THE MESSENGER: Owensboro, Kentucky-- Saturday, May 8, 1909

Kentuckiana Genealogy: Interesting Stories: THE MESSENGER: Owensboro, Kentucky-- Saturday, May 8, 1909
By Board Administration (Admin) ( on Wednesday, April 02, 2003 - 10:24 am:

The following are taken from newspaper clippings sent to me by John Burdette of
Emporia Kansas.

Submitted by Grace Knowles []

THE MESSENGER: Owensboro, Kentucky-- Saturday, May 8, 1909


As result of Explosion of Gasoline Fumes

Dry Cleaning Co in Y.M.C.A. Building

Embry Flaherty is Lying at Point of Death--Three others were burned

Mack Burdette, fourteen years old, is dead and Embry Flaherty, seventeen years old is
lying at the point of death at the City Hospital as the result of an explosion of gasoline
fumes, caused by a spark from an electric fan. In the establishment of the American Dry Cleaning
Company in the Y.M.C.A. building shortly after 3 o'clock Wednesday afternoon.
The boys clothing was saturated with gasoline, an open cleaning pan, partially filled with the liquid,
taking fire from the first explosion and almost the entire surface of their bodies was burned
before their clothing could be extinquished.

All Assistance Unavailing

The explosion occurred in the basement. and only the two boys were in that portion of the building.
They ran up the steps and into the street before any aid could be given them and, even then, though
scores of willing hands were ready , the proffered assistance was almost
unavailing. When their clothing was finally extinquished, they were burned almost beyond recognition,
and, as it appeared, beyond all possibility of recovery. Young Burdette died shortly after 11 o'clock
last night. At 3 o'clock this morning the Flaherty boy was still alive, but his physician holds out
no hope for his recovery. His death is regarded as only a matter of hours. C.P. Nichols, John Mischel
and Clint Smith are suffering from severe burns, received while trying to extinquish the clothing
of the boys.

Sturdy Little Fellows

The death of Mack Burdette has cast a shadow of gloom over a large portion of the community, not only
because of the horrible manner of his taking off but also of the impression the sturdy little fellow
had made on those who knew him. He was only fourteen years old, but for several years past, had worked
as steadily as a grown-up man, sharing with his father tthe responsibility of providing for the family.

Explosion In Basement

The explosion occurred in the cleaning room, in the basement. Persons in the neighborhood heard what
appeared to be two separate explosions of terrific force, the second probably stronger than the first,
Miss Katie Walt who was in the office on the ground floor, ran from the door, and was followed a few seconds
later by the two boys, wrapped in flames and running wildly. Their clothing was in flames from their
waists up, and he flames ran high aove their heads.

Attempts to Extinguish Flames

Scores of people, attracted by the explosion, were on the street, and efforts were made to stop the boys
in their flight but the attempts were, for a time, futile. Burdette crossed the street to a point
almost in front of John Grimes' livery stable, where he was stopped by Charles T. Nichols, and stripped
of his clothing. While he tugged at the burning cloth, Mr. Nichols constantly warned the boy to keep
his eyes and mouth closed. Although the skin and flesh were burned from his own hands, Nichols did not
cease until he had torn all the clothing from the boy, who was then taken into the office of the livery
stable. Mrs Ella Green Davis, who was attending W.C.A. meeting at the Y.M.C.A. building when the
explosion occured, rushed to the scene and began administering to the suffering boy as soon as the
flames were extinguished.

Taken to Doctor's Office

Flaherty was stopped a little further down Allen street toward Main, and persons who crowded around
him succeeded in extinguishing his clothing. Clint Smith, a barber at Lawrence Grausz' shop, and John
Mischel, of the firm of Mischel Bros. & Barkhaus, having their hands painfully burned. Dr. C.C.
Phillips was crossing the street at Main. Flaherty rushed up to him and said, "Dr. Phillips, for God's
sake do something for me." He was taken immediately to Dr. Phillips' office, the remainder of his clothing
stripped off and such temporary relief as was possible given him.
Both of the boys were taken to the hospital as quickly as posible. The ambulance of the Owensboro
Undertaking and Livery associaation conveyed Burdette, while Dr. Phillips took Flaherty in his buggy.
Drs. Townsend, Lambert and Stirman assisted in giving them attention.

