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Explosion in Downtown Nashville, Illinois
January 5, 1952
aftermath of 1952 explosion
aftermath of 1952 explosion
Photographs by Millard Reuss ~ courtesy of Larry & Jo House
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Before the Explosion
before the 1952 explosion
Photograph from Harrl Beatty Photograph Collection ~ courtesy of Larry & Jo House
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The Nashville Journal
Nashville, Illinois
January 10, 1952
FIVE HURT IN GAS EXPLOSION ON SATURDAY
 
DAMAGE UPWARDS OF $75,000 IN MAIN ST. DISASTER
- One Loses Foot -
- Patients Improving -
      Dr. Charles Longwell told The Journal last night that the four remaining blast patients in the Centralia hospital were all showing signs of improvement and barring complications that he expected them to continue to do so.


      Five men were injured -- miraculously, only one critically -- when a series of butane gas explosions completely wrecked two Main street business establishments and partially shattered five others shortly before 5 o'clock here Saturday evening. Local insurance men estimated the probable property damage at upwards of $75,000.
      The injured are:
      Ted Moehlenkamp, 58, of Nashville, customer in the Nickel barber shop, where the initial blast occurred, who had his right foot severed, a fracture of the left foot and a hand injury. The mangled foot was amputated Saturday night at the hospital.
      On Monday, Dr. Longwell, the attending physician, put Mr. Moehlenkamp on the critical list.
      H.D. Nickel, 78, also of this city, veteran barber and owner of the shop; fractured left foot, fractured left knee cap and broken left wrist.
      Louis Meyer, 56, of Okawville, a barber in the Nickel shop; both legs broken.
      Theodore Finke, 69, of Nashville, a customer in the barber shop; who was the least hurt, suffering cuts and abrasions and shock.
      Charles Briner, 28, proprietor of the Nashville Cleaners, where the second blast occurred; both feet broken and cuts and abrasions.
      Dr. Longwell listed the remainder of the injured with the exception of Finke, as "serious." Mr. Finke returned home Monday.
      All of the injured who were rushed to the Centralia hospital, were slightly singed by fire which followed the explosions and also suffered from shock.
 
MANY ESCAPE

      A number of persons in the immediate blast area escaped, without injury or only of a minor nature. They included Dr. Pero, his office girl, Miss Alvina Schlueter; Donnie Sabbert of Hoyleton, who was in the dental chair at the time; his father, Rev. Sabbert, also of Hoyleton; and Mrs. Barbara Hassler Gnagey, who was awaiting an appointment. She was knocked to the floor as was Rev. Sabbert and the latter was covered up to his shoulders by the debris. He suffered slight cuts.
      Miss Schlueter's hose were torn off by the blast. Dr. Pero told The Journal that they had no warning in his office of any impending danger.
      Those in the Beauty Bar, were Mrs. Delane Miller, Mrs. Bruce Walter, who suffered minor cuts and bruises, Mrs. Florence Zapp and Mrs. Homer Hisey and Audrey Huck, the latter two customers. They all ran across the street after the explosion. Charles Miller, co-owner of the Beauty Bar, was at the rear of the building with Bob Miller and Briner had been with them just before returning to his own shop. Mrs. Garlich and Mrs. Theo. Lehde of the Fashion House had closed their establishment at the first smell of gas and had attempted to warn as many as possible. Dr. Wedel was at the rear of his office. Miss Nadine Fox, Dr. Wedel's office girl, had just gone up the street with Miss Olivia Hake, and Betty Snead had just left Dr. Pero's office and had reached the Behrman Meat Market across the street.
      The three blasts, which occurred seconds apart, were heard all over town and broke windows as far away as the court house where the east and south windows in the Co. Superintendent of Highways office were shattered.
      A flash fire which made an inferno of the cleaning establishment was handled quickly and effectively by the local department who kept it from spreading beyond that single building.
      Property damage included, the complete destruction of the Nickel barber shop, which was blown to smithereens; total destruction of the Nashville Cleaners; almost complete wreckage of the interior of Dr. Stanley Pero's dental office building which was between the two blasted establishments; interior destruction of the Beauty Bar which is just west of the barber shop; front window damage at Dr. Wedel's optical office building, the Fashion House and the Washington County Butane Company in the immediate vicinity; also smashed windows on the west side of the Buckeye Hotel and in the following buildings across the street on the south side. Mrs. Piglowski's restaurant, Mrs. Steve Pero's home, The Flower Shop, Adam Kleinschmidt's Shoe Repairing, Behrman's Meat Market, the old Knitting Mill, and Hendrick's Newsstand. For some unexplained reason all the glass in the Nashville Monument building between the Knitting Mill and Hendrick's remained intact.
      In addition to the damage to the various buildings, Small and Sons wrecker truck, which was being used at the rear of the building, was partially destroyed by fire.
 
