A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

History: Gillespie Munitions Plant Explosion at Morgan, Oct 1918

The 10 Oct 1918 edition of The Matawan Journal contained the front page story below about the wartime destruction of an enormous munitions depot in nearby Morgan, NJ on 4 October 1918.

Residents of Morgan flee to Perth Amboy. (Wikimedia)

Fire Followed and Probably 100 Buildings Used For Various Purposes Were Destroyed—Number of Killed and Wounded Unknown

At 7:45 o'clock Friday night an explosion occurred which shook the houses in this community and was felt for miles. Those who were out doors recognized that something had happened in the vicinity of the T. A. Gillespie Loading Plant at Morgan, the glare in the sky giving the location. In rapid succession one explosion followed another some being louder than others, and these continued at intervals all night and until about 2 o'-clock Saturday afternoon.

The company management threw out guards and prevented the thousands who were attracted by the noise from getting close to the plant.

The first explosion occurred in the Shell plant 6-1-1, located near the Cheesequake Road on the westerly side of the plant. This building is filled with girls and women during the day, and men at night. Various reports as to the number employed in this building give from 100 to 160 men and it is said only three of these escaped uninjured.

Physician and ambulance calls were sent to nearby towns and the hospitals at Perth and South Amboy were filled and about thirty persons were given treatment at Keyport, the Red Cross Room being fitted up with cots all of which were occupied and the dining room and parlor of the Mansion House were also fitted out with cots and occupants. The basement of the library was also utilized and about two dozen cots and mattresses put in readiness to receive patients, and five men were taken there, all suffering from shock. These men later in the day were removed to the Long Branch hospital.

At Keyport, Matawan, and South Amboy, and other places residents were ordered from their homes at 3 o'clock in the morning, and only about 100 of the 10,000 inhabitants of South Amboy remained in that city.

Through the night and Saturday frequent explosions occurred and these lasted as long as there was anything nearby to be fed upon. Probably 100 buildings were demolished by explosions or fire and the plant is practically a complete wreck, with an estimated loss of $20,000,000 to $30,000,000. Many carloads of shells were stored on sidings to be pulled out, but only a few got beyond the flame zone. How many were killed will never be known as only pieces of bodies will be found when the time comes for searching when the ruins are reached.

The explosions were felt as far as New York and for nearly fifty miles south. South Amboy suffered more than any other place by the explosions as many houses and stores were damaged almost beyond repair.

At Matawan and Keyport there was absolutely no business done. The residents were ordered out of their properties and the banks and stores were tenantless. Somewhat of damage was done to the businesses in both towns, Keyport suffering the most. Plateglass windows were also destroyed. Memorial windows in the Baptist and Methodist churches in Keyport and the Methodist church at Matawan were destroyed, causing several thousand dollars damage.

Soldiers and sailors under command of army and navy officers were placed all about the approaches to the plant, these coming from Keyport, Camp Vail, Red Bank, Sandy Hook, Perth Amboy, etc. . . .


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