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Newspaper Articles

West Plains, MO Dance Hall Explosion, Apr 1928

Syracuse Herald New York 1928-04-14

Dance Hall

36 Killed, 18 Injured by Explosion and Fire

Seek More Bodies In Fiery Ruins - Nineteen Bodies Lying in One Morgue and 17 in Another - Gasoline Explodes - Many Victims Blown Considerable Distance From Hall.

West Plains, Mo., April 14 (UP) – The toll of dead in an explosion which wrecked a crowded dance hall here last night mounted to 36 today as rescue workers recovered bodies from the smouldering ruins of the structure. Eighteen persons were injured, and property damage was estimated at $250,000. Bodies of all of the 36 known dead were recovered. Nineteen rested today in one morgue and 17 in another. Officials in charge at the scene of the explosion said they feared more bodies might be found in the ruins.

40 Couples Dancing.
Thirty to 40 couples were dancing when the blast came. It was the regular Friday night dance of West Plains' younger set. Among the merry makers were many of the prominent young men and women of West Plains. At 11:30 the dance was at its height. The three piece orchestra was nearing “Home Sweet Home,” MISS DIMPLES MARTIN, at the piano was pounding out the strains of a popular melody – nobody remembers the name. At that moment J. N. WEISER, owner of the building, opened the back door of the garage on the floor below. A motorist had called him from his home to supply some gasoline. As the garage door swung open there was the thunder of a terrific explosion.

Floor Drops Into Flames.
The floor of the dance hall above was lifted almost to the ceiling. A moment of terrible silence followed. The the floor crashed in fragments into a raging gasoline fed furnace below. Into it went the forms of a score of humans who a moment before had been carefree dancers. Some were blown through the windows and survived. Three or four were able to crawl away from the hungry flames to safety. Others were blown free of the ruins of the street below, cut and mangled, burned and bleeding. The pianist was believed to have been killed instantly. BALL ALLEN, the trombone player who was sitting next to her, was blown through a window and lives. The third member of the orchestra is believed also to have perished.

Blast Heard 3 Miles.
The blast awoke sleeping farmers for a radius of three miles, and the leaping flames guided them to the scene of the disaster. An explosion of gasoline in the garage is generally blamed for the catastrophe. WEISER was found not far from the wreckage, his hand grimly holding the doorknob of the shattered garage. Nobody seems to know that happened to the motorist. The common belief prevails that WEISER must have lighted a match into the fumes of escaping gasoline.


Thirty-Six Are Known to Be Dead and 18 Injured in Explosion at West Plains, Mo., Friday Night.


Explosion Which Wrecked Garage Over Which Dance Was in Progress Has Not Been Determined.

(By Associated Press)
WEST PLANES MO., April 14. -- Death stalked into the little Ozark city and turned a dance hall with its merry making throng into shambles. With 36 known dead rescue workers today were carrying away the debris where laughter changed to shreiks[sic] of terror as an explosion wrecked the building late last night were seeking 18 persons missing and thought to have perished beneath the falling walls. Sixteen injured are in hospitals here many of them in a serious condition. The cause of the explosion has not been determined. Fire followed almost immediately as it destroyed three buildings before it was brought under control. Property loss is estimated at between $100,000 and $15,000. [Transcriber note – As written in paper]

The dead:
PAUL EVANS, JR., West Planes.
MR. AND MRS. R. G. MARTIN, West Planes.
CHARLES FISHER, high school student, Ava, Mo.
MRS. KITTIE McFARLAND, West Planes, undertaker.
JOHN BATES, son of REV. J. F. B. BATES, West Planes.
J. E. WEISER, head of the WEISER Motor company in whose building the explosion occurred.
Twenty-three unidentified bodies are in two undertaking establishments here.

