The 1917 Eddystone Disaster

In 1917 the Eddystone Ammunition Plant, located outside of Chester, Delaware County, was one of the busiest munitions factories in the country, piercing fuses and filling shells with gunpowder for the Russian White Army. On Monday, April 10th at about 9:55 a.m., just four days after America entered World War I, “F” Building of the plant was torn apart by a trio of explosions. One hundred and thirty-three persons, mostly girls, lost their lives in the explosion. The majority of the women killed worked in the loading room.  The first explosion was followed by two smaller ones. Bodies were thrown in the air and some were found hundreds of yards away. The Chester Times published three extra editions the day of the explosion.

The force of the explosion was terrific and filled the air with chaos. The calls for help went out to firefighters, ambulances and doctors throughout the area. One hundred PMC cadets, under the command of Captain Lewis Morey, rushed to the scene. Almost immediately the cadets began to calm the crowds and restore order. The Chester City and Crozer hospitals quickly became filled and the Sixth Regiment Armory in Chester was turned into a temporary hospital. A cadet company from Pennsylvania Military Academy was assigned to keep order as hundreds of relatives and friends arrived at the Armory.

At first, many thought the explosion was an act of sabotage by the Germans as the United States had just entered World War 1. Years later an inquiry cast suspicion on Russian Revolutionaries opposed to the czar and the war. A guard at the plant told reporters that electrical devices used to shake explosive powder down into the shrapnel shells had been malfunctioning for some time. He suggested that tangled wires in the devices had short-circuited, throwing sparks which ignited the powder.

Fifty-five of the dead were never identified. More than 12,000 persons gathered here on the morning

12,000 mourners gathered in the Chester Rural Cemetery on April 13, 1917, for a massive funeral service. The Eddystone Ammunition Corporation paid all of the funeral expenses. The remains of 55 unidentified victims were buried in a mass grave marked by a small monument. Decorations still appear at this grave site today - likely brought by descendants of some of these unidentified souls.
In less then two weeks the company was back to work. The mystery of the explosion was never solved. Decorations still appear at this grave site today - likely brought by descendants of some of these unidentified souls. Originally, there were 52 bodies laid to rest, but there were three more bodies added later making a total of 55 buried at the Chester Cemetery. A monument near the Edgmont Avenue side of the Chester Rural Cemetery marks the final resting place for the remains of unidentified victims.

There will be a re-dedication of the monument and Chester Rural Cemetery over the mass graves of the on identified on April 8th 2017 (Rain Date: April 15th). The time has not yet been determined.

Chester Rural Cemetery
Delaware County
Pennsylvania, USA
Plot: Section U, Rows 248 - 251