroe that was installed at Loew’s State Theater in New York City on May 19, 1955. It was a publicity stunt for the movie ‘The Seven Year Itch’.

Publicity Stunt at Loew’s in New York City

It was so effective, the movie studio shipped the life size Monroe cardboard cut-out to theaters all across the country. Phil Hays, manager of the Osage Theater, received one in 1955, and installed it in front of the theater.  Phil Hays, Jr. told me that for many decades this cut-out was stored in his attic. This is the 10 x 13 photograph of the Osage Theater front with the life size graphic art.

Osage Theater in Bartlesville, Oklahoma


Phil Hays, manager of the Osage Theater,  was a huge part of the movie scene of Bartlesville, Oklahoma. In 2009 I searched for him so I could get an interview. I couldn’t believe it, I found his name in the Bartlesville phone book, he lived in the Camelot addition in Bartlesville. I called him and asked if I could come and talk to him, and he said yes. My associate, Karen Kerr McGraw and I met with him, and we also met his lovely wife, Emily. I was surprised when I found out he was Phil Hays Jr., and that Phil Hays Sr. had passed away in 1968. But I quickly learned that he and Emily had worked for the theaters also, and all of his father’s movie memorabilia had passed to him. We sat and learned so much about the Osage Theater, and many other theaters in Bartlesville. I was lucky enough to have two more interviews with the Hays couple, along with my associate, Sally Ashe Barnard. I don’t think anybody in Bartlesville has as much theater information as the Hays family. Sadly, Phil Hays Jr. passed away in 2011.

Emily Hays with Sally Ashe Barnard

The Seven Year Itch showed at the Osage Theater Sunday through Thursday, July 16, 1955, with a prevue (midnight show).

Seven Year Itch

As a side note, I am including a video clip of the actual 10 x 13 photo, alongside  Gunner. The huge cut-out basically was a publicity stunt, that happened all across the country. It was very successful, making Marilyn Monroe a household name and assured her fame. Gunner wanted to be a part of this story, so I said ‘sure, why not’? (What a hound)!

Vintage Osage Theater:

I don't know who the photographer is, but I would guess Griggs.
Vintage picture of Osage Theater in background. Notice the streets were still brick then.













Andy Dominguez History

You might say that I have Bartlesville theater history through my grandmother. Her name was Bess Larrimore (7-28-1913 ~ 9-26-2008), and she was a young divorcee with a small son, Richard Lee, who was my father. She lived downtown Bartlesville at the Palace Hotel, and was a waitress for Eng’s Café. While working at Eng’s, she met and married a handsome man, Andy Dominguez, who was the projectionist at the Arrow Theater, and then the Osage Theater. Andy was well liked, and is still known today as respecting people, while always tipping his hat when walking past them. He was born in 1898 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His family ended up in Dewey, Oklahoma, where he graduated high school. Andy and Grandma Bess eventually had two children from their union, Anita and Mike, in addition to my dad, Richard Lee Dominguez (who had been adopted by Andy Dominguez). Uncle Mike became an usher at the Arrow/Osage Theaters, and has a lot of great memories and stories. He and his wife, Bonnie, have lived in Phoenix, Arizona since completing his duties in the Navy.

Mike Dominguez
Bess Dominguez downtown Bartlesville, Oklahoma
Andy Dominguez, Sr.















I have heard many times that everybody at the theater enjoyed their jobs, they all got along, and they really and truly enjoyed everybody they worked with. So I would surmise that Phil Hays Sr. and Phil Hays Jr. provided a work environment that was very successful! 


I have a couple of favorite stories of my dad. When Bess was working at Eng’s Café (in the 40’s), she would let dad go to the Caney River to go fishing with his cousin, Leroy. When they would catch a large fish, they would run all the way and show it to Mr. Eng. He would hold it up, and then say ‘that looks like a keeper’, and would take a quarter out of the register and pay the boys. They would jump for joy! They would run all the way to the corner store, and buy candy. And of course, that day Mr. Eng would offer fresh fish for his Special of the Day.

The other story about my dad is when he worked for the newspaper. At 9 years old, he stood on the street corner of downtown Bartlesville, on 2nd and Johnstone, and yelled ‘Extra, extra, read all about it’! His arms would be loaded down with Bartlesville newspapers, and he couldn’t go home until every last paper was sold. There were other young paper boys on every street corner, so he learned about competition early in life. He would have somebody tell him about the lead story, and then he would yell himself hoarse about a particular tragedy or unknown fear by using his voice that bordered on the verge of ominous terror that would sell all of his papers. He knew as soon as all the papers were sold, he could get home faster with a pocketful of coins. His mother always had great words of encouragement for him, that nobody could yell louder, or sell more Bartlesville newspapers than he could. And whether he could talk or not, he would eat supper and feel very, very grown-up, which was very satisfying to him! Bess would take his coins and put them in a jar in the kitchen, and every Saturday they would go to the Mound Grocery Store, just a few blocks over, and buy just about everything on her grocery list.

This picture shows everybody in the family but Andy, and that is because he was at work at the Osage Theater:


It will not be ignored. The empty lot where the Osage Theater stood has remained silent and vacant since it was ripped out in 1981. It has the appearance of a cemetery lot, and the 21 car spaces remind me of tombstones. Kathy Spears Hughes