GAS LINE BROKE

      The explosions were caused by the breaking of a connection on a 10000 gallon butane tank upon which several men were working at the rear of the Washington County Butane company. While no official report has been released, it is generally believed that the initial explosion occurred when the gas reached a stove in the Nickel barber shop. This was following almost simultaneously by a second blast in the Nashville Cleaner's building two doors away and a third of lesser proportion blast near a window well at the rear of the Beauty Bar.
      Four of the five injured were in the barber shop. They included the two barbers, Mr. Nickel and Louis Meyer, Theo Finke, who was in Mr. Nickel's chair at the time and Moehlenkamp who had just left Meyer's chair and was engaged in conversation with him before leaving.
      Briner who had been warned of the gas leakage had just gone back into his own building, locked the back door and was just about to open the front door on his way out again when the blast came.
 
MILLER STATEMENT

      Bob Miller, manager of the Washington County Butane Company, which services several of the buildings involved, told The Journal that he had attempted to warn everybody in the immediate vicinity but said frankly that he simply forgot about the stove in the barber shop in his effort to get electric fans into all the establishments in an attempt to divert the gas. His verbatim statement as told to a Journal reporter follows: "Harry Hale of our company, Clayton Ibendahl of Small and Sons, who was operating their wrecker and myself were attempting to raise a 1000 gallon butane gas tank because it was sinking into the thawing ground when a connection broke and gas began to escape. I immediately ran into our building (Washington County Butane) and told Mrs. White, our bookkeeper, to get out of the building that a gas connection had broken and to warn as many of the others in the immediate area as possible. I then gathered up a number of fans and went to the stores to tell them of the situation, starting with the Shoe Mart to the west. I completely forgot about the open stove in Nickel's barber shop where the first explosion occurred."
      Miller said that he and Ibendahl were standing right behind the Fashion House when the first blast came. They were both enveloped by the gas but neither was knocked down or otherwise injured as the force of the explosions was to the south. Miller said there were only about 30 or 40 gallons of gas in the tank and that they had to raise it because it was beginning to sink due to the ground starting to thaw and soften up. Miller added that he turned off all the gas connections in the immediate area and that nothing was turned back on until he rigged up an emergency heating arrangement for Dr. Longwell's office Sunday morning.
 
EYE WITNESSES

      Other eye witness accounts as told to Journal reporters follow: Miss Wanda Calloway, secretary at the Nashville Monument Works across the street. She was one of the most direct eye witnesses and saw the whole thing. She said that she first saw Mrs. Garlich and Mrs. Lehde come hurrying out of the Fashion House about a quarter to five and go next door into the Butane office. She said she noticed Mrs. Garlich locking her own door. She said that the two women then went into the Beauty Bar after leaving Butane, on down to the Cleaners and then to Snead's Cafe. She said it was about five minutes to five as she was getting ready to close her own office when she heard the terrific blast and then small bits of debris hit against the monument building.
      She said the whole scene reminded her of pictures of big oil well explosions she had seen in the movies. She added that the first thing she noticed after the blast was Briner standing knee deep in the debris of his own doorway trying to get something off of his leg and yelling for help. About that time men began running to the scene from the various stores and got him out. Among those who reached Briner first was George Small, jr., and "Friday" Reidelberger who came running from the corner ____ Marvin Peithman of Richview _____ in Behrman's across the street.
      Mrs. Garlich, owner of the Fashion House:
      She said that she and Mrs. Theo Lehde, who manages the local shop, first smelled the strong odor of gas and when she looked out of the rear windows she saw what appeared to be a white fog a few feet off the ground. She immediately ran next door to Butane and asked if they were aware of the gas situation at the rear. Bob Miller told her that he was aware of it and that he was doing everything possible to get it under control. She returned to her own shop, told Mrs. Lehde they would close up as she didn't want to take a chance of any customer walking into a booby trap unsuspectingly and that they would give things a chance to clear up before opening again. She then said she warned Charles Miller at the Beauty Bar next door and Briner at the Cleaners but didn't stop at the barber shop. She then continued several doors east to Sneed's Cafe to tell them and she and Mrs. Lehde were in there when the first blast occurred. She said as they left Sneed's the second one went off at the Cleaner's and then the third at the rear of the buildings.
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after the 1952 explosion   after the 1952 explosion
Photographs from Harrl Beatty Photograph Collection ~ courtesy of Larry & Jo House
 
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The Nashville Journal
Nashville, Illinois
January 10, 1952
     
BLAST HIGHLIGHTS

      At noon Sunday, a Journal reporter, personally interviewed all of the injured at the Centralia hospital with the exception of Mr. Nickel, who was asleep at the time, and Mr. Moehlenkamp, who was just recovering from his amputation. Their accounts were as follows:
      Charles Briner: Mr. Briner said that when he was warned of the gas he would have had plenty of time to get out of the building but thought that he would stay and try to help Bob Miller. However, when he failed to see anyone in the immediate area when he went outside a second time, he thought it was time for him to get out too. He bolted his back door and went to the front door to let some of the gas out of the front and when he had his hand on the door knob the blast occurred. He said he thought he was luck to escape alive.
      Theodore Finke: Mr. Finke said he was in the barber chair and the blast raised him out of the chair about five or six feet. When he landed on the floor, he was partly covered with debris and seeing the fire he made an attempt to get loose. With a little help he was able to get free and said he believed it wasn't necessary for him to go to the hospital but they sent him in the ambulance anyway.
      Mr. Meyer said he wasn't aware of anything happening until the explosion and at the time he was talking to Mr. Moehlenkamp. He said he wasn't sure what happened after that.


      J. B. Sprague, administrative assistant to the State Fire Marshal, arrived here Wednesday afternoon to continue the State's investigation of the explosion. He was joined here by Russell Wright, a state fire marshal at large of East St. Louis, and Wendell Gray, also of East St. Louis, a deputy fire marshal, who has been on the job since Sunday after having been called in by Fire Chief Meinert.


      There was unstinted praise from all sides for the efficient functioning of the various agencies comprising the local disaster organization. The Nashville fire department accomplished a quick and workman like job in quenching the inferno that was the cleaning shop and in keeping the fire from spreading beyond this single building. Auxiliary state police, including Joe Berry, Claude Garner, Marion Cunningham and Oscar Kirchhoefer were on the job immediately and able initiated regular law enforcement officers in setting up the blockage between the courthouse and the Route 127 intersection.
      State police responded quickly to the emergency call and six extra patrolmen were dispatched here to aid Patrolmen Jones and Shrader, who were on regular duty. Sheriff Gorman's staff was on the job including deputies Paul Wiese and Sid Hale and they even impressed State Attorney Wilbert Hohlt for traffic duty.
      Mayor Wallace Huegely took personal charge from the city's standpoint and deputized several extra policemen to assist Marshal W. C. Maier and Ed Lincoln.
      Nashville was grateful to the fire departments of Hoyleton, Addieville and Centralia, all of which responded promptly when it was feared that the fire might spread. Although the local department had everything under control, the other three companies stood by because of the constant danger of another explosion resulting from gas which had seeped into the basements of the buildings. The fire companies also aided in clearing the wreckage of the buildings to be sure that all was safe and one Centralia fireman suffered a leg cut which was treated locally.
      There were any number of unidentified volunteers who went into the gas filled area to help the injured. Among them was Raymond Kemnetz of Huegely Station, who said that he had been in two previous gas explosions in Chicago. He was among those who aided the injured in the barber shop.


      In addition to the broken windows on the south side of the street, a number of parked cars were dented by flying debris and many window glasses were broken. These included the cars of Louis Meyer, the injured barber; Miss Schlueter, and Cecil Habbe was driving west directly in front of the explosion area when it occurred. His fenders were dented and windows broken. Also passing by at the same time was Lyman Riley, manager of Meramec Caverns at Staunton, Mo., who pulled up and joined the rescuers.
      Adam Kleinschmidt, directly across the street, had just left his work bench and walked to the front door where he waved at Briner across the street. Within seconds the work bench was littered with glass from his own window.
      Jack Lane was in his flower shop where Miss Kate Krughoff was a customer. Jack said the first thing he thought of was that a bomb had hit as did a number of others who heard the terrific blast from a greater distance.


