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The Royal Plate Glass Co. Explosion of 1977 By: Arlene Johns

JM's editor, Arlene Johns, came across this old building sign on her walk a few days ago. We're always interested in these finds, so we did some digging.

It turns out, Royal Plate Glass Co. made news 41 years ago on this day – July 24, 1977

A sign for Royal Plate Glass on Good Alley

Only 4 days after the devastating 1977 Johnstown Flood, the Royal Plate Glass Co. was cleaning up.

Suddenly an explosion ripped through the Washington Street building, injuring 11. One man was paralyzed and another, 64-year-old Abe B. McCary, died a few days after the blast.

At the time of the explosion, 17 workers were in the Royal Plate Glass buildings. The business had been devastated by the flood just days before and workers were attempting to clean the buildings.

“There wasn’t much of a sound,” owner A. James Epstein told The Tribune-Democrat.

“SORT OF A BLUE FLASH, A BLUE FLAME, JUST ALL AROUND. IT WAS JUST MOMENTARY.”

With no electricity to the building, the explosion was believed to have occurred when a worker went to the basement with a Coleman lantern. Natural gas was to have been shut off, but officials at the time were concerned about dangerous levels of fumes from sewer lines.

Epstein, who had taken over the business from his father, told the newspaper the explosion "shot us into the air" and then brought the roof down. Two employees were in the front office.

"THE FLOOR DISAPPEARED FROM UNDER THEM,"

Epstein said. "And they ended up standing on the joists that had been supporting the floor."

Ironically, Royal Plate Glass had moved to the Washington Street location following the flood of 1936.

Epstein was injured by flying glass. "They were trying to shove me into the ambulance," he said.

"I said, 'I'm not leaving until everybody is accounted for.'"

Mr. Epstein passed away in 2009. Historical images in this article are from the archives of The Tribune-Democrat.

Sources: Faher, M. (2007, June 30). Faces of the Flood: ‘It’s tough to survive’. The Tribune-Democrat. Retrieved from http://www.tribdem.com/news/local_news/faces-of-the-flood-it-s-tough-to-survive/article_61eee11c-d151-5b93-be96-7c7a594f5795.html

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Vaughn Burnheimer
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Credits:

Royal Plate Glass sign photo by Arlene Johns.

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