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Eagle Archives, Aug. 29, 1962: Diver Anders plumbs Morewood's depths but finds no trace of 1910 explosion

Jun 19, 2023

Community News Editor / Librarian

It was only four days after Christmas in 1910 that a massive explosion produced Pittsfield's worst disaster. It was a few days ago, or 52 years later, that Bud Anders, rigged in full aquatic paraphernalia, tried, but found no evidence of the tragedy.

At 9:40 a.m. on the cold morning of Dec. 29, 1910, 17 men lost their lives at Morewood Lake when a boiler exploded at the Morewood Lake Ice Co. plant. Fourteen men died immediately; three on their way to, or at, the hospital. Fifteen were seriously injured.

Bud Anders went down 25 feet in the ice-cold lake, but 50 years of silt accumulation prevented any investigation.

"I can sink my arm in mud up to my shoulder," Bud exclaimed, surfacing after a 10-minute exploration. "The underwater spotlight doesn't do much good, because one swirl and the area's completely murky."

Had Bud found anything, it would have brought back memories to many in Pittsfield who felt the ice-house blast.

"I was in Dalton and heard the thud," said William L. Fitzgerald, in charge of beach facilities at the Pittsfield Country Club, as he watched Bud "strap up." "I often find old pieces of the plant around here," he said. "As a matter of fact here's a piece of chain which was used to haul blocks of ice up to the storage sheds."

The blast brought all of Pittsfield's emergency vehicles into play. Horses were quickly harnessed and hooked to wagons. Bells clanged as the House of Mercy prepared for the onslaught.

Ironically, a new safety valve had been installed on the boiler a half hour before the explosion. The boiler was fired up the day before, the first time since the previous winter. There was some question about the pressure gauge working. Apparently it only registered between 25 and 35 pounds when the tank blew.

About 60 men had gathered in and around the shack which housed the steam system. Some had started down to the lake as ice cutting operations commenced for the first time that year.

The boiler was used to propel the belt which brought ice into two adjacent sheds.

Usually there was about 35 pounds of pressure in the boiler during belt operations. The safety valve was set to release at 80 pounds. Though there is little way of knowing, speculation, then, set the pressure at 130 pounds when the iron structure let go.

Reports at the time maintained that when the safety valve was found, several hundred yards from the shack, it had not released. If it had, at 80 pounds, corrective measures would have been taken.

Pittsfield quickly responded to the disaster, for by afternoon money started to pour into a relief fund for families of the dead and injured.

This Story in History is selected from the archives by Jeannie Maschino, The Berkshire Eagle.

Community News Editor / Librarian