Horribly Burned

Both were so horribly burned that little hope for the recovery of either was entertained from the first.
It was thought, however, that Burdette was possibly more severely burned than Flaherty. The skin was burned from
the entire upper portion of his body and, as he was being carried into the stable, pieces of lesh dropped from his side.
His face and head wereburned raw. flaherty, while the burns on his body did not appear so deep, was probably more
severely burned about the face, and was also burned, to an extent, internally, having drawn the flames down his
throat as he ran.

Scores of people gathered on Allen street in the excitement, and were horrified aat the sight of the boys, almost
cremated. Flaherty cried piteously from the time he emerged from the building until afterhe was taken to Dr. Phillips'
office. Burdette appeared too much exhausted to scream, or do anything more than groan.

Burdette Fourteen Years Old

Burdette was only fourteen years old. He was the son of J.C. Burdette, whose home is at 66 Woodford avenue. Flaherty
is a son of M.B. Flaherty, who lives at 1224 Haynes avenue. Flaherty was employed by George Laub & Son, while Burdette
was in the employ of the American Dry Cleaning company, where the fire occured.

After being taken to the hospital, Flaherty was able to talk. His first question was as to the fate of his companion.
He expressed the hope that Burdette did not suffer so severely as he himself. He was not told that Burdette's injuries
were even more serious.

Was A Little Hero

Later, Bert Flaherty, a brother of the injured boy, came to the hospital. He, also, is employed by Laub & Son and ordinarily
drives the wagon. "Bert, I am glad you were not driving the wagon this afternoon," said the suffering boy, "because you
have a wife and baby to look after. It's different with me, because I haven't anybody but myself, and it's better that I am
the one to get burned."

Cause of Explosion

The cause of the explosion was for a long time, a mystery. The company early in the afternoon ordered a five gallon can of
gasoline from George Laub & Son, and it was delivered by young Flaherty about 3 o'clock. The Burdette boy assisted him in taking
it downstairs to the basement. A minute or two after they went into the basement, the explosion occurred.

Very naturally, the supposition was that the can of gasoline had exploded, either from a match or some other cause, and this was
accepted as the explanation for some time. During the afternoon, however, Asa Williams went into the bassement and brought out
the five gallon can of gasoline, still full and the cap not removed. It was thus made apparent that the explosion did not result
from the can carried down by the boy. However, Mr. Williams found another can, empty, the top off, and a half burned match
lying near it. The supposition was that this can had contained a small quanity of gasoline and had been ignited by the match.
Miss Walt, however, said she knew this can was empty. For a time, it was believed that either the first or second explosion
was caused by escaping gas, but manager Gaddis and others made an inspection and found that the gas was not turned on at any point,
and this theory was abandoned.

An Electric Fan

It was not until after dark last night that Flaherty gave aid to the real explanation. He said that, after they had gone into the basement,
Burdette turned on the electric fan. At the instant the fan was turned on, the explosion occurred. This was all the boy knew about it,
but he was sure that the explosion was caused somehow by the electric fan.

From Gasoline Fumes

It appears clear, in the light of Flaherty's statement, that the first explosion was not from gasoline proper, but from evaporated
gasoline, or gasoline fumes, with which the atmosphere of the room was supercharged. A large, open zinc pan was used in which to place garments
for cleaning. The garments, after being placed in the pan, were submerged in gasoline. Several garments had been placed in the pan and
covered with gasoline, during the day, probably several hours before the accident. Gasoline evaporated rapidly, and the room had doubtless become
filled with the fumes when the boys entered it. The spark, which results from the turning on of an electric current would be sufficient to
ignite it, and this is doubtless what happened.

The First Explosion

The first explosion heard was that of the fumes, while the second was the gasoline in the open pan. The first, while the sound would appear
somewhat muffled, was the stronger and it was the concussion from this explosion, doubtless, that shattered the door and windows of the room.
It was probably the second explosion however, that resulted in the serious injury to the boys. They were in close proximity to the open
gasoline bath and their clothing was doubtless saturated with the burning liquid, thrown about the room by the force of the explosion.

Clothes Were Drenched

Their clothers would hardly have burned so freely, had they not been drenched with a highly inflammable liquid, and the efforts made by those
who tried to save them would have been successful. No effort in this direction was spared. Charlie Nichols displayed considerable heroism
in his effort to save he life of young Burdette. When the boy's clothing was finally extinguished, all of the skin and portions of the flesh
had been burned from Nichols' hands. Medical attention was immediately

(the remainder of this article continued on a following column but has been torn and so is unreadable)

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