      Dr. Pero said that he hoped to be back in business as soon as possible. He added that he was most grateful for the offers of Drs. Fred Schroeder and Edgar Reinhardt for the use of their offices and equipment at night and also from Mrs. Rayhill Hagist, the former Katherine Leibrock, who immediately offered the full use of her late father's office in the Carter-Leibrock building which is still equipped.
      The city street department under George Johnson did a speedy job of clearing the streets and by 11:30 through traffic was allowed to resume. A state safety patrol car remained on guard all night across from the explosion area. Mr. Nickel's cash receipts which were kept in a sack, were found along with his glasses and the major portion of the receipts from the Beauty Bar were also found. Still missing however was $33 in one dollar bills from the Beauty Bar.
      Other employees of the Nashville Cleaners had gone home at noon and Briner was extremely fortunate that he was at the front door at the time of the blast as hardly anyone could have escaped from the fire had they been any place else in the shop. Most of the garments were destroyed.
      Insurance men said that most of the buildings were pretty well covered but several of the proprietors said that the merchandise was only partially insured.
      It was almost a miracle that some passersby were not on that side of the street at the time. Leo Auldridge, who was walking on the side walk on the south side, was knocked down by the concussion.
      Three of the seven buildings involved are owned by the Butane Corporation of which C. E. Williamson is president. The latter's Manufacturing Co. had had offices in the Butane Bldg. but recently moved over to the Hohman building to make room for a new appliance line. In these three buildings were Butane, the Fashion House and Beauty Bar. Mr. Nickel owned his building as does Dr. Pero and Dr. Wedel. Judge Green owned the cleaning establishment.


      Dr. Longwell's office, which is heated by gas from the tank behind the Butane Company was full of people at the time of the explosions and they were told to leave the building immediately.


      Miss Ione Beckman, Red Cross service chairman called for plasma to be sent from St. Louis and state police went as far as East St. Louis to meet persons from St. Louis bringing it out. The Red Cross also arranged for coffee and sandwiches to be served Saturday night to any persons working late at the scene.
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The Nashville News
Nashville, Illinois, January 10, 1952
from WCHS Archives
courtesy of Elaine Rucker
Explosion and Fire Hit Main Street Buildings Here
       Five People Injured,
          Two buildings Wrecked
              in Big Blast Saturday

      A propane gas explosion which roared through the bleak gray calm of a winter evening, leaving its trail of battered human lives and a matereial destruction of nearly $100,000, rocked this little city of Nashville about 4:45 p.m. Saturday in one of the worst disasters of its history. Five persons wewre injured seriously, two business houses completely wiped out, a third almost gone and several others severely damaged. The entire town shook from the blast. Many were of the opinion at first that it was an earthquake, still another screamed, "It's an atomic bomb."
      Seriously injured were Dan Nickel, 78, lifetime Nashville barber and the oldest of his profession in the state; his assistant, Louis D. Meyer, 56, of Okawville; Theodore Moehlenkamp, 58, and Theodore Finke, 69, customers in the barber shop; and Charles Briner, 33, operator of Nashville Cleaners.
       The barber shop and cleaning plant perished completely, Dr. Stanley Pero's office, located between them, had the walls still standing partially, but ws virtually demolished otherwise. Five persons in his office at the time escaped injury along with him, except for being badly shaken and stunned. They were Mrs. John Gnagey, the former Barbara Hassler, bride of a few weeks; Rev. Louis Sabbert of Hoyleton, whose 12-year-old son Donald was a patient in the chair at the time; and Miss Alvina Schlueter, local grade school teacher and part time office assistant. Rev. Sabbert, who was buried in bricks up to his head, was uncovered and taken out by Dr. Pero, rescuers assisted him in leading the others to safety. Dr. Pero said he marveled at the miracle which kept the minister from being killed and remarked that he was awed to note despite Rev. Sabbert's own discomfort under the debris his concern was still for the welfare of others, as he asked over and over, "How's that lady over there?" He even had the fortitude to preach his sermon as customary on Sunday morning. All the equipment in the Pero office, including a late model X-ray machine was a complete loss except for the chair, which had only the back out. X-ray pictures, records and files were salvaged. Dr. George Wedel's office to the left had windows blown out.
       Pedestrians hurrying to the tragedy after the explosion ripped through the block, helped to dig out Mr. Briner from debris under which he was pinned on the walk and also four men from the barber shop. James Maxwell, Leonard Hodge, Virgil White, Ray Kemmetz and Charles Gorman were among the first to reach there. A passing motorist who stopped to assist identified himself as Lyman Riley, manager of Mermac Caverns at Stanton, Missouri.
       Mr. Maxwell said he first saw Mr. Nickel's head amid the the crushed piles of timber and brick and that he and Mr. Hodge extricated him and then Mr. Nickel was able to tell them there three besides himself. Bob Miller was assisting with the injured and there were a lot of others at work helping to get them in ambulances and off to the hospital. State police messaging local officers to talk to Briner, learned there was no one else in his building at the time. Dr. Charles Longwell and his nurse Betty Briggs pressed through the smoke and rubble to administer morphine to the suffering. Many anguished cries for help were heard. The Longwell office is directly behind the blast spot, but there was --missing section--
       A blaze broke out following the explosion and Nashville firemen rushing to the site proved themselves each one a hero. Their performance was one of the most courageous ever witnessed. Many of them were in the locality at the time and arrived on foot ahead of the fire engine. The blaze was extinguished amazingly in minutes after the siren sounded.
       The Beauty Bar belongng to Mr. and Mrs. Charles Miller was ravaged by the blast, but persons within escaped. The building is next to the barber shop. Mrs. Miller (Delane), an employee, Mrs. Harold Zapp, a cosmetic representative, Mrs. Bruce Walters, and two patrons, Mrs. Homer Hisey and Audrey Huck, fled without coats and were not scratched except that Delane, who went back in searching for the little Huck girl, 12, when she failed to spot her outside, received a few bruises as a second blast rent the air while she re-entered the shop and had to crawl out. Her gallantry was rewarded when she again reached the outdoors to learn that Audrey was safe. Mr. Miller was watching the tank being raised; after the blast he rushed through the smoke and flame and entered Gutzler's tavern, sped through it and down the sidewalk to his own place intent on rescuing his wife and others in the shop.
       Huge plate glass windowsa crashed from Washington County Butane quarters next to the Beauty Bar, continuing a door west to the Shoe Mart there was dirt and smoke damage, but Gutzler's tavern, Reuter variety store and Hileman's, completing the block, had no damage.
       Mrs. Ruth Garlich, owner of the Fashion Shop, located between the Butane company and Beauty Bar, fled with her clerk, Mrs. Ted Lehde, a few minutes before the explosion. They had grown alarmed from the smell of gas fumes invading the shop and decided to leave. As they took off down the street they stopped to warn the Beauty Bar and Mr. Briner and were entering Snead's cafe down eastward when the blast sounded. the showroom windows at the Fashion House crashed.
       From their beds at St. Mary's hospital in Centralia, Mr. Nickel, Mr. Meyer, Mr. Moehlenkamp, Mr. Briner and Mr. Finke, lying one beside the other (all of the conscious), had mixed emotions. Mr. Nickel said it felt to him just like everything came up under them. Mr. Meyer said he had just finished waiting on Mr. Moehlenkamp and they were standing at the front door of the building when suddenly there was a flash, seemingly from the back of the shop, and a roar that sounded like thunder, there was a puff of smoke shooting in from the rear, glass rattled and the ceiling came down. He was on the floor, all covered up with debris, Mr. Moehlenkamp was lying near him and he tried to get up and help him but his legs buckled. "I kept hollering for help and crying 'pull me out, pull me out." Mr. Meyer said :It seemed there were 200 people in front of the building, but they were afraid of the explosion, the fire started soon after, the next thing I knew I was in an ambulance. I thought the Russians had bombed the place." Mr. Finke, who was in Mr. Nickel's chair, said he hit the ceiling, chair and all. Mr. Nickel had just reached for a towel when he was picked up by the splintering floor, thrown upward and then down under the heavy cracking timbers.
       Mr. Briner related that his shop was filled with gas; he barred the back door and was fleeing from the front. He had his hand on the knob and was ready to open it when some young ladies he knew walked by and not wishing to frighten them by the gas that was certain to pour out, he hesitated just a second. In that moment he became a victim of the perilous fumes. In all the pathos of their own agony it is evident that everyone of the injured had a thought for the other fellow.
