Sunday, August 16


Thursday – January 25th 1940, just a typical cold day in Hazard. A steady flow of traffic traveled down Main Street. The sidewalks were busy with people. The whittlers were swapping stories at the court house square. It was shortly before noon and many downtown restaurants were getting ready for the lunch time rush.

Miss Ruby Dagly, a clerk at the Kentucky Power Company greeted customers as they entered the business on the first floor of the Masonic Temple. James T. Smallwood of Rockcastle was in the lobby getting warm. Hope Harmon was paying his bill. Jacqueline Bullard, a cashier at the power company gave Mr. Harmon his receipt and change. It was exactly 18 minutes and 44 seconds before noon when the unthinkable happened.

A massive explosion ripped through the building. There was a roar and the cashier's cage tipped inward as the floor disintegrated. Bullard fell into the basement, or at least part way down through the falling floor. "I saw or believe I saw the flooring in the middle of the room flying upward," she said. Bullard crawled up through the broken flooring and out a side window in the alley next to the First Baptist Church. She suffered burns on one ankle, her hair about the face was singed and she ached all over.

People who were in the lobby when the explosion occurred said that the floor heaved upward, and that the roar of the blast seemed to come from all over the building. The second floor buckled in many places. The main stairway from the ground floor was blown to bits and escape from the second story came down an iron fire escape. The third floor occupied by the Masonic Temple buckled upward. Gas, from an unknown source, which permeated the entire basement of the power company office building was apparently ignited by a spark.

22 year old Joe Curtis who had worked for the local office of the power company for the past three years was killed in the explosion. Ruby Dagly received multiple fractures, several crushed ribs and a punctured lung. Hope Harmon had a fracture at the base of his skull. Many others suffered burns.

"I had been standing in the middle of the room by a pillar and saw the man (Harmon) come in and pay his bill," recalled James Smallwood. "I had just decided that I would go out doors, and had turned and started toward the front door when there was a terrible roaring noise and I was thrown against the ceiling. I fell to the floor, or what was left of the floor, partly on some man, I suppose the same man who was paying his bill. The room was choked with fumes and smoke and dust and I could scarcely breathe. I began to crawl toward the place I remembered as the door and finally got outside in the clear air," said Smallwood who had a deep gash on his right cheek, cuts and bruises and a broken ankle.

More than a dozen men were conducting a farm group meeting in the assembly room at the rear of the 2nd floor of the Masonic Building when the blast occurred. 74 year old J.W. Walker of Allais, who was attending the meeting, was thrown upward and in falling suffered a broken pelvis. He said the meeting had dissolved into various small groups for discussion and had just been called into session again by County Agent Allington Crace in order that it might adjourn, when the blast came. They escaped down the rear stairway.

Carter Fields of Busy suffered painful cuts on his left foot when he stopped a large piece of plate glass flying across the street toward him. Fields was in the center of Main Street when the blast came and staggered him. He believed that had he not taken the brunt of the flying glass that it might have more seriously injured the group with him.

The time of the blast had been recorded by a stopped electric clock located in the office of R.L. Gordon, district manager for the company.

1 comment:

  1. 1940...I was just 7 years old...too young to realize what had happened in our little town.

    You have shown me facts that I had never read or heard about. I climbed the steps up to the top floor of the Masonic Building when it was a "rec center" for teens, etc. and had no idea it had been in such a blast. Further, I did not know or have forgotten, that the Power Company was there in that Building. My earliest memory of that building is Engles with their Florist, etc. and then much, much later Dawahare's Dept. Store.

    Did they ever know for sure what caused this damage and the death of such a young man at 22. Mercy, this is all news to me and here it is 69 years later.

    Thank you, Wanderer, for your interesting and factual postings. Will watch for more.