Rescue effort in 1916 Ohio tunnel disaster remembered


CLEVELAND (AP) — One hundred years ago this month, the Cleveland Waterworks Tunnel disaster claimed the lives of 21 men and injured nine others. On Monday afternoon, descendants of men who died during the disaster and men who saved lives met for the first time.

An event at the Garrett A. Morgan Treatment Plant on the lake at West 45th Street brought them together.

“I am really pleased to meet you all,” said Sandra Morgan, choking back tears at the program, entitled “Commemorating the 100th Anniversary of Historic Rescue by Garrett A. Morgan.”

Sandra is the granddaughter of Morgan, the African-American inventor who participated in the rescue during the disaster, and who invented the mask worn by rescuers. For many years, as historians at the program noted, Garrett Morgan received minimal recognition for his role and his invention. Twenty-five years ago, name of the treatment plant was changed to honor Garrett Morgan.

Morgan, who died in 1963, is perhaps better known as the inventor of the three-position traffic light and the founder of the Cleveland Call newspaper.

Before the disaster, water intakes (tunnels) were being built from the shoreline out to the lake to bring fresh, clean water to Clevelanders. Shoreline water was polluted and untreated, and causing high rates of death from cholera and typhoid, especially among children.

According to various Cleveland historians, about 70 men lost their lives in waterworks tunnel operations before the night of July 26, 1916. Most of the laborers were Irish and German immigrants.

On the night of the disaster, at 9:22 p.m., a powerful gas explosion occurred at the tunnel face. Eight volunteers went in to look for the crew, and only three survived. More volunteers would continue searching during the night. Near dawn, Morgan arrived with several of his helmets after a Cleveland policeman who had seen Morgan’s demonstration of the helmets persuaded Cleveland authorities to get in touch with him. Morgan, his brother and two volunteers made four trips to remove men, dead and alive, from the tunnel.

Gus Van Duzen was the tunnel chief. He also was one of the rescuers. His granddaughter, Barbara Lind, 71, of Cleveland Heights, attended the commemoration.

“Men died to bring us a clean water, and we take that for granted,” said Lind. “It’s very emotional. It’s also sad that Morgan didn’t get credit for his role.”

Ohio Appeals Court Judge Kathleen Ann Keough came to the event, too. She is the granddaughter of a rescuer, whose name in some accounts is spelled Keogh.

“I didn’t know about this, she said. “I think this program is wonderful because his (Morgan’s) invention was so significant.”

Karen Altmos of Fairview Park also attended. Her great uncle, Clarence Welsh, died attempting to rescue workers.

Some of the descendants were unaware that they were related to men who either died in the disaster or were rescued. They found out through research by Margaret Lynch of the Irish American Archives Society.

Leanne Schwind, of Mentor, attended for her husband, whose great uncle, Charles Schwind, perished in the tunnel. “We didn’t know anything about him until we got a phone call,” Leanne Schwind said.

Mayor Frank Jackson was at the ceremony, as was Cleveland Water Commissioner Alex Margevicius.

John Grabowski, a historian with Case Western Reserve University, noted that 100 years ago was a tumultuous time for Cleveland, good and bad. The disaster, if nothing else, led to improved safety standards for water miners. But at the same time, the Metroparks was emerging, as was the West Side Market, Karamu House, the Cleveland Foundation nonprofit, and more.

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Information from: The Plain Dealer, http://www.cleveland.com

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