Morgan Company Explosion Memorial

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.

markertext

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.

massmarker

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36 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Karen Heyer on January 13, 2013 at 1:34 PM

    i think a relative of mine was killed in the explosion. His name was Charles Heyer, Jr.
    Can anyone confirm?

    Reply

  2. My brother suggested I might like this website. He was totally right.
    This post truly made my day. You cann’t imagine just how much time I had spent for this information! Thanks!

    Reply

  3. Posted by Morgan resident on July 22, 2010 at 1:45 PM

    Hi, I live in Morgan and believe that because of the history in the area, there should be a Morgan Museum/Historic Library created in this part of Sayreville. Perhaps the city/state should purchase the old club Krome location (on Route 35/Old Spye Road) which is for sale and construct it there. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful idea?

    Reply

  4. Posted by Nick McWhorter on May 29, 2010 at 1:21 PM

    J. A. Goins, keep an eye open on eBay listings for a “Victory Lamp.” There have been 3 or 4 auctioned in the last 3 or 4 months. They have been selling for $125 to $225. With all of the info out there now at http://www.morgan-nj.org the value might go up!

    Reply

  5. Posted by J.A. Goins on April 5, 2010 at 4:23 PM

    In October of 1918 my great (x2) Grandfather kissed his daughter goodbye – as was customary – on his way to work the night-shift at the T.S. Gillespie Shell-Loading plant. He was never seen, nor heard from again. My grandfather tells it that his mother knew her father was gone the second the shockwave blew the windows out of their family home. His body was never recovered. The reason I repeat this is because I have been looking for a “Victory” lamp to commemorate his death, and would be much appreciative if anyone would be willing to part with, or knows of a place where I might find one of the Morgan shell-lamps for sale. My offer, not withstanding, I can appreciate everyone’s zeal for history on this thread because, for better or worse, it is the history of my mother’s family. Thank you, -J

    Reply

    • Posted by Darrell on April 6, 2012 at 11:20 PM

      I grew up in morgan in the 60s-70s Morgan Plant was our play ground. I am quite shocked and amazed at what happened there.

      Why was the history of Morgan never mentioned in school or posted anywhere? What a shame!

      Kind of creepy we played where so many lost there lives.

      Reply

      • Morgan-NJ.org has a lot about the history of Morgan including some about the T. A. Gillespie Loading Company plant. I’m working on more postings about Morgan and the Gillespie plant all the time. Based on what it has taken me to be able to find info on Morgan’s history, I don’t think anyone knew about most of the history, hence why it probably hadn’t been taught in the Sayreville or South Amboy schools. I can’t speak for whether or not local history is now taught in the Sayreville or South Amboy school districts or, if so, what grades would cover it. Morgan’s history goes back to at least 1710 when Charles Morgan purchased most of what is today considered to be Morgan.

        Reply

        • Posted by don on April 12, 2013 at 12:55 AM

          i have movie tapes and pictures on the 1918 explosion and also the 1950s dock explosions–ive lived in morgan my entire live.

          Reply

  6. Posted by John Baird on April 3, 2010 at 12:30 AM

    I, too, have one of these Victory Lamps. Mine came from my parents shop in Lewistown, Mt. They bought the building in the early 1950′s and the lamp, along with other things, was included. I was fascinated with it and recovered it when I moved out and they had no use for it. I have had it in my reading room for years. Tonight I looked at the base and decided to research it on line. I was thrilled to find this strand.

    I would like to see the brochure that came with the original. My lamp has a 20′s looking shade but everything else looks original except the cord. Thanks for any input. John Baird –baird2222@aim.com

    Reply

    • Posted by Demoman on April 5, 2011 at 2:46 PM

      I also have one of the victory lamps, that my dad and myself found in arkansas back in around 1960.the finnish of the metal is worn off, but other then that, its in good condition. I also would like to try to get a copy of flyers, or catalogs for this lamp if anyone has copys.

      Kevin

      Reply

  7. I have an original flier that was sent out on these 75 mm Victory Lamps. On top of that I have the original packing slip and assembly instructions that were sent out with it (there were three types – electric, gas, and kerosene). My Aunt bought one for $18.40 (it was reservation number 822). I do not recall ever seeing the lamp shade that is depicted on the flier. I’m afraid my Aunt ruined the value of the lamp by having the black enamel stripped and the whole thing brass plated back in the late 50′s. I did find another one in an antique shop in Shelbyville, KY, a few years back and I bought it for $75. I gave it to my daughter’s family and it got dropped and the nose cone was damaged – I am going to try to get that repaired.

