John D. Parker recalls the 1921 explosion of the Hitt's Fireworks factory in the Rainier Valley.

  • By Dave Wilma
  • Posted 3/01/2001
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 3036

In 1999, 90-year old John Parker of Port Ludlow penned this account of the 1921 explosion of the Hitt's Fireworks factory in the Rainier Valley. One woman working at the plant was killed.

John Parker's Account

"In the fall of circa [1921], I was in the seventh grade of the old two-story schoolhouse perched high on the steep Cliff that was left after the streets on three sides were graded. It was after lunch and I was reciting up in front of the row (our room faced south) as I was facing the Windows I saw a great flash of light that lit up the whole area. In a matter of seconds there was a tremendous roar and that old building shook .... Windows and doors rattled.

"As I watched in horror, I saw a column of smoke corrupt from the Hitt fireworks which was the top of the hill past Hudson Street. At first, debris was shot upwards as rockets, but later the water tank and machinery actually floated [up] rather slowly. The water tank had one end out so the steamĀ [illegible] up made it appear like a rocket. It spun out and upwards and over end and finally fell to earth some distance away. Robert Bailey was sitting on the east side of the room about four seats from the rear of the room and one row in from the east side of the room. He did not act nervous or upset. Finally, as the teacher could not keep order, she dismissed the class with orders for us to go home.

"Instead, we ran up to the scene of the explosion in the power of the blast had stripped all the limbs and leaves from a huge maple tree leaving long stubby limbs. A fireman climbed high upon the tree and using a pike pole he was able to retrieve a gingham dress that held the rib cage and spinal column of a body. Later they gathered the parts of a human being and put them in a pile. It was Robert Bailey's sister.

"She had just opened a barrel of black powder and the rest is anyone's guess as to what happened to cause it to ignite. Oh! Yes my mind is clear on a lot of things that happened in my 90 years. Robert Bailey was my friend until he died some years ago. That was the last year for the old school and we moved to the new school and our class was the first one to graduate in 1923.

"The details of the Bailey girl are only facts that some folks might object to if it was printed. After the explosion, the city passed an ordinance that made it illegal to use explosives to make fireworks so Hitt's moved out to Bryn Mawr and one day the warehouse caught on fire, but did not explode. The firemen put the fire out, but thousands of packages of fire crackers got soaked so they threw them out.

"I salvaged a lot of them and as they dried out I sat on our wooden sidewalk cutting each cracker openĀ and making a pile in front of me. I lit a match in the black powder flashed and I fell away but gasped a lung-full of poisonous gas and I got terribly sick with a splitting headache and nearly blacked out."


Sources:

John D. Parker to Buzz Anderson, letter dated May 11, 1999, Item 99-34-01, Printed Material File, Rainier Valley Historical Society, Seattle, Washington.


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