Friday, October 5, 2012

Judgment of fire

  • Well, as anyone who's seen "There Will Be Blood" can tell you, the emerging technology of petroleum exploration was far more dangerous. In fact, I have sad family history associated with that. Oil killed my grandfather.

    Mt. Pleasant, MI Oil Well Explosion, Jul 1931
    GUSHER BLAST KILLS SEVEN
    Victims in Michigan Disaster Sprayed With Flames.
    MT. PLEASANT, Mich., July 19. - (United News) - The first major disaster of the newly-developed Michigan oil fields had taken a toll of seven lives today after a wild gusher exploded and scattered blazing oil over a crowd of 2,000 persons.
    Men, women and children, who had flocked to see the state's biggest oil "strike" were caught in the fiery blast shortly after nightfall last night. The well was a column of flames today while hundreds of men fought to bring it under control.
    The known dead were:
    Marion Fugate, 28, Mt. Pleasant.
    Mrs. Walter L. McClanahan, 35, wife of the well owner.
    Mrs. E. J. Guy, 45, wife of the general superintendent of the Roosevelt Refinery.
    Ruby Melvin, 13, Mount Pleasant.
    Mrs. Robert C. Guy, 18, Mt. Pleasant.
    Arwin E. Gorham, wealthy Mt. Pleasant manufacturer.
    Mrs. Thomas Lamb, 25, Mt. Pleasant.
    Two others were so seriously burned that they are not expected to live.
    A cigaret carelessly dropped by a member of the crowd was blamed for the tragedy.
    --The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh, PA 20 Jul 1931

  • Walter McClanahan was (I think) my grandfather's cousin, another oil man. He was one of the ones seriously burned. It took him over a day to die.
  • His 7-year-old daughter witnessed her mother, father, uncle and various other friends and relatives burned alive in a second. She remained emotionally fixated at age 7 for the rest of her life -- and grew up to be a painter in the Fauve style of some note. Critics commented on her childlike style, not knowing its origins.