On October 4, 1918 at 7:40 AM the TA Gillespie Company suffered an accident that caused explosions lasting for more then 2 days. The accident began when molten TNT was being poured into 155mm shells and a fire broke out, setting off the explosion of several freight train cars. Nearly 31 million lbs of explosives detonated, along with over 200,000 shells in the warehouse. Homes for miles around were destroyed or damaged. Martial law was declared as far away as Perth Amboy.
6,000 people were rendered homeless. Due to exposure, lack of medical supplies, lack of doctors (many of whom were off fighting WWI) and lack of electricity and heat (many families simply spent the night outdoors) the Spanish flu spread quickly among the survivors. 108 people died, and many of them were never identified. The bodies were buried in a mass grave off Ernston Rd in Sayreville. The cemetery here was apparently forgotten and abandoned for many years.
When I visited the cemetery in 2003, years of debris and overgrowth were in the process of being cleared. The mass marker is the largest headstone in the cemetery. Even so, it doesn’t seem to do justice to the event. When you consider the scope of what happened (thousands sick, hundreds homeless, hundreds dead) I imagined something a bit bigger.