Chester, PA: Tragedies
Helen VanRiper, July 4, 1887

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Chester Times
Tuesday 5 July 1887
page 3


Killed By a Rocket
Terrible Accident to an Upland lady

The wagonload of fireworks accidentally exploded and a flying missle does terrible work. Among the spectators a horrible death.

The Fourth of July celebration which began yesterday morning so auspiciously, ended last night with a tragedy that has thrown a gloom over the entire city.

The sad accident happened while the fireworks were being displayed in J.P. Eyre's field, just north of his residence on Seventh street. A large number of people gathered near the ridge on which the pyrotechnics were placed, while many others were scattered in groups over the intervening space towards Seventh street, while still more observed the display from the street, and others remained on the high ground on the eastern bank of Chester Creek.

Lin Bagshaw, a gentleman of long experience in the preparation of explosives and pyrotechnics, had charge of the display and for safety placed all the fireworks in a wagon and kept the vehicle at a safe distance.

While one piece was in operation and delighting the vast concourse of people, some thoughtless boy threw a lighted firecracker near the wagon. In an instant there was a great burst of light, a flame of fire was seen to shoot horizontally, while the air was filled with balls of colored lights of the most brilliant hue. Nearly everybody in the crowd supposed this was a portion of the regular display, and as no more shooting was done for a few minutes the crowd began to move off the grounds.

The great majority of spectators had gone before it was known that the accident had happened, and the people flocked to the scene. Among those gathered on the slope about two hundred feet away from the fireworks was Miss Helen Van Riper and Miss Chalfont, of Upland. They were seated on the grass and while admiring the scene before the terrible bolt, a rocket, shot out in a horizontal direction and passing between the legs of Joseph Garrett, a young man, who was standing watching the display, struck Miss Van Riper in the throat and penetrated to her mouth. Miss Chalfont was hit on the forehead, and Lidie Christie,a little girl,10 years old, residing at Tenth and Parker Streets, was burned about the arm and breast.


In The Agony of Death

A physician was quickly summoned for Miss Van Riper's case. A ghastly wound, from which the blood spurted, was made in her throat, her face was covered with blood and she was writhing in agony. The stick was protruding from the wound and great difficulty was encountered in removing it. The injured and dying girl was carried to the residence of Edward Creighton, 227 West Seventh street, and a bed made on the porch while attendants did all that was possible to make her last moments as painless as possible. She moaned continually and gasped in a pitiful manner, for breath, while eyes rolled ceaselessly, giving evidence of the intensity of the struggle. Dr. Jefferis kept his finger pressed on the gaping wound on the dying girl's throat to prevent further loss of blood, and gave direction to those around him. While these scenes in the tragedy were being enacted, the pavement street and front yards of adjoining houses were filled with an anxious and sympathetic crowd, who spoke in low tones or listened with beating hearts and bated breath to the moans of the injured one, whose gasps for breath kept growing fainter and less frequent, the vital spark had fled.


A Dramatic Incident

It was some minutes after the accident before a positive identification was made by Miss Chalfont, who recognized Miss Van Riper by her clothing, and in the meantime the air was rife with rumors,and men and women searched the crowd for friends whom they knew to be among the spectators. After the removal of the dying girl to Mr. Creighton's house, a young woman from Upland was admitted to the front yard. She stooped over the prostate girl and gazed intently at the disfigured face and wringing her hands, exclaimed: "That is Helen Van Riper".

Some time elapsed before intelligence of the terrible affair was conveyed to the Van Riper home, and the father was the first to reach the side of his dying daughter. He bent over her and eagerly looked in her face and called by her name. She did not answer and he called again. "She does not hear you", replied the doctor;" She has been unconscious for a long time".  Then her brother and brother-in-law came down and remained with her until her death, which occurred a few minutes after midnight. The body was then taken to Upland, to the grief-striken home, where the family mourned a loved daughter, who only a short time before had gone out the door lighthearted and gay, full of life and vivacity.

The deceased is the daughter of Herman Van Riper, mail carrier, was an estimable young lady and member of the Upland Methodist Church.

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

2000 John A. Bullock III.

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