100 Years Ago Today

A History Of Events And Happenings From Exactly One Hundred Years Ago

Archive for the category “Disasters”

Powerful Earthquake In Italy


Central and Southern Italy has been an active earthquake zone with large quakes reported back as far as the 17th century.

On January 13, 1915 at 8:00am a powerful earthquake hit the central and southern area of Italy. The town of Avezzano was almost entirely demolished from the shaking and only one high-rise building survived. In an instant, over 30,000 people were killed, 96 percent of its population. The shock lasted over 1 minute and houses made of rock that were not reinforced by mortar or even wood contributed to the carnage.

New York City Subway Fire Traps 2,500 – 1 killed

The first underground line of the New York City Subway opened on October 1904, almost 35 years after the opening of the first elevated line. New York City subway lines had been consolidated into two privately owned systems – the city was closely involved: all lines were built by the city and leased to the companies.


On January 6, 1915 the morning commute was well underway. About 8 am at Broadway and West 55th Street, an electrical short in a manhole started an underground fire. Three trains containing 2,500 passengers came to a halt. The light went out and emergency lights came on but there was no clue as to the trouble until within a half hour, smoke began to fill the cars. Guards refused to let passengers out, insisting it was against company rules to open doors between stations.

“The panic spread until there was a frantic fight in the darkness,…..Windows were broken, seats torn up and smashed against the panes, and crowds rushed against the end and side doors…..The screams and whimpering of women mingled with the shouts of men, the clattering of broken glass, and the thuds of blows…..Hundreds of persons lay upon the car floors, having been asphyxiated or trampled on in the panic,’ the Times reported. ‘Others escaped from cars only to fall beside the tracks blinded and lungs full of smoke.”


One passenger, 39 year old Ella Grady, lost her life, and more than 210 people were sent to the hospital, overcome by smoke or trampled upon. Fireman arrived on the scene but realized the potentially still-active current was too dangerous for their water hoses and decided to allow the fire to burn itself out as it was confined to two manholes. More than 25 firemen were overcome by fumes as they battled through the smoke and had to be carried to the street level. The accident bought the entire subway system to a standstill until that that afternoon. Around a quarter of a million commuters became stuck on trains after the system stopped in the morning.


Winter Fire In Canada

On January 11, 1913 fire engulfed the Enderton Block southwest corner of Hargrave Street and Portage Avenue – Winnipeg, Canada. Winter weather froze the water that put out the fire.


Ocean Liner Sinks In Chesapeake Bay

In 1882 an ocean liner was built by the Dutch shipbuilder Nederlandse Stoomboot Mij. and christened the ZAANDAM I. It had 3 decks, 51 crew, 50 first and 424 third class passengers. It was sold in 1897 to Austro Americana Lines and renamed STYRIA then sold again in 1902 to the Luckenbach Co. and renamed JULIA LUCKENBACH.

On January 3, 1913 the JULIA LUCKENBACK was in Chesapeake Bay when a thick fog approached. Coming in the opposite direction was the steamship INDRAKUALA. Before entering the fog the INDRAKUALA saw the JULIA LUCKEBACH a mile or so ahead and heard her fog signals later. After the fog came on the JULIA LUCKEBACH changed her course to port to reach a safe place of anchorage to the westward of the channel and proceeded at an excessive speed on a flood tide. The INDRAKUALA, also traveling at an excessive speed, struck the JULIA LUCKENBACH which sank. The INDRAKUALA was able to save people aboard the stricken liner but 15 people died.

The sinking of the JULIA LUCKENBACH from MaritimeQuest :http://www.maritimequest.com/daily_event_archive/2012/01_jan/03_julia_luckenbach.htm



Newspaper photos and drawing of JULIA LUCKENBACH crewJanuary 3, 1913

Newspaper photos and drawing of JULIA LUCKENBACH crew
January 3, 1913

Fire Destroys College In Maryland

Maryland Agricultural College located in College Park, Maryland was chartered in 1856. The school became a state institution after the Civil War and reopened with 11 students in 1867. The college became a federally funded Agricultural Experiment Station in 1887.

On November 29, 1912 many students who had stayed at college for Thanksgiving attended the annual Thanksgiving Subscription dance. They invited local girls as their dates – there were not any female students attending the university.

The 1912 Thanksgiving Subscription Dance at Maryland Agricultural College
November 29, 1912

Shortly after the dancers posed for this photo a fire started in the building due to faulty electric wiring in the attic of the newest administration building, where the dance was being held. The 80 students on campus at the time evacuated themselves safely then formed a makeshift bucket brigade. Fanned by a strong southwest wind, the fire destroyed the barracks where the students were housed, all the school’s records, and most of the academic buildings on the College Park campus.

