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 OldChesterPa.com: Tragedies

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(Tragedies Listed chronologically)

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February 17, 1882 Jackson Pyrotechnical Explosion
8 Firemen killed

July 4, 1897 Helen VanRiper killed in a tragic fireworks accident
February 1, 1902 Mark W. Allen, Jr., first Chester Police Officer killed in the line of duty attempting to resolve a domestic dispute.
April 10, 1917 Eddystone Ammunition Works Explosion
September 10, 1921 Collapse of the Third Street Bridge

Article contributed by Louis J. Warfel

February 4, 1932 Explosion of the Sun Oil tanker M.S. Bidwell at the Sinclair Dock
Marcus Hook, PA

"During the night Feb. 4,1932 at 12:30 am. the M.S. Bidwell an oil tanker belonging to the Sun Oil Company In Marcus Hook, Pa. exploded and burned at the Sinclair Dock. Seventeen men aboard were killed including the Captain, Joseph Rivers of Hollis, New York. His wife Viola Rivers aboard at the time was injured and rescued from the frigid waters of the Delaware River by Edward J. Cartain of Chester who swam to her resue. He was employed at Sinclair Refining and  subsequently awarded the Carnegie medal for heroism.  The Captain's Wife Viola Rivers, was treated at Chester Hospital and subsequently relocated  to Chester. Several of the deceased were from Chester, others from Linwood, Pa. and Philadelphia. A little known fact is that the second mate, 33 years of age from New York, was the natural father of Veronica Lake the hollywood actress. The Bidwell survived another 31 years and was torpedoed once during WW2. After logging 2 million miles it was sold to the Greek Government. The last Master was Captain Fredrick Burgess. Two sons of the late Captain Rivers, both served on the Bidwell as merchant seamen before its demise."

- Harold Rivers (Son of Capt. Rivers)

August 21, 1933 Truck Accident
October 1946 Fire & Explosions at Sun Oil Company

A first-hand account excerpted from the Autobiography of Everett S. Snyder, Lewis, DE

Additional recollections

January 22, 1948 Fire Destroys Southern Penn Bus Barn

(Photos courtesy of Andrew Atkinson, from his Great Grandmother, Rae Hopman's collection.)

November 6, 1948 Market Street Massacre

Lou Warfel has written a very comprehensive account of the 1948 Market Street massacre as he recalls the events of that day.  At the time Lou was working in the Buten Paint Store at 624 Edgmont Ave.

My recollection of the Market Street Massacre by Lou Warfel.

A picture (c. 1900) of the building where the shooter was.

*  *  *

"I don't  remember too many of the details, but there was the Market Street Massacre in 1948. 7 or 8 people shot and killed including a Chester detective."
Tom Nicolaides

*  *  *

"I was talking to two older gentleman on my job recently and they told me that the man who did the shooting in 1948 last name was Collins and that he was a former veteran who had gotten medals for his marksmanship. The story was that he had played the "street" numbers at the time and hit for a large amount of money, and the numbers guy refused to pay. He then went on a rampage. One of the people shot was the "uncle" of  one of the older guys whom was telling me about the event... that his uncle stuck his head out of the nearby bar to find out what all the noice was about and got shot right through the head. If you get any other info I would be very interested."


August 17, 1949 - 1 Hyman Stein Auto Parts Store Fire
1950? 1951? Eyre Park Flood

"...the Eyre Park flood in 1950 or early 1951, which caused the evacuation of the entire area, up to the Chester hospital site and caused substantial damage. I believe that was what precipitated changes by the corps of engineers, ultimately causing the later flood in 1971. The water was up to the ninth street bridge and people were evacuated by row boats. I don't think there were any fatalities, although some of the older people were hospitalized."

E. H. "Ted" van Deusen

June 6, 1951 - 1 Fire destroys Tollins' Furniture Store

The store was rebuilt and reopened by November 1951.

October 14, 1952 - 1 Fords Credit Clothing Store fire
August 27, 1955 - 1 Hanley Hose Co. - Moyamensing Fire Co. Pumper Collision

"At the corner of 5th St. & Edgmont Ave. They were answering an alarm at 3rd & Penn St. which turned out to be a false alarm." - 1

February 29, 1956 - 1 Fire destroys Second Presbyterian Church
November 21, 1958 - 1 Fire at Good Will Fire Co. No. 2 Fire House
August 7, 1959 - 1 Scott Paper Co. warehouse fire
c. 1957, 1958 or 1959 Small airplane crashed on the PMC baseball field
16th & Melrose Ave.