Many of the injured victims were picked up on the streets far from the scene of the blast. H. C. ALLEN a prominent merchant was blown 55 feet and was found with both legs broken and an arm torn off. The intense heat from the fire and the damage to the power plant by the explosion hindered rescue workers in their attempt to penetrate the ruins. Soon after the explosion the walls of the building collapsed. The dance was being held on the second floor of a two story building the first floor being used as a garage and motor car sales room. Officers today are investigating a report that a large gasoline storage tank was thought to have been under the building caused the blast. Out of town residents in attendance at the dance were not included in the list of missing but it is believed the bodies of many from surrounding towns who attended the dance would be found in the debris. A rain early in the evening had materially reduced the attendance at the dance which was a weekly affair sponsored by a local orchestra. Thirty to forty couples were dancing when the blast came. At 11 o'clock when the dance was at its height J. J. WEISER owner of the building opened the back door of the garage on the first floor below. A motorist had called him from his home for gasoline. As the garage door swung open a terrific explosion occurred.

The Constitution Tribune Chillicothe Missouri 1928-04-14

Dance Hall Explosion Toll Reaches 39, Ten Unidentified. Open Probe Into Cause Of Tragedy. Explosion Bulges Walls of Building. Many Land in Street. $250,000 Property Loss

Owner of Wrecked Edifice Is Among Victims.

West Plains, Mo., April 14 (UP) – The bodies of 39 persons lay in morgues here tonight – victims of a “Friday the 13th” dance. A tabulation made late today showed that all except 10 of the dead had been identified. The corpses in morgues here tonight represented the major part of a group of merry makers from over this entire district who had gathered to celebrate Friday the 13th with a dance. As the orchestra struck into the mellow strains of “Home Sweet Home: the last dance of the evening, an explosion wrecked the hall, started a city block afire and sent the dancers into a tempest of burning gasoline and oil.

60 in Dance Hall.
About sixty persons were in the hall when the explosion occurred in a garage beneath the dance hall. The adjoining buildings were wrecked. Fire broke out immediately after the explosion, trapping many persons in the flames. The explosion hurled the walls of the building outward, throwing several of the dancers into the street. The lighting system was damaged and throughout the night firemen and volunteer workers were forced to grope in the uncertain glare of lanterns and automobile headlights. Property damage caused by the explosion amounted to approximately $250,000. There were several small stores and shops in the vicinity of the garage and dance hall and these were either blasted to bits or burned by the fire which followed the explosion. A coroner's jury today was working to learn the cause and fix the blame for the disaster. So far the cause of the blast still was a mystery, although many believed that gasoline storage tanks in the garage beneath the dance hall exploded. The garage was owned by J. N. WEISER, himself a victim of the blast.

WEISER had gone to sell some gasoline to a motorman. According to reports, he opened the door of his garage and immediately the explosion took place. When his body was found the knob of the garage door was clutched in one hand. The blast came just as a happy crowd was leaving a picture show, shortly before midnight. Many were bent on visiting the dance hall before their homeward journey.

Heat Blocks Rescuers
Quickly recovering from the first shock of the explosion, the theater crowds organized into crews and set to work looking for bodies of the dead and injured. The force of the explosion caved in the walls of the garage. Dancers on the second floor of the building were blown off their feet. Intense heat of the fire and the fact that all electric lights in the town were put out of commission hampered rescue work. As news of the tragedy spread, residents of nearby towns hurried to the scene and offered their services. Scores of citizens were deputized to keep order. Some of the injured were found many feet from the scene of the blast. A prominent merchant, H. C. ALLEN, was picked up by rescue workers 50 feet from the dance hall. Both his legs were broken and his arm torn off. The citizenry worked all through the night and today digging in the ruins for bodies. Ten persons still were missing at a late hour today.

All night the workers fought the flames. The toll mounted steadily today as the embers cooled sufficiently for firemen to enter the ruins. Groups of friends and relatives of the victims gathered weeping outside as the bodies were brought forth.

Few Still Unidentified.
The bodies were taken to morgues for identification. Some were burned beyond recognition. A few were still unidentified tonight. It was hoped that some of the missing had gone to their homes, neglecting to report their safety. So far as is known, none of the dancers escaped uninjured. Many received treatment for burns and other injuries and some were believed in a dangerous condition. An investigation into the explosion was started today. The owner of the garage was killed and it could not be learned what caused the blast.

