19.  Tales of Destruction...The Dalrymple Family

McLaurin relates this story of February 6th, 1873; "One morning in February of 1873 Dennis Run, a half-mile from Tidioute, experienced a fierce explosion, which vibrated buildings, upset dishes and broke windows long distances off.  It occurred at a frame structure on the side of a hill, occupied by Andrew Dalrymple as a dwelling and engine-house.  He was a "moonlighter", putting in torpedoes at night to avoid detection by the Roberts spotters, and was probably filling a shell at the moment of the explosion.  It knocked the tenement into toothpicks and killed Dalrymple, jamming his head and the upper portion of the trunk against an adjacent engine-house, the roof of which was smeared with blood and particles of flesh.  One arm lay in the small creek four-hundred feet away, but no vestige of the lower half of the body could be discovered.  A feeble cry from the ruins of the building surprised the first persons to reach the place.  Two feet beneath the rubbish a child twenty months old was found unhurt.  Farther search revealed Mrs. Dalrymple, badly mangled and unconscious.  She lingered two hours.  The little orphan, too young to understand the calamity that deprived her of both parents, was adopted by a wealthy resident of Tidioute and grew to be a beautiful girl.  Thousands viewed the sad spectacle and followed the double funeral to the cemetery.  It has been my fortune to witness many sights of this description, but none comprised more distressing elements than the sudden summons of the doomed husband and wife.  Mrs. Dalrymple was the only woman in the oil-region whom Nitroglycerine slaughtered.

"Is there a sixth sense, an indefinable impression that prompts an action without an apparent reason?  At Petrolia one forenoon something impelled me to go to Tidioute, a hundred miles north, and spend the night. Rising from breakfast at the Empire House next morning, a loud report, as though a battery of boilers had burst, hurried me to the street.  Ten minutes later found me gazing upon the Dalrymple horror.  Was the cause of the impulse that started me from Petrolia explained?  An hour sufficed to help rescue the child from the debris, inspect the wreck, glean full particulars, and board the train for Irvineton.

"Andrew Dalrymple, was at his brothers well ten minutes before the fatal explosion and said to the pumper:  'I have five-hundred dollars in my trousers and next week I'm going west to settle on a farm.'  Man and wife and money were blotted out ruthlessly and the trip west was a trip into eternity instead."

The Titusville Morning Herald of February 6, 1873, reported the following about the Dalrymple tragedy:  "Yesterday morning a torpedo explosion occurred near Tidioute that in its destructive results will rival, if not surpass, any one of the long list of similar accidents that have occurred in the oil country.  About half past 7 o' clock, just as the teams and pedestrians had begun to pass over the road from Tidioute to Triumph, and while many were yet locked in slumber, an explosion occurred on Dennis Run, that shook the ground in the immediate vicinity, startled those in the neighborhood, and was distinctly felt in Tidioute.

"Immediately the engineers and laborers at the wells along the run started for the point where the explosion occurred, and in an incredibly short time the road from Tidioute was filled with a crowd of excited, anxious, and inquiring persons bound for the same point.

"It was soon found that the explosion had occurred in the house occupied by A.J. Dalrymple, as the structure was leveled to the ground, shattered in every part.  This dwelling consisted of but two rooms, a kitchen and bedroom, and was situated about one mile from the Tidioute post office, on the side hill about forty feet above the road leading to Dennis Run.  An engine house, the old Mosier well, stands at the side of the road next to the hill, and is about thirty or thirty five feet from the site of the dwelling occupied by the doomed family.

"The occupants of the dwelling were A.J. Dalrymple, a young man about twenty five years of age, his wife, who was some twenty years old, and a child, an interesting girl aged about eighteen months.  When those who had heard the explosion came upon the scene, a terrible sight met their view.  The dwelling had been literally blown to fragments, and for a distance of many yards around the ground was covered with pieces of boards, furniture, bedding, and bits of clothing and human flesh

"Those first on the spot proceeded to remove the debris, and found Mrs. Dalrymple lying near the centre of the kitchen portion of the structure.  Near the mother, and between her insensible form and the wreck of the stove, was found the child.  They were promptly removed, and medical aid summoned. In the meantime, others had found and were caring for the remains of Dalrymple.  He had been blown through the roof of the house, at an angle of about fifty degrees, and the head, arms, and a portion of the trunk struck near the ridge of the engine house roof below and rolled to the ground.  Besides this portion of the body, numerous small fragments were picked up that in all would fill about a patent pail.