"I was an eyewitness to this tragic accident. It happened in 1957-1958. I was only 8 years old when I lived at 857 E 14th Street. I had gone outside to play when I heard a whining noise and looked up to see a small plane doing a nose dive while spinning. At first because I was just a kid I thought it must have been some kind of stunt because it looked like leaflets falling to the ground. Little did I know that it was pieces of the plane breaking apart. When the plane hit the ground it literally shook the ground 3 blocks away. I was one of the first to get to the scene which was the PMC football field and pretty close to the stands. There was not much left to the plane which hit the ground nose first and crumpled like an accordion. That picture image has always stayed in my mind. My parents moved to E14th St when I was 7 and I did not move until 1970 at the age of 18. I do not recall another plane crash inside the PMC football since that one in 1957-1958."

- Natalie (Podryhula) Klotsche

Thanks also to Gary Wontroba

November 22, 1960 - 1 Fire at Upland Warehouse, Borough of Upland
December 11, 1960 Fire at Eddystone High School
February 3, 1963 - 1 John C. Boyle Fire

"John Boyle was a CPA/accounting firm and also a direct mailing business he established for his son Jack Boyle. The fire actually started at 514 Market St., Boyles was in the rear of it at 517-519 Edgmont Ave. (with their office fronting on Edgmont Ave). Other business effected was Rands, 516 Market and approximately 13 apartments above the businesses." - 1

c. Spring 1963 Small Plane crashes on field at PMC

"I was attending Widener then and my father and I were going to a Father/Son Dinner. We got out of the car and as we walked toward the college there was a Cessna nose first on the football field. It was, I believe a Cessna 172. It was on the football field, not the baseball field, on the opposite side of the campus (opposite end from the current library). It was in I believe the spring of 1963. I was a Sophomore."

- Dave Hall

April 4, 1966 - 1 Fire at 223-225 W. 3rd St.
January 9, 1968 Fire destroys Chester High School

[Pictures taken the following day, courtesy of Gloria Evers]

September 17, 1969 - 1 Good Will Fire Co. ladder truck accident

"Good Will's ladder truck was answering an alarm at 7th & Upland Sts. As it approached 9th & Upland a PMC cadet was waving the truck through the intersection and a car going west on 9th St. did not stop and the truck struck the car broad side pushing it into the side wall of Clancy's Funeral Home.
Normally Good Will would not have responded but Moyamensing ladder truck had responded to another call earlier. I was on the front passenger seat of the ladder truck when the accident occurred." -

February 27, 1970 - 1 Penn Steel Casting Co. Fire
April 20, 21, 1971 Fire Destroys the Great Leopard Skating Rink

Delaware County Daily Times coverage and photo by Walt Chernokal - Wednesday April 21, 1971

September, 13 1971 Floods destroy Eyre Park

"One of my Classmates lost his life trying to save people in Toby Farms. There is a memorial for him at the entrance. His name was Ralph Worrilow. During that Hurricane all the creeks had overflowed. The bridges over Bridgewater Road, Dutton Mill Road and Pennell Road were completely destroyed. Somesections of Pennell Road were washed away. The Lumber Company,which is now known as Kings something or other, was completely flooded. The house on Dutton Mills and Creek Road was flooded and it sits up high. A lot of businesses were either destroyed or damaged. My husband and Itook a ride around looking at everything andI had never seen such devastation in all the yearsI lived in Delaware County."

- Madeline Jenkins-Steiner

Pictures of the Flood and damages in Eyre Park courtesy of Tom Dewey:

Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3

January 31, 1975 - 1 BP Oil Tanker Fire, Marcus Hook

"The BP Oil fire was I think about the largest conflagration that we have had in Delaware County. Just about every county fire company along with some New Castle County, DE companies participated in some way." - 1

April 19, 1976 - 1 Troy Laundry Co. Fire
February 2, 1978 Wade Site Fire
at the foot of Flower Street

230 Chester firefighters and other emergency workers were involved.

Many Chester firefighters were injured; those who survived have had health problems since.

In April 2000 the Philadelphia Inquirer did an 8-part series about the Wade Site Fire.  Thanks to Jason Birney for passing along the following link to these stories, photographs and bios of many who were involved:


February 29, 1984 - 1 Roberta Apartments Fire

"Located on 7th Street just west of Avenue of the States (formerly Edgmont Ave). Years ago the YMCA was on the corner of 7th & Edgmont Ave. just behind the YMCA on 7th St. was an alley that went from 7th to 8th St. The apartment bldg. was on the corner of the alley and 7th St.)" - 1

November 1989 A tornado caused over $1 million dollars in damages
along Crosby St. between 6th & 7th.

April 19, 1990 - 1 Fire at 6th & Sproul Streets
August 16, 2002 Fire Destroys Octagonal Barn at Linvilla Orchards

The barn was built in 1889.


Many thanks to the following for supplying additional information for this page:

1 - Bill Crystle (dates from Chester Times & Delaware County Daily Times newspaper clippings).

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If you have any information and or pictures that you would like to contribute about the history of any tragedies or other unusual events in the history of Chester, please forward it to john@oldchesterpa.com

2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007 John A. Bullock III.

This page last updated 02/22/07

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