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Six Places Workers Were Killed in New England

Over the course of New England history many thousands of workers were killed on the job.

Some, like Vermont quarry workers, died a slow death from silicosis. Others, like Connecticut munitions workers, were killed suddenly in violent explosions.

Carelessness killed some. Nature killed others. Sometimes armed law enforcement officers killed those who dared to challenge the bosses over working conditions and pay.

Here are six places in and around New England where workers were killed because of their jobs. If you know of others, please add them in the comments section.

Remington Arms

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Workers were killed at the now-abandoned Remington Arms plant in Bridgeport, Conn.

The New York Times called the enormous Remington Arms plant in Bridgeport, Conn., 'the greatest small arms and ammunition plant in the world.' It may also have been the deadliest.

At its height, Remington Arms employed more than 17,000 workers. Some of them were killed on the job. On April 4 1905, three workers were killed in an explosion that blew up an entire building. In 1914, Bridgeport police killed an 18-year-old striking worker, Frank Monte. On March 28, 1942, an explosion killed four women and three men and hurt 80 others.

Investigators blamed the explosion on a nail that fell into a box of cartridge primers. One of the victims, 39-year-old Ellen Hanson Potts, was identified by a finger amputated in a previous accident.

The blast 'shook the huge munitions plant about 2 p.m., sent bullets whizzing dangerously through the vicinity, touched off a general fire alarm and brought a rush of ambulances,' reported the Boston Globe.

Today the abandoned Remington Arms plant, said to be haunted, can be seen at 812 Barnum Ave.  in Bridgeport. It is said to be haunted.

The Penobscot River

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The Penobscot River, where logging workers were killed on log drives.

Joe Attien was a Penobscot Indian chief who worked for seasonal wages as a logger and a Maine guide. Logging was dangerous work, and many of the log workers were killed on the job.

Joe Attien first appeared in print when  Henry David Thoreau wrote about him in his 1864 book, The Maine Woods. Thoreau wrote, somewhat condescendingly:

He was a good looking Indian, twenty-four years old, apparently of unmixed blood, short and stout, with a broad face and reddish complexion, and eyes, methinks, narrower and more turned up at the outer corners than ours, answering to the description of his race.

On July 4, 1870, Joe Attien was leading a team of log drivers down the Penobscot River in a bateau. River drives were usually over by Independence Day, when the men went into Bangor and celebrated with a vengeance.

In 1870, though, the West Branch drive was late because of rough water. On July 4, the rivermen tried to break up a logjam at the Blue Rock Pitch. A bateau was launched with seven red-shirted men, captained by Joe Attien from the stern.

The churning water shot the boat across the channel and smashed it against the rocks. The collision sheared off a hole in the bateau, which quickly filled with water. The unmanageable craft hurtled over a waterfall among the rocks and logs. Some of the men couldn’t swim, and Joe Attien died trying to save them.

Folklorist Fannie Hardy Eckstorm had known Joe Attien since she was an infant. She had a higher opinion of him than Thoreau. “He was not only brave but good,” she wrote, “an open-hearted, patient, forbearing sort of a man, renowned for his courage and skill in handling a boat, but loved for his mild justness.”

When his body was found, the river drivers cut a cross into a tree by the side of the pond, and hung his boots in the tree. The boots stayed there until they rotted away, a sincere memorial of a good man.

Today you can learn more about Maine’s logging history by visiting the Maine Forestry Museum in Rangeley, Maine.

Georges Banks

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An obelisk to the 57 fishermen killed in the 1841 storm. First Congregational Parish of Truro.

Fishing has long been one of the deadliest occupations in the United States. In 1841, so many Cape Cod fishermen perished in an October storm that the peninsula’s young women became reluctant to court men who went to sea.

On Saturday, Oct. 2, most of the Truro fishing fleet on the Georges Banks left off fishing and made for home. Only two of the nine ships that set out made it.

The wind kicked up that afternoon and reached gale force by midnight. “The ocean roared as though with an unbridled madness,” wrote Sidney Perley in Historic Storms of New England. “Its waves ran mountain high, throwing their spray far into the sky, and forming a majestic yet fearful sight.”

Cape Cod suffered the most from the storm. The beach from Chatham to the highlands was strewn with the parts of 50 wrecks. In one day, 100 bodies were taken up and buried. The Truro Insurance Company failed for a lack of men to take charge of its vessels.

In the seven fishing vessels out of Truro, 57 men and boys died at sea, and only a few of their bodies were recovered. All 57 lived within two miles of each other. They were related to nearly everyone in town. Eight were Snows and eight were Paines. Three were boys not yet 13 years old.

