Jersey City, NJ Hudson River Tunnel Cave In, July 1880

SWALLOWED UP IN A TUNNEL.

TWENTY-ONE LIVES LOST.

AN APPALLING CALAMITY IN THE HUDSON RIVER TUNNEL -- A PART OF THE TEMPORARY ENTRANCE CAVES IN WHILE TWENTY-EIGHT MEN ARE AT WORK -- SEVEN OF THEM RUSH INTO THE AIR LOCK AND ESCAPE -- THE CAUSE OF THE ACCIDENT.

By the caving in of a portion of the temporary entrance of the Hudson River Tunnel, early yesterday morning, twenty-one persons lost their lives. There were twenty-eight men in the tunnel when the accident occurred, and of these seven rushed into the air-lock and escaped. The others were instantly killed. When the roof gave way a large volume of water rushed in, filling the tunnel and working shaft. A large force of men was immediately set to work to dig down to the shaft in order to recover the bodies. It is thought that the bodies cannot be reached before Saturday. The news of the disaster spread rapidly and many persons were attracted to the scene. Arrangements were made last evening for pumping out the water, but through mismanagement the pump fell into the shaft. This accident will probably delay the work of removing the bodies.

A terrible disaster, by which twenty-one lives were lost, ocurred at the Hudson River Tunnel, at the foot of Fifteenth St., Jersey City, yesterday morning at half-past 4 o'clock. Twenty-eight men had gone into the tunnel for an eight-hour shift, and they were at work, little thinking of danger, when a number of the men who were working in the temporary entrance -- between the working shaft and the tunnel proper -- heard the air escaping from the portion of the shaft in which they were, with a noise like the blowing off of steam from a boiler. They hastened to the place whence the noise came, and found that a break was forming in the roof, where the iron plates of the shaft in which they were came up to the brick work of the outside of the wall of the working shaft. For a few moments they hoped that they might be able to close the rapidly widening opening, through which the air was rushing, and they struggled hard with it, but in vain. They were too late. The little air-hole that might have been stopped with a handful of clay at first had extended so rapidly that they could not keep pace with it. As the air rushed out the seam grew wider, and earth and water began to come in. The bolts in the iron work snapped and the braces began to quiver. No time was to be lost if the men were to save themselves. With a shout to those who were working further back in the tunnel, the men in front sprang for the air-lock hoping through it to make their escape.
The earth through which the tunnel is being constructed is a silt, over which is a loose filling of gravel and sand. The roof of the tunnel is thirty feet below the upper surface of the ground, and in order to keep this immense weight of earth from falling into the excavation the shaft of the tunnel has been kept pumped full of compressed air, with a pressure of twenty pounds to the square inch. There are plenty of braces and other supports, but the main dependence is placed on the compressed air, and men have been kept watching constantly to detect the least break in the surface of the shaft, through which air might escape, in order to prevent the occurrence of any such accident as that which has occurred. It is supposed that the man whose duty it was to attend to this portion of the shaft had left his work a few moments before, and either had not noticed or had disregarded the small air-hole which soon afterward did such terrible damage.
The air lock is an iron chamber of cylindrical shape, somewhat resembling a boiler, but much larger and heavier. Its diameter is six feet and its length fifteen feet. It extends from the working shaft, through the wall, into the entrance to the tunnel, which can only be entered or left through it. The airlock makes ingress and degress possible without endangering the tunnel. It has a massive door at either end, each swinging inward toward the tunnel, otherwise the pressure from within would force the door open. Before the inner door of the air lock is ever opened the outer door is closed, and the lock is filled with air until the pressure there is equal to that in the tunnel. Then, of course, the inner door is closed before the outer door is opened.

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