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On this day in 1860, the entire front page of The Pilot, a Boston newspaper, was dedicated to “The Calamity at Lawrence”, a now forgotten disaster.

The Pemberton Mills at Lawrence in Massachusetts suddenly collapsed, crushing an estimated 300-500 workers. One in four workers were killed.

The building consisted of one six-story main building and two small wings. The wings remained standing while the main building was totally destroyed.

Pemberton Mills Collapse
The Pemberton Mills after the main building collapsed. (Source: The Pilot, January 21, 1860, Vol. 23 No. 3)

Unfortunately the mill was never a sound structure to begin with: “The building had never been considered as staunch as it ought to have been. It was built about seven years since, and was then thought a sham; indeed, before the machinery was put in, the walls spread to such a degree, that some twenty-two tons of iron stays were put in to save the building from falling by its own weight.”

The only people spared from the catastrophe were those who happened to leave by 3 p.m. and the “Agent” and the “Treasurer”, who heard a strange noise from the building, ran out a door that was never used but happened to open, and just as they reached freedom, everything collapsed behind them.

Firefighters, families of those in the wreckage, and community members removed debris until they could reach the injured and dead. “It is estimated that not less than two thousand able-bodied men have been constantly at work on the ruins.”

“The scene in the streets of Lawrence was agonizing in the extreme.”

*I always feel I need to bring light to forgotten histories. This one is from 162 years ago but is no less heartbreaking today.*

(Source: The Pilot, January 21, 1860, Vol. 23 No. 3)

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