Looking back on the Ardmore Explosion 106 years later
On September 27, 1915 a railroad car containing approximately 250 barrels of gasoline exploded, and the face and story of Ardmore were changed in an instant. Approximately 50 people lost their lives, with dozens experiencing injuries, and the city faced over $1 million (over $27 million in today's dollars) in damages.
According to "The Ardmore Disaster" a booklet published by The Daily Ardmoreite in 1915, the story begins the evening before when the train arrived in the city and was pulled near the Santa Fe Depot to wait on the spur track until it could be hauled to the Ardmore Refining Company for processing. At around noon the following day railway employees noticed that the internal expansion of the car's contents had raised the safety valves, and gas and liquid were escaping freely.
The conductor of the switching crew also took note of this at around 1 p.m. and refused to transport the car to the refinery because he knew the trip would take the car past a nearby asphalt plant where asphalt was melted over a fire.
According to The Oklahoman, the railroad crew contacted the refinery via telephone and informed them of the leaking valve, and their representative Ira Wood arrived at around 2:15 p.m. to inspect the situation. He removed the safety dome cap, and column of pressurized liquid shot many feet into the air. He dropped down to the ground to continue his inspection, and at around 2:20 p.m. a massive explosion ripped through the air.
The exact cause of the explosion is unknown, though one theory posits a stray spark caused by Wood's banging on the valve may have been the source. Whatever the case the explosion caused immediate damage which was exasperated by the following building collapses and fires.
According to the Monday, September 27, 1915 edition of The Daily Ardmoreite, The Santa Fe Depot was entirely destroyed and burned to the ground. Every building between the depot and the Whittington Hotel was destroyed, and the east side of the hotel was "wrecked from the top story to the first floor." The high school located on N. Washington lost almost every window and received damage the roof. All the homes within a half mile radius also received broken windows.
The city was immediately placed under Marshal Law and Police Chief Hutchins appointed numerous men to act as guards to protect the merchandise in the damaged shops and stores downtown.
At the time, Ardmore explosion was the most destructive and deadliest of its kind, and it new rules and regulations were put into place for the shipment of gasoline.
Today, the most visible reminder of the explosion is the Mercy Train which sits near the entrance to the future Depot Park. The Mercy Train brought in supplies and volunteers to aid in the recovery process in the days following the disaster.