The Crystal Restaurant Collapse - Akron, Ohio 1916 - An Engineer's Aspect


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Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Crystal Restaurant Collapse - Akron, Ohio 1916

On May 15, 1916 at 6:15 p.m., the Crystal Restaurant, located in the old Beacon Journal building on the corner of Main Street and Quarry Street in Akron, Ohio, collapsed as a result of a blast of dynamite in an adjoining excavation. The Ohio National Guard was called in to restrain a crowd of over 10,000 people. Nine people were killed and 22 were injured.

Image: A postcard showing an aerial view of the Crystal Restaurant disaster. Source: Summit Memory.
"In the spring of 1916, the Franklin Bros. Co. was blasting rock to make room for the foundation of the Delaware Building (137 S. Main).

At the peak of dinner hour, Gust Serris, who owned the Crystal Restaurant at Bowery adjacent to the construction site, complained to crews that the explosions were rattling his dishes and his customers.

His cries were ignored. Five minutes later, two more explosions shook his building, and it fell like a house of cards onto patrons and servers.

Nine people died and 30 were injured in the tangle of glass, brick and steel.

As the smoke cleared, heartbreaking tales circulated.

The victims included a newