Randall Gabrielan’s “Explosion at Morgan” Book

Morgan Manuscript – Randall Gabrielan’s “Explosion at Morgan” Book

Gillespie Front Cover w Space x634In October 1918, the Morgan based T. A. Gillespie Loading Company, one of, if not the largest shell loading plants in the world, was destroyed by a series of explosions and fires.  This web site has provided a glimmer of information about the expansive nearly forgotten plant but not yet the full picture.  One of the contributors to this web site has been Randy Gabrielan, Monmouth County’s Historian.  In addition to something like fifty books already written and published, Randy has written and published the most expansive printed work thus far on the subject of the Gillespie explosion.  Congratulations on another work well done to Randy!

Illustrated to the left here is the cover of the book showing the ruined remains of Morgan’s Bayview Manor mansion (See to-be-reposted write-up) which on the morning of October 5, 1918 burned down after being hit by an artillery shell projected by one of the many out of control plant explosions.

On the back cover are text and two iconic photos associated with the Morgan explosion. The main photo shows a number of refugees on some probably never to be identified dirt road trying to escape the disaster. The second image shows a World War I uniformed soldier patrolling past the blown out windows and destroyed frontage of Bash’s Specialty Shop in Perth Amboy.

The two text sections read:

  • While World War I raged in Europe, America scrambled to supply the Allies with ammunition, and several munitions plants were constructed near the Jersey Shore.  The hastily built plants hummed with hardly a mishap until the fateful night of October 4, 1918, when a series of explosions killed one hundred people.  Firemen and other volunteers were powerless to stop the destruction as it devastated the Morgan-South Amboy area and terrified the surrounding region.  Strangely, though, this woeful disaster has been forgotten by history. Local historian Randall Gabrielan re-creates this terrifying night and its aftermath in the context of Middlesex County’s role in the Great War. 
  • “There was one great blast after another as we ran… loaded and half-loaded shells, which were thrown into the air, exploded.  Glass came down like rain, and pieces of steel from the shells and chunks of concrete would come down in a shower after each explosion.”

The book is now available! Should you be interested in finding out how to order a copy, you can contact Randy at: MonmouthHistory@Comcast.net

Originally posted on October 4, 2012, 94 years to the day when the explosions started.

8 thoughts on “Randall Gabrielan’s “Explosion at Morgan” Book

  1. Laverne David Gopstein

    I’ve read the book which was quite interesting and well done. There are mentions of the California Loading Company. I am interested in more references to it. My father’s family moved to South River in 1917 when my grandfather, Ferd A. David, started work as a guard officer at California Loading. I have a few pictures of him in uniform. He later became Chief County Detective in Middlesex County. All family members whom I might ask have long since died. Is there any other website I might try?

    1. morgannjadmin Post author

      Hi, I’ll let Randy know about your comment! I have some schematics of the International Loading Company (but can’t figure out where that was specifically located). I don’t really have much about the California Loading Company. I do have info about it being in Old Bridge, Work Order #G 1606-870 A for $5,000,000 “to load Boosters, Adapters, fuse Rifle and Hand Grenades.” The General Manager of the plant was a Mr. Oliver who was also somehow tied in with the Oliver Loading Co and California Cap Co (both in Old Bridge). Do you have any other oral history of your grandfather’s experiences at the California Loading Company?

  2. elizabeth

    I currently finished writing my Aunt Betty Peigelbeck’s biography for her soon to be 100th birthday celebration on 4/1/15. At 3 years of age, the Morgan explosion was my Aunt’s first vivid childhood memory. She and her family lived in South Amboy, NJ. My Aunt told me she read, and enjoyed your book very much. Currently Betty lives in Pine Beach , NJ. Best Wishes. Liz Buresh

  3. Jerry T

    This event was all old timers talked about when that date in Oct approached , Dad was 6 yrs old at the time and lived on Convery near Sayre Ave in Perth Amboy, he recalled everybody left that area for days and his job was to make sure the cow did not wander away as they walked to Carteret through Woodbridge …….many broken windows and homes shifted off foundations but this was recalled as a 6 yr old some 70 yrs later ………….wonder why nobody really talks about it?????????

  4. Maryann Mercer

    My grandfather John/Jack Rogan left work at the factory early to get air in his bicycle tire. Since my mother was not born until 1920, it was a fortunate occurrence for my mother’s family. Also my father, Edward Mercer, who was 4 years old at the time, lost his hearing in one ear due to one of the purcussions at that time.

    1. morgannjadmin Post author

      Wow. Your personal story could have been totally different if it wasn’t for that low bike tire. Your personal story might never have happened!

  5. Fred Phil

    While researching my great grandmother Bridget “Bessie” McCormack I discovered she had a claim for damage from the Morgan plant explosions. It was approved by an act of Congress. She was a widow in 1918 and lived on 112 David Street South Amboy near the Raritan Basin. She must have been terrified because the explosions lasted for 3 days. A week after the blast the entire area was hit with a epidemic of Spanish Flu. Rev John Brady of Saint Mary Parish on Augusta Street helped organized temporary clinics nursed by volunteers known a Sisters of Mercy to care for the flu Victims.

    The death toll from the blast is unknown but it was over a 100 and 6000 were rendered homeless. The bodies and body parts were buried in a mass grave in Sayreville. The cemetery plot was forgotten and abandoned for many years but recently restored.

    1. morgannjadmin Post author

      Hi Fred. It must have been a scary time period. Many people who were evacuated died of the flu.

      Yup, she appears on page 11 of the ‘Damages to Private Property at Gillespie Plant. List of Claims:
      Bessie McCormack, 110 David Street, South Amboy, N.J.. Claimed: $253.20. Allowed by Board: $331.10. Description of damages allowed: Personal, 3; structural, $328.10

      Here is info about the gravesite:

      Thanks for your comments! Verne


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