"Pine Camp" Souvenir Explodes, Killing 8 Children Playing Nearby



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On a steaming Wednesday afternoon in July, 1922, neighborhood friends were playing in Edward and Anna Workman's back yard when a soft-wood croquet mallet tapped on the point of a two-foot tall “dud” artillery shell sitting on the back porch. The six-inch-wide shell, found a year before during a berry-picking excursion to Pine Camp–now Fort Drum–was destined to become a unique lamp, but the unstable fulminate of mercury in the priming cap responded to the mallet strike by igniting. Eight children and six families were instantly dismembered as the TNT/dynamite/gunpowder mix in the 100-pound shell exploded, shredding houses and trees and throwing shrapnel for blocks. One child survived the blast long enough to admit to striking the shell, according to accounts from The Watertown Times, but the precise trigger for the blast was never officially determined.

At the order of Police Chief Edward Singleton, 40 more artillery shells brought home from the army training camp were turned in for disposal; 10 were tossed into the river until public and paper mills' protests convinced officials to turn the rest over to U.S. Army teams for detonation. Oddly, another such shell was found years later in an upstairs closet in the very house where the explosion occurred.

Also odd–at least by today's standards–the Workmans lived in the house where their two children died until Mr. Workman–a Bagley & Sewell worker and one-time president of the Watertown Volunteer Exempt Fireman's Association–died in 1953 and Mrs. Workman died a year later in a nursing home. The mother of Munroe Salisbury, who may have set off the explosion, also stayed in her upstairs apartment until the house was sold.

Newspapers across the country carried the news and dozens of “what-if” stories about younger kids who were chased away from the game and others who only narrowly escaped being killed by twists of fate. One of those had a U.S. Navy destroyer named in his honor after being killed during the World War II Battle of Midway as Lt. Commander Lance Massey.

As usually happens during such a horrendous event, the Daily Times reported that a calm, firm leader of initial rescue efforts emerged in the person of Dr. Edward Jones, who lived around the corner on Mullin Street. Responding from his downtown Woolworth Building office, Dr. Jones first discovered that his own 8-year-old daughter was a victim–he could only identify her from a bandage he had applied to her leg just that morning–but carried on looking for signs of life among the other seven victims and comforting others.

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GROUND ZERO: The green line shows the outline of the two-story porch that existed in 1922. The lighter-color blocks were shielded from weather by a staircase that served the second floor.
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