Jan. 1, 1926: Havoc on Fulton Street
Daniel Jones Jr. was asleep in his bed when a piece of steel weighing as much as a small automobile came roaring through his room. The boy didn’t have a chance. A short time later, firefighters searching among the rubble found the twisted bed. Daniel Jr. was there, too, his four-year-old body busted up in ways that must have horrified his frantic parents.
The Jones family lived in a two-story house on the 700 block of Fulton Street. We walked there last week. It’s difficult to believe a dense neighborhood once occupied this section of the North Side. These days, the block is dominated by a parking lot and an abandoned industrial building with busted windows. Not a house is in sight. Nearby, cars zip past on State Road 65. Just beyond the road lies the Rivers Casino. That’s where this story begins — at a steel mill that dominated this site decades before the casino was built.
It was a rolling mill called the McCutcheon Works. There, tremendous machines and hard men were employed to squeeze and shape steel into bands and hoops. We’ve seen old black-and-white films of these types of mills. In the background, large spoked wheels spin in the dark. These are flywheels. The speed of their spin was kept in check by belts.
At 3:30 a.m. on January 1, 1926, one of these belts broke at the McCutcheon Works. A flywheel measuring 14-feet in diameter spun out of control. It spun so fast, in fact, that it broke apart. Jagged pieces were hurled skyward.
The largest piece soared more than 1,000 feet before it plowed into the Jones home. Daniel Jones Sr. and his wife Catherine were jarred awake. Plaster dust filled their bedroom. They found their two oldest children in the hallway, covered with debris but unhurt. Where was their youngest?
Who can imagine the horror and confusion felt by the parents? Suddenly, a portion of their house was gone. So was a beloved child. Daniel Jr. was rushed to Presbyterian Hospital, but he could not be saved.
The Jones family buried their son and repaired the damaged home. Catherine once again became pregnant. Then, less than two years later, disaster struck again. Early one November morning in 1927, a giant gas storage tank on nearby Reedsdale Street exploded, killing 28 people. Large pieces of the metal tank fell from the sky. One landed on the roof of the Jones home. Another tore apart the repaired room where Daniel Jr. had died.
The Post-Gazette reported that family members were busy cleaning up the mess hours after the disaster. Surely they must have felt cursed. We wondered: would this second incident cause the family to flee Fulton Street? We checked the 1930 census. Listed at 719 Fulton Street was the Jones family, with a new member — Betty, born about the time of the gas tank explosion.
Today, we Pittsburghers relish our reputation as a tough, resilient people. We should at times pause to remember how this reputation was earned.
(The Jones family’s story is part of our Pittsburgh History video series.)