July 21st, 1880: Compressed Air Accident Kills 20 on the Hudson River Tunnel
In 1871, DeWitt C. Haskins began construction work on the Hudson River tunnel. The project continued until 1880 when a tragic accident took the lives of 20 employees.
When Peter Woodland was working in a pressurized compartment, he noticed water gushing in from a break in the bricks. Immediately he began leading men out of the tunnel. When only he, and 19 other workers remained, the leak caused a blowout, drowning all 20.
A memorial was constructed for Peter Woodland for trying to save his fellow workers inscribed, “Erected by the Order of Knights of Pythias in memory of Brother Peter Woodland, of Hector Lodge No. 49, of Philadelphia, Pa., who was killed at the disaster at the Hudson River Tunnel, Wednesday, July 21, 1880, aged 32 years. He sacrificed his life that others might live.”
The tunnel was finally completed and opened in 1908.
July 21st, 1919: Dirigible Crashes Through Bank Skylight, Killing 13
A dirigible, also known as an airship, is usually a helium filled craft with a steering mechanism, shaped similar to a blimp.
On July 21st, the Winged Foot Express was traveling over Chicago, transporting passengers from Grant Park and the White City Amusement Park, when it caught fire at 1,200 feet.
The ship plummeted to the ground, crashing through the skylight of the Illinois Trust and Savings Bank killing 10 of the banks employees.
The pilot, chief mechanic and one passenger parachuted from the ship. While the pilot and mechanic made it safely, the passenger broke both legs on landing, and later died of injuries. The remaining two passengers and mechanic went down with the craft and died.
July 21st, 1942: 8 Workers Die in Coal Waste Slide
In 1942, coal waste had piled up hundreds of feet high in Oakwood Virginia. Thunderstorms saturated the area, pouring rain onto the large pile, loosening the packed material.
On July 21st, the coal waste came down in a landslide, killing 8 people. One had tried to outrun the slide, and would have made it. However he fell into a creek swollen by the storms, and drowned.
This is considered the largest coal heap disaster in the United States, although 25 people have died in the last 50 years in coal heap accidents in Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky.