Downtown gas explosion remembered
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According to the March 9, 1960 Palmyra Spectator, on Wednesday, March 2, at 6:27 p.m., an explosion destroyed two downtown Palmyra businesses.
Mrs. Louise Boettcher Winn was killed, as she lived in a second floor apartment. Mrs. Lena Faxon and Frank Schwagmeyer were injured. A possible fourth victim, Fannie Cross was not home.
According to reports in the Palmyra Spectator, the explosion appeared to center in the Show-Me Jewelry Store, owned by Mr. and Mrs. Ray Fouts, which occupied the ground floor of the building on the corner of East Lafayette and Main streets. The building was owned by Dave Redd and had at one time houses the post office and a grocery store.
The assumption at the time was the explosion was caused by an accumulation of gas from a leak.
An adjacent building, which housed the Robert Johnson insurance office and abstract company, was also demolished.
Durand’s Drugs, just north of Johnson’s office and the apartment above it were severely damaged.
The explosion rocked the business district, strewing debris over a large area and breaking windows within a radius of a block and a half.
Within minutes, the Palmyra Fire Department was on the scene. Rescuers were digging in the ruble, attempting to reach persons trapped. Mrs. Faxon was found near the center of the ruined building, and Mr. Schwagmeyer was found soon afterward. Both were taken to St. Elizabeth Hospital in Hannibal. Mrs. Winn’s body was found about 20 minutes later, and she had apparently been killed instantly.
A second explosion about 7:10 p.m. caused workers to retreat. Gas was still spewing into the basement of the wrecked building, and workers were trying to get through the rubble to cut it off. At the same time, workers were cutting through the street to get to the gas main to shut if off.
A crew from the gas service company arrived the next morning and repaired the line and turned on the gas again. Homes on three blocks of Home Street and one block east of East Lafayette were affected by the cut off.
Merchants boarded up broken windows to protect merchandise from not only pilfering and but also from the weather as the explosion occurred during the worst snow storm of the season with the snow falling heavily and a strong north wind blowing.
Workers were served coffee from the 207 Cafe, Myers Cafe, Ladies of the Methodist Church, Legion Auxiliary and Salvation Army from Hannibal.
Ambulances responded from Shelbyville, Bethel, Canton and Monroe City and Hannibal offered ones as needed, but it was soon determined additional aid was not required.
Work went on through the night with trucks removing rubble and assistance offered where needed.
An eye witness account in the newspaper at the time was from Dr. Sy Staszak who was shoveling snow from the sidewalk in front of his office at 115 W. Lafayette when he heard glass splintering and turned and saw the windows explode outward with a large orange ball of flame behind them.
Debris flew through the air and he thew himself face down into the snow. A large piece of lumber sailed overhead and through a window in the Sear’s building just west of him.
Buildings, including those housing the Gambles Store and Palmyra Plumbing and Heating Supple lost all their windows and the courthouse had over 100 windows shattered. Windows to Ray’s Super Market Fagan’s Foodliner and the bowling lanes on West Main Cross Street as well as Cissna Chevrolet were shattered as well.