MISS DIMPLES MARTIN, home from college at Memphis for a visit, was at the piano and struck up the last number on the evening's program, “Home, Sweet Home.” A terrific explosion came from the garage beneath the dancers' feet and the hall was converted into a twisted mass of wreckage.
Bodies flew through the air. There were heart-breaking screams and cries of agony. The injured struggled and crawled through the darkness as best they could. Many were too injured to crawl and died in the fire. Some were killed outright by the flying debris or burned to death. Quickly organized rescue crews pulled many from the wreckage and carried them to hospitals.

List of Dead and Missing.
A partial list of identified dead and missing follows:
Dead – MR. AND MRS. R. G. MARTIN, West Plains; MISS DIMPLES MARTIN, their daughter; PAUL EVANS, West Plains; MRS. CARL MULLINS, West Plains; MRS. KITTY McFARLAND, West Plains; JOHN BATES, West Plains; LEW REED, West Plains; MISS BILLIE DRAGO, West Plains; MISS VIRGINIA ROGERS, West Plains; MR. AND MRS. ROBERT MURPHY, Springfield, Mo.; BEN JOLLY, West Plains; MISS EVELYN CONKIN, Kansas City; a man known as “MERIT,” last name unknown; CHARLES FISCHER, Ave, Mo.; BEN PARKER, Mountain Grove, Mo.; ALVIN GARNER, Mammoth Springs, Ark.; CARL JACKSON, Mount Grove, Mo.; a MR. AND MRS. JAMES; MISS ISLE RISNER, Baier, Mo.; J. N. WEISER, West Plains; Maj. ROBERT MULLINS, West Plains.

Missing – MRS. WALLACE ROGERS, Pleasanton, Kan.; MISS RUTH FISHER, West Plains; MRS. MARY ADAIR, West Plains; OTTO KELLETT, West Plains; CARSON McCLELLAND, West Plains; CHARLES MURK, West Plains; BOYD GARNER, Mammoth Springs, Ark.; MR. AND MRS. ________ RILEY, West Plains, and MARVIN HILL, West Plains.

Syracuse Herald New York 1928-04-15


Elbert White is 40th Victim of Dance Hall Explosion.

(By Associated Press)
WEST PLAINS, Mo., April 20. -- The 40th death as a result of the dance hall explosion here last Friday, occurred early toady when ELBERT WHITE, 19, Doniphan, died of injuries. He was a son of E. C. WHITE, Doniphan newspaper publisher. His brother DAVID was seriously injured but probably will recover.

The Constitution Tribune Chillicothe, Missouti 1928-04-20


Owner of Garage Beneath Dance Hall at West Plains, Mo., Was Strongly Opposed to Dancing.


Prosecuting Attorney H. D. Green, Jr., Today Is Investigation Both Phases of the Fatal Explosion.

(By Associated Press)
WEST PLAINS, Mo., April 16 – Possible motive of suicide or revenge against dances or both, today were being investigated by Prosecuting H. D. GREEN, JR., in connection with a mysterious explosion that destroyed a dance hall here Friday night with a loss of forty lives.

GREEN advanced the theory that J. M. WISER, 47, who rented a garage below the dance hall intentionally caused the blast. WEISER, he said, was involved financially and probably was insolvent. The prosecutor said WEISER, a devout church member, had made remarks against dancing at Alton, Mo., his former home, but had not remonstrated publicity here.

The prosecutor pointed out that so far there is no direct evidence that the explosion was an accident. He is confident it was not caused by gasoline as was at first supposed, as the gasoline tank was intact.

GREEN said he had witnesses ready to testify that WEISER was seen at his garage twenty minutes before the blast and that one man claims he saw a sputtering light there – a light that flickered a few moments and went out just before the building was blown up.

The Constitution Tribune Chillicothe Missouri 1928-06-16

Dance hall article

Editors Note:

Images of the death certificates for some of those killed in this explosion are available to view. Files will open in a new browser window. Close to return to this list. They are, in alphabetical order (click name to view):

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