    I was like one other person that responded to this – I was looking for a ship by the name of “Morgan” that might have exploded. Glad to get that cleared up.

    Reply

    • Hi Robert,

      I would like to be able to see what the flyer and instructions look like. Would you please make a posting on the Morgan-NJ.org web site so I could contact you?

      Thanks,
      Verne

      Reply

      • Would like to share this infor with you,Verne, but the Morgan-NJ.org site appears to be frozen up at this time. The flier is larger than the standard 8 1/2 x 11 paper – I will have to go to a copy store to get a copy made. Is there an address that I could send this to? i.e., a P. O Box or to a local library to your attention. I realize it’s tricky putting addresses and phone numbers out on the Internet.

        Reply

  8. Hi,

    Looks like Andrew’s Victory Lamp sold today – congratulations! Morgan is a section of Sayreville, NJ. As Lostinjersey states, the T. A. Gillespie Shell Loading plant exploded over the course of three days starting on 4 October 1918 – just five weeks before the war ended. It was probably the biggest single event which occurred in Morgan, NJ. Today nearly nothing remains of the plant except for a building at Brown’s Boat Yard and some brick along the docks.

    I have a web site dedicated to unique and historic Morgan, NJ (www.Morgan-NJ.org) and welcome your browsing of it. It is still a work in progress and the main article about the plant explosion is still in work. I am looking for any info and photographs to include in the site and would really welcome some info about the Victory Lamps everyone seems to have. Digital photographs of your lamps which I could post would be very much appreciated. You can leave me a message on the Morgan-NJ.org web site.

    The Raritan River Railroad did have a Gillespie Spur. From what I have been able to find, that connected to a separate Gillespie business which made gunpowder. Getting to the Shell Loading plant appears to have been via another spur which has no remaining traces to it that I could find.

    The web site also indictes how to acquire the only documentary video I am aware of regarding the explosion. This DVD was created by a Spotswood, NJ History teacher and his students.

    Thanks,
    Verne

    Reply

  9. I just listed one of the Victory Lamps on our militaria online auction website: http://www.manions.com. We put a price of $40 on it, but I suspect it is actually worth more – $100, maybe?

    Reply

  10. Posted by Mark Curry on November 7, 2009 at 6:14 PM

    I also have a VICTORY LAMP with the same sticker and inscription wondering what they are worth

    Reply

  11. Posted by Julie Reneau on September 25, 2009 at 12:49 PM

    I have one of these Morgan Explosion commemorative lamps, also. It was a gift to my husband’s stepfather since the date on it is the same day he was born. I found it in their old barn in the loft, all dusty and dirty. It is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.

    Reply

  12. Posted by JerryAmedeo on June 6, 2009 at 8:13 PM

    I have been living in the Matawan area for 40 yrs and I just read about this explosion in the latest edition of Weird NJ. Someone has a dvd about it. Last month I was doing some research on the Raritan River Railroad which might have served the T.A Gilespi factory as they had built , what was called the Gilespi spur. I am a school bus driver and I pass the Ernst Cemetery quite often and plan on visiting there soon. I also visited the grave of Snuffy Stirnweiss who was killed in the Newark Bay train wreck in 1958. I was living in Bayonne and when I was 10 the train accident occured and I went to see it after school.

    Reply

    • Posted by lostinjersey on June 12, 2009 at 12:11 PM

      thanks for posting. I’m sure lots of older local residents remember this incident. if you get info on the dvd, LMK please.

      Reply

  13. Posted by George Burn on May 17, 2009 at 12:06 PM

    I was raised in Morgan NJ and spent my entire childhood there. I used to play in the brick buildings that remained after the explosion. In two places where we had homes we unearthed shells. oOn 9th Street a 5″ shell was unearthed when a sewer line was being put in and on Dolan Ave. while as a teen I was cleaning up a hillside in our front yard,” I found a 3″ shell partially buried. On both occasions an ordinance person from Raritan Arsenal came to remove them. In the latter case, the man came in a jeep, and after determining that the shell was safe to transport, strapped it onto the bed of the jeep, put explosives signs around it, and gave me a ride down the street. Wouldn’t happen today.