An obelisk in Truro’s First Congregational Parish Church yard commemorates the 57 storm victims at 26 Bridge St. in Truro.

Amoskeag Mills

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Three workers were killed when a steam engine exploded at the Amoskeag Millyard.

Ida Cram and Mary Kane were two workers at the Amoskeag Mills in Manchester, N.H., on the morning of October 15, 1891 when all hell broke loose at the facility’s Number 7 mill.

The Amoskeag, the largest cotton textile plant in the world, had installed a mammoth Corliss steam engine to deliver power to four of its plants. But steam engines in the 1800s were risky machines. They powered the industrial revolution, but maintaining and operating them was a new skill that many had not mastered.

That morning in 1891, Amoskeag management was concerned that the steam engine seemed to be operating erratically. An engineer, Samuel Bunker, was dispatched to the engine room to see if he could find the source of the problem. No one knows if Bunker ever found exactly what was wrong because debris from the giant Corliss engine killed him when its flywheel flew apart and destroyed the building that housed it.

Ida Cram and Mary Kane were also killed in the explosion, which showered the mills with debris and sent raging blasts of steam from the broken machinery. Dozens were injured. Investigators never conclusively figured out the reason for the blast that sent three people to the grave.

Today, visitors can tour parts of the historic Amoskeag mills that are home to the Manchester Millyard Museum.

Sayles Finishing Plants

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The Sayles Finishing Plant. Workers were killed during a strike at the plant in 1934.

William Sayles started a bleachery in Lincoln, R.I., which grew into the enormous Sayles Finishing Plants in the 1920s. By then, mill owners were trying to squeeze more and more work out of their employees because demand for textiles had slackened while competition had stiffened from foreign mills.

In the fall of 1934, unions organized a general strike throughout the textile industry – the largest in U.S. labor history. From New England to the South, 400,000 textile workers walked off the job. The strike lasted 22 days.

Strikers stopped work at Sayles, but the company hired strikebreakers to continue production. Several thousand strikers shut down the factory. Rhode Island Gov. T.F. Green ordered state troopers and deputy sheriffs to police the strikers. They arrived wielding machine guns and tear gas bombs against the unarmed workers. They fired on strikers hiding in the Moshassuck Cemetery, killing Charles Gorczynski, a 17-year-old textile worker from Central Falls.  His body was carried through Pawtucket in an enormous funeral procession.

Police later shot and killed William Blackwood, a 44-year-old onlooker. In the end, eight strike sympathizers and four striking workers were killed, and 132 people were injured in what became known as the Saylesville Massacre.

Today, you can visit the Moshassuck Cemetery at 978 Lonsdale Ave. in Central Falls. You can also see the Sayles’ mills and workers housing in the Saylesville Historic District in Lincoln, R.I.

Proctor Marble Factory

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Quarry workers were killed most often by silicosis, a lung disease.

On May 22, 1903, Janos Szlaby, a Hungarian immigrant, was working the graveyard shift at the Vermont Marble Company at Proctor, Vt.

A belt that turned the stone-finishing machinery in one of the plants snapped. Szlaby was sent overhead to free the belt with the factory machinery whirring below. One slip later and Szlaby tumbled into the factory’s balance wheel, which crushed him to death. Szlaby’s death brought the work to a halt while he was extricated and transported to the Proctor Hospital – one of countless men who gave their lives to Vermont’s quarrying and stone-finishing industries.

In 1915, when the state created the Industrial Accident Board, reports of injuries and deaths to stonecutters and quarrymen injuries were among the thousands of incidents that poured into the board’s office.

More pernicious than the sudden deaths in the quarries and plants, however, were the lung ailments that stone workers suffered from years of exposure to stone dust. Pneumatic tools that replaced hand tools threw off great clouds of dust. Workers who had been accustomed to working with stone outside in Europe were now working in enclosed spaces, clouded with dust. The conditions brought confrontations between companies that wanted the increased efficiencies that modern equipment could bring and the workers who were worried about their lungs.

In 1909 a group of stonecutters walked off the job in Northfield, Vt., because the company bought handheld surfacing tools that threw off too much dust. In the early 1900s labor agreements included language about tamping down dust on the job, but the methods were less than effective. One study found that men employed in the stonecutting trade in the 1920s and 1930s lost 11 years off their life compared to workers in other fields.

You can visit one of Vermont’s marble quarries at the Proctor Marble Museum.

Images: First Congregational Parish of Truro By Judy Moehle - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35518602

 

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