Blown up through the river
In his “Twentieth Century Tales” ( FT417:46) Paul Sieveking relays the story of Mrs Elizabeth Pratt, who was tossed into the air by a Madison Avenue manhole cover on 28 March 1905. Prior to this experience she was reportedly reading a news story of a man “blown up through the East River”. Mr Sieveking notes: “I don’t know what this means”.
This is undoubtedly a reference to a story on the front page of the New York Times on 28 March 1905, which to some extent presages Mrs Pratt’s experience. Under the headline “Worker Shot Skyward From Under River Bed” it narrates the experience of one Richard Creedon, who was working a shift on the digging of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel (now the Joralemon Street Tunnel) under the East River. These tunnel workings were kept pressurised to reduce the leakage of water at the cutting face, and would occasionally develop air leaks into the surrounding soil which made the pressure difficult to maintain. Creedon was attempting to block such a leak with sandbags when it suddenly became a great deal larger. As the NYT reports:
... the compressed air in the chamber, at a pressure of thirteen pounds to the square inch [0.9 atmospheres], found a point of least resistance at the leak, blew a hole about 4ft [1.2m] in diameter through 17ft [5.2m] of silt, and Creedon was shot through the aperture and 10ft [3m] of East River water like a pea through a putty blower. He was rescued, little the worse for his adventure, from the stringpiece [timber edge] of the dock, and yesterday afternoon was suffering more from libations administered to ward off pneumonia – he went from the air chamber temperature of 80 degrees [Fahrenheit; 27 degrees Celsius] to that of the water, 35 degrees [1.7 C] – than from the shock or immersion.
When interviewed, Creedon reported: “Jack Hughes yells for bags, and as the boys pass them up I grabs them and puts them at the hole when I was drawed into the flow and shot out at the other end. Then all of a sudden I strikes water and opens my eyes. I was flying through the air, and before I comes down I had a fine view of the city.” [ sic throughout]
Creedon was also lucky to avoid a bout of decompression sickness, given that his ambient pressure pretty much halved in the near-instantaneous transition from the overpressure of the tunnel to atmospheric pressure at the surface. But the newspaper article doesn’t say how long he’d been working in the tunnel’s pressure chamber before his accident, so perhaps he was newly arrived and not yet fully saturated with nitrogen. Or perhaps he just enjoyed even more luck during an already very lucky experience.
Dundee, Scotland didn’t know he had been shot until the following morning. He was taken to hospital but refused to undergo surgery to remove the bullet and died four days later.
The crime is officially unsolved, but the prime suspect is a local man named Tommy Simpson who hanged himself a few days later. If correct, it was probably a case of mistaken identity. Simpson may have intended to shoot a different man, Tommy Kenyon, who Simpson believed had impregnated his daughter.
The murder weapon is uncertain. It may have been a cane gun, but was also speculated to have been a catapult. There are numerous articles about the case on the Internet;
contains a few brief clips of the documentary. [See also www.youtube.com/ watch?v=P_Ra08FLtvY]
Editor’s note: Caron Newman points out that the case is the subject of a book called Wall Of Silence by Jennifer Lee Cobban, the victim’s great niece; the book is also mentioned by David Melkevik, who adds that the murder features in Melanie Warren’s book Lancashire Folk, as residents of Bashall Eaves have reported seeing a ghostly figure with a gaping wound in his back haunting the lane where Dawson was shot. And Kevan Hubbard writes to say that there’s no way to tell if the projectile had come out of a cane gun, unless you had the gun and could match up the rifling.