The Barracks at Maryland Agricultural College engulfed in flames  – November 29, 1912




The Sinking Of The Christmas Tree Ship

The ROUSE SIMMONS was a three-masted schooner built in Milwaukee in 1868. It started out as part of a fleet of ships transporting lumber of the Great Lakes along the shores of Michigan in the later part of the 19th century. In 1910 Herman Schuenemann bought an interest in the ship. The Schuenemann had been trading Christmas trees in Chicago since around the start of the 20th century. Unlike other Christmas tree dealers, they sold directly to Chicago residents at dockside. By cutting out the middleman in this way the trees could be sold cheaply. They used the slogan “Christmas Tree Ship: My Prices are the Lowest” and the ROUSE SIMMONS would be decked out with electric Christmas lights and a tree atop the main mast. Herman Schuenemann, affectionately known as “Captain Santa”, gave away some of the trees to needy families.

Captain Herman “Christmas Tree” Scheunemann, center, and associates docked at the Clark Street Bridge, early 1900s.

On November 21, 1912 the ROUSE SIMMONS started out loaded with 5,500 Christmas trees from Thompson Harbor near Manistique, Michigan to make a week-long journey to Chicago, Illinois. November weather is traditionally bad on the Great Lakes and the ship had trees crammed into every possible corner, far above the weight recommendations, especially in the bad winter weather. During the night storms hit the ROUSE SIMMONS hard. They lost 2 sailors, many bundled trees, and a small boat. Ice formed on the sodden trees and winds battered the hull.On November 23, 1912 a Life Saving Station spotted the ROUSE SIMMONS low in the water with tattered sails, flying its flag at half mast to signal that it was in distress. Logs from the station show that a surfman spotted the Simmons at 2:50pm. The ROUSE SIMMONS was not seen again. A message in a bottle corked using a small piece of cut pine tree was found. The message read:

“Friday … everybody goodbye. I guess we are all through. During the night the small boat washed overboard. Leaking bad. Invald and Steve lost too. God help us.”

The ROUSE SIMMONS, the “Christmas Tree Ship,” docked along the Chicago River laden with Christmas trees – 1909

Deadly Earthquake Strikes Central Mexico

On November 19, 1912 a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit the central Mexico region devastating the town of Acambay. Damage was considerable as several villages collapsed, bridges were destroyed, and massive landslides took place. In Acambay the San Antonio Detina Church collapsed and 59 people were killed, mostly women attending Mass. In all over 70 were killed. Despite the social unrest of the ongoing Mexican Revolution, the Seismological Service of the Geological Institute of Mexico have sent scientists to investigate.

The ruins of the chapel of the Church of San Antonio Detina
Acambay, Mexico
November 19, 1912


Men Survive Sinking By Clinging To Coffin In Canada

The MAYFLOWER was a flat bottom wooden boat designed with shallow draught for navigating the shallow waters over shoals and sand bars on Lake Kamaniskeg, Ontario, Canada. She looked like a floating barn with low running lights and was not designed to be on the water at night.

On November 12, 1912 the Mayflower had made what was the last return trip from Combermere to Barry’s Bay but a local Councillor persuaded the captain to make a second trip pick up the casket of his brother-in-law. There were 12 people plus the casket on board the boat when she left Barry’s Bay about 7:00pm. It began to snow at about 9:00pm when the boat sank quickly for no apparent reason without warning in about 25 feet of freezing water. 8 passengers drowned and 4 grabbed onto the floating coffin making their way to a nearby island. One died of hypothermia and 3 were rescued.


Fatal Train Wreck In Mississippi

New Orleans is the big city where people like to go on a Sunday. After a day of pleasure seeking, people would return to neighboring city by train. The Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad would take travelers west and stop in the cities along the way. It is a single track line with no automatic block signals. Automatic Block Signaling is a system that consists of a series of signals that divide a railway line into a series of blocks. It controls the movement of trains between the blocks through automatic signals. This allows trains running in the same direction to follow each other in a safe manner without risk of rear end collision. When trains are using a single rail line they pass each other by one train pulling off to a siding to let the other train pass.

On November 11, 1912 2 engines pulled a baggage car and 9 passenger cars. Running miles behind them was a freight train hauling 8 loaded and 2 empty freight cars. The passenger train left New Orleans at 11:00pm but by the time it arrived at Kenner Junction, Louisiana it was 13 minutes late. Near Montz Station, Louisiana the train stopped because of engine trouble. 2 passenger cars were telescoped and demolished. 3 others were overturned and caught on fire. 13 people were killed and over 90 injured.

Train wreck on the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad

Typhoon Kills Over 1,000 In The Philippines

When sufficiently warm sea surface temperatures, atmospheric instability, high humidity in the lower to middle levels of the troposphere, enough Coriolis force to develop a low pressure center, a pre-existing low level focus or disturbance, and low vertical wind shear combine a cyclonic storm of devastating proportions can be created. In the eastern US there are called Cyclones or Hurricanes. In Asia they are called Typhoon from a Persian word meaning “great wind”. With the flimsy structures of most common people, these storms can be incredibly deadly.

On October 16, 1912 a typhoon in the Philippines killed over 1,000 people. There is extensive damage in Cebu, the Philippines 2nd largest city and many left homeless.

2 homes in Manila destroyed by typhoon
October 16, 1912

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