"From the bushes shreds of flesh were suspended, the engine house was spattered with blood, and pieces of flesh were driven into the wood.  On the roof a large bloody spot showed distinctly where the body had struck.  After the remains were placed together, and covered from sight, the curious crowed would raise the protecting blankets and satisfy their curiosity by gazing on the mangled mass.  At this time, the most intense excitement prevailed, and many, faint and sickened by the sight, left the ground.  Everything that could be done was promptly carried out.  Mrs. Dalrymple was beyond human help, as she was insensible and lived only two hours.  The child's injuries were promptly dressed, and she was placed in the care of Mr. Jones.

"After the explosion a small quantity of nitroglycerine was found in the ruins.

"Dalrymple's occupation was that of a workman.  The engineer at the well just before the house, states that Dalrymple was to torpedo a well yesterday, and that just below the accident he was filling a torpedo with nitroglycerine.  The dangerous article had been kept in the engine house some time, but, at the insistence of the engineer, Dalrymple had removed it and recklessly placed it in his own house.  A moment before the explosion the unfortunate man borrowed a chisel and hammer off the engineer to fix his torpedo.  When the crash came the latter was sitting by the engine house window next to the house, and was thrown insensible to the ground.  When he recovered he thought that the boiler had exploded, but on stepping to the door learned the truth.  In the ruins of the house he found Mrs. Dalrymple and the child alive.

"The remains were taken in charge by his friends and placed in one of the ante rooms of Eden Lodge No. 666, I.O. of O.F., of which Dalrymple was a member.  Here the bodies were properly cared for and placed in suitable coffins.  In the evening they were viewed by a large number of citizens.  They are to be buried at Tidioute today.

"Dalrymple was born in Chautauqua County, New York, removed from there to Minnesota, and returned to Tidioute, where he has a brother residing, some two years since.  Although engaged in the torpedo business, he had no connection with Roberts and Co., of this city.  He had many friends in Tidioute, and is highly spoken of.  He had concluded to quit the business, and intended returning to the west in a short time.

"Torpedo explosions grow more frequent as the business increases, and from past experiences we may predict that torpedo men will use no more care than heretofore, and that other accidents will occur before the year is gone."

It was over one hundred years later that Otto Cupler Torpedo Company personnel learned the rest of the story.  In 1995, Otto Cupler was performing its "Nitro Show" in Titusville when members of the Dalrymple family, now located on the west coast, stopped at the office to inquire what the company knew of Andrew's death.  They were engaged in genealogical research and had found Andrew's grave in Tidioute, but were unable to learn the circumstances of his fate.  We explained that Andrew had been a "moonlighter", and while engaged in the manufacture of torpedoes, had blown himself and his wife to bits.  It was then that we learned that the baby girl had been horribly disfigured in the tragedy, dying years later in an insane asylum in Ohio.  The words of a very old company saying came flooding back:  "Nitroglycerin!  The most powerful substance known, so powerful in fact that whatever it touches must suffer, rock, steel, and the human soul."

The Dalrymple fiasco inspired an editorial in The Titusville Morning Herald on February 7, 1873:

Lessons of the Dennis Run Accident

"The Dalrymple torpedo accident at Tidioute brings to light the fact that nitroglycerine, or other dangerous explosives, are used, stored and manipulated secretly in places little suspected by the general public.  A large amount of this dangerous material has lately been stolen from the various magazines throughout the country, and this species of theft is winked at by some parties, who are opposed to the Roberts torpedo patent.  They justify the illegal act upon a sentiment of legal wrong, never taking into consideration the terrible consequences which are almost certain to follow, should this principle be extensively carried into practice.  Such men as these, no doubt, aided and abetted the unfortunate Dalrymple in the commission of acts which led to his death; for if he had not received encouragement he and his family would be alive today.  In the eyes of an intelligent community, when a man premeditatedly and with knowledge and forethought brings this most terrible and almost certain instrument of death into the bosom of his family, the act is looked upon as something else than a accident.  There is reason to fear that nitroglycerine, dualine, and other dangerous explosives are stored in many private dwelling houses throughout the region, and that this was not an isolated or by any means an exceptional case.  The only remedy is for every individual in the community to use his best endeavor to ferret out such cases, and when a man is found storing or manipulating nitroglycerine or other explosives in a private dwelling house, consider it not merely an act of duty, but a act of charity to have him promptly arrested."

Color Photo by Frances Marlow

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