    Reply

    • Posted by lostinjersey on June 12, 2009 at 12:11 PM

      wow, any chance you have any pictures of the place after the explosion?

      Reply

    • Posted by Sharon Wisniewski on December 15, 2009 at 5:24 PM

      I grew up in Morgan and I remember my dad taking me to the “Morgan Plant” to learn how to drive a car! I was only in the 8th grade and that wouldn’t happen today, either! That was in the early 1960′s and the area was just a packed dirt area with makeshift roads that locals made to use to drive around on. I was told about the explosion, but did not appreciate the magnitude of what happened until now! I saw online that my great grandmother’s house had considerable damage from the blast – she lived in Melrose. If anyone has any information about the DVD please let me know!

      Reply

  14. Posted by Flo on March 20, 2009 at 9:53 AM

    I have in my possession a lamp made from a 75MM shell saved from the Morgan Explosion. It has a scripture “They shall beat their swords into plowshears….ect.” A date of June 3, 1919 is the newest patten date. There is a sticker on the underside of the lamp base with particulars.

    If you have any information regarding this lamp and its rarity or desirability please respond to Jshephard2@neo.rr.com.

    Reply

  15. Posted by Beverly on March 18, 2009 at 3:56 PM

    My great grandfather Morris was in the explosion and lost his life.

    Reply

  16. Posted by Mike on March 18, 2009 at 3:52 PM

    when were your pics taken…the cemetery has been cleaned up… check it out looks good now…

    Reply

  17. Posted by Jenni on March 18, 2009 at 3:51 PM

    Read about guy who found the lamp for the MORGAN EXPLOSION, I’m person who e-mailed him about the lamp with his thinking it was memento from wrecked US Warship…..NOT!!!!! Numerous articles exist on this matter and Perth Amboy and South Amboy libraries have alot of files and period articles on this EXPLOSION. MY Uncle F would always talk of this explosion in ernest and said as 8 yr kid he was evac to Cartert with family and cows, chickens, etc to escape many massive explosions .Great SIT

    Reply

  18. Posted by Morgan on March 18, 2009 at 3:17 PM

    Thank you for the Morgan explosion page

    Reply

  19. Posted by Hitchcock on March 18, 2009 at 3:15 PM

    I saw your page on the Morgan Explosion. I also have a Snead & Company shell lamp with a 75mm shell from the explosion. Thanks for the great webpage.

    Reply

  20. Posted by anonymous on March 18, 2009 at 3:14 PM

    Hi, I just read your article on the Morgan Explosion and enjoyed it very much, and must agree with you that more should be done to honor our dead. I came across your article as I was doing research on a lamp that I purchased at an auction. You probably already know this, but in case you do not, evidently a company in Jersey City N.J. shortly after the explosion made lamps out of 75 M/M shell casings that survived from the Morgan Plant. The lamp I purchased has a sticker on the bottom that reads, “75 M/M lamp manufacturd by the Snead & Company Iron works, Jersey City N. J., founded 1849, this lamp was made from a genuine U.S. Government French-American 75 M/M shell saved from the Morgan Explosion. Snead Lamps are patented as follows: April 22, 1919 May 13, 1919 June 3, 1919. Other patents pending”.

    I have no idea on how many were produced, but evidently like your article states that the war ended 39 days later, so I guess they found a use for them since they were no longer needed for the war. One other thing I almost forgot to add, around the base of the shell is this quote, “They shall beat their swords into plow shares and their spears into pruning hooks: Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more”. This is very interesting history, if you might have any further information on these lamps, I would greatly appreciate hearing about it. Thanks for the interesting article! I will try and get some pictures e-mailed to you. As far as the lamp we just stumbled across it at an estate auction. This estate was from a person who collected war memoribilla, and he had a lot of empty shell casings, small cannons etc. This was the only thing that had an inscription. I have tried to research this “victory lamp” on Yahoo without any luck, I plan to e-mail the New Jersey Historical Society, hopefully they have ran across these before and can give us a little more information. Thanks for your interest and feedback!

    Reply

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