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Jersey City, NJ Saloon Explosion, July 1920





Four persons, three of them children, were killed by an explosion last night in the saloon of ANDREW POLSKI at 611 Summit Avenue, Jersey City, or burned to death in the flames which swept through the three-story frame structure after some liquid believed to have been alcohol went off with a great roar in the saloon.
The dead are:
TRAXEADA POLSKI, wife of the saloon keeper.
LEOKAYDA POLSKI, ten-year-old daughter of the couple.
MAY POLSKI, their three-year-old daughter.
Unidentified Boy, 4 years old.
POLSKI collapsed in the City Hospital where little MAY, badly burned, expired under a surgeon's care. Police Captain DANIEL LEE announced that he would be placed under arrest pending investigation of the explosion. The police think it may have resulted from the illicit manufacture of whisky.
Two persons, who were burned and overcome by smoke, are in the City Hospital. They are members of another Polish family who lived above the POLSKIS, and their names had not been learned at midnight.
The POLSKI place is near the Five Corners, a great traffic centre, and the noise of the explosion, followed by the glare of flames reddening the sky as the flimsey tenement burned like kindling wood, brought an excited crowd. A rumor that there had been a fire in a theatre, followed by a panic, heightened the excitement.
There are two police stations in the vicinity and squads of patrolmen and detectives arrived in time to drive back the onlookers and plunge into the building. They saved seven persons, some of whom were on the verge of jumping as tongues of flame licked nearer the window sills in which they were crouching, begging those in the street to hurry the work of rescue.
A single alarm was turned in and the flames were confined to the building in which they started, though for a time other tenements were endangered. The firemen at first believed a number of others had lost their lives, but as soon as they were able to drag their hose lines inside they were satisfied there were no more bodies within.
The exploson came with terrific force. POLSKI was standing just outside the door of his place when it let go. The whole front of the building was tossed into the street, slivers of plate glass and scantlings from the framework being hurled thirty feet. The path of the explosion just swerved by the man cooling himself near the doorway and he was uninjured.
His wife and his elder daughter are believed to have been inside the saloon, perhaps aiding him in whatever work was going on there. Their deaths were unstantaneous. The police were not sure in their first hurried report whether Baby MAY was near her mother or whether she had been put to bed upstairs. She was on the ground floor when the first rescuers arrived and lifted her in the first of the long line of ambulances that followed early reports of a big disaster.
As soon as the fire was out an examination of the premises was started, with a view of obtaining such physical evidence as might remain of the cause of the explosion. POLSKI was in such condition he could not talk coherently, but the police believed as soon as he was calmer he would disclose the source and nature of the explosion which sent flaming liquid searing the walls and ceiling and had the whole place aflame within a few seconds.

The New York Times New York 1920-07-21

article | by Dr. Radut