       All are suffering from severe shock. In addition, Mr. Nickel, who has served several generations of local citizens at the very stand from where he met this tragic injury within a short time of his planned retirement, suffered two broken bones in the left ankle, a crushed left knee cap, fractured left wrist and a small broken bone in the right ankle. Since the blast, with George Grohman on vacation in the South, there is only one barber, Charles Kaufman, at work in Nashville.
       Mr. Moehlenkamp was critical following the amputation of his right foot several hours after he reached the hospital, but he is reported improved today. He also lost a little finger of his right hand, as well as part of another finger.
       Mr. Meyer's legs are both broken and he has a head injury. Since all of the men are still too weak from shock to be given thorough examination, detailed reports on their conditions are not available.
       Mr. Briner has both feet broken, 13 bones in one and four in the other, and he has a strained back. he is a veteran of World War II, having been wounded in a plane crash when "Flying the Hump" in Asia during that war. He has operated the cleaning shop here about two years.
       Mr. Finke received what is known as a "mustache cut" above the lip; a sprained hand and bruises. He was able to be brought home from the hospital Monday. Families of all of the stricken have been at their bedsides daily. From out of town Rev. Paul Brown of Greenville came Monday to be with his son-in-law, Charles Briner; a son of Mr. Moehlenkamp, Lt. Enloe Moehlenkamp, arrived Sunday from Camp Mccoy, Wisconsin, to visit his father, Mr. and Mrs. herb Nickel of Cape Girardeau spent Sunday with Mr. Nickel and a son Francis is arriving today from Chicago according to word received by Mr. and Mrs. Russell Johnson, son-in-law and daughter of Mr. Nickel.
       Robert Miller, company manager of the Washington County Butane firm, said he and Harry Hale, his helper, and Clayton Ibendahl, driver of an auto wrecker from the Small and Sons garage were attempting to raise a 350 gallon propane tank which had started to sink into the ground during the thaw. One end of the tank was lifted, he said, when the connection lines serving six of the seven buildings involved, snapped and gas started to leak. He warned occupants of the various buildings but apparently failed to warn the Nickel barber shop, Pero's dental office was also overlooked.
       According to Miller the first explosion occurred in the barber shop, which used a coal stove for heat, and the second at the cleaning plant, a third was in a window well back of the Beauty Bar. Opinions differ on the number of blasts, however, some said there were three distinct explosions, others said only one. fie broke out following the blast and the wrecker truck used in raising the tank was burned, the chassis completely and the two front tires. Hale started running in fright and Ibendahl hurtled one picket fence to make his getaway and tore his hand pushing through a second one. Miller said he was left alone with fire dancing all around him but he never stopped and went right through to call the fire department and summon ambulances, then he hurried to the injured.
       The leak caused the gas, described as a frothy, foamy substance, to flow all over the ground and it apparently went down under the lowest buildings before exploding. Miller had obtained fans and was seeking to disperse the gas when the explosion occurred. Before the accident no one voiced any particular alarm, however, except Mr. Garlich, who ran to the Butane offices and asked frantically if they were trying to control that gas situation before she and Mrs. Lehde, her clerk, fled.
       The men seemed to be concentrating their efforts at the rear of the cleaning plant, fearing the large boiler might be dangerous. Before that the back of the shoe Mart had appeared to be attracting the gas and there was activity there with fans. The ominous smell of the stuff was all around. There was about 35 gallons left in the tank when the leak started.
       Mr. Briner had been talking to Robert Miller about conditions and Charles Miller from the Beauty Bar was there, having jokingly remarked that if they were going to let the stuff run all over the ground to bottle some of it up for him.
       The flames at the cleaning shop or Nickel's barber shop either one could have set the gas off, there are other beliefs that an oil heater in Dr. Pero's office did the job. A rather peculiar scent had invaded the office and Mrs. Schlueter opened the back door for air when the gas puffed through. Postions of her hose came off in the blast. Although all of the cleaning shop proper and the clothes and other contents were destoyed the cleaning equipment itself at the back was still intact and not damaged.
       The explosion section of Main street was roped off immediately after the fire was extinguished. Open lights were banned until investigators determined there was no more gas. Sheriff Albert Gorman organized his deputies Paul Wiese and Sidney Hale to reroute traffic down South Kaskaskia from the west and at the intersection there was State Patrolman Wesley Jones and Dick Baldwin with City Police Ed Lincoln and Wallace Maier assisting, as well as Marion Cunningham. Auxiliary Police Joe Berry and Claude Garner also volunteered. More state troopers from the district were summoned by Jones, to be on duty the remainder of the night and Sunday. Hundreds of sightseers poured into the city. After Charles Briner was picked up he was carried to the Buckeye hotel which escaped the explosion, and from there was removed tot he hospital.
       Cleanup crews worked all night cleaning the debris. Kirchhoefer's wrecker was there, Tommy Racine and Charles Swain with the Tri-County Electric hoister, Glen and Morris Snead and Mayor Wallace Huegley sent the city street crew, George Johnson, Jake Erbe, Ross McClain, also Chester McFeron and Lester Williamson from the waterworks.
       Fire Chief Eddie Meinert said fire marshall representatives were here Sunday investigating. They have returned to take testimony and make further investigation and are headquartered at the Butane company office. The fire departments from Addieville, and Hoyleton responded to the emergency. Mt. Vernon offered to come if needed. Driver of the truck from Centralia which arrived later, was Bud Saul, former filling station operator here.
       One person who is thankful for his life is Alfred Luebke. Alfred's home has just had a new gas heating system installed in it and he was seeking information from Robert Miller on working the controls. He said he smelled th gas while
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after the 1952 explosion   after the 1952 explosion
Photographs from Harrl Beatty Photograph Collection ~ courtesy of Larry & Jo House
 
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The Nashville News
Nashville, Illinois
January 24, 1952
     
FIRE MARSHAL MAKES REPORT ON BLAST

      An Illinois fire marshal's investigator last week recommended "minimum requirements" on installation of smaller domestic gas tanks as the result of the explosion here January 5th in which five persons were injured seriously and there was property damage estimated at $100,000.
      Jesse B. Sprague, the investigator, said the Nashville explosion was caused by gas leaking from a ruptured tank-to-pipe connection.
      "It would seem to indicate," Sprague said, "that there should be some at least minimum requirements or qualifications imposed by state law on installation of smaller domestic tanks, which is not now covered under the existing rules and regulations of the state of Illinois or the National Board of Fire Underwriters."
      It is the investigator's opinion that there is a condition existing that is not healthy for the industry and a serious potential hazard from the standpoint of life and property, he reported.
      He said a "pot bellied" stove in Dan Nickel's barber shop, one of the six buildings served by the propane heating gas, was the point of ignition.
      Among three explosions, he said, one may have happened in the Nashville Cleaners, which was completely demolished by the blast and fire.
      (Some eyewitnesses have told The News that the first explosion was in the Briner cleaning shop.)
      Sprague said the purpose of his investigation was to establish the cause of the explosion, "it was not conducted with any idea in mind of fixing responsibility or placing blame."
      He related that the rupture occurred when Robert N. Miller, manager of the Washington County Butane Corporation, passed a chain around one end of a 1,000 gallon propane gas tank and attempted to raise it with a towing car. The tank contained 60 gallons of gas at the time.
      Sprague said this effort strained and ruptured a short takeoff line at the bottom of the tank between it and a manually operated valve.
      He reported that raising both ends of the tank simultaneously "might or might not" have prevented the explosion depending on the depth of the pipe and the extent of the frozen ground around it.
      Investigators headquartered at the Washington County Butane company had spent a week and a half here interviewing and taking testimonies. Several of the building occupants who detected the gas odor immediately before the explosion told of being notified of the gas escape and the danger of explosion.
      Of the five persons injured, four are still confined to St. Mary's hospital in Centralia: Charles Briner, Dan Nickel, Louis D. Meyer and Theodore Moehlenkamp. The fifth, Theodore Finke, was discharged the Monday following the accident and is recovering at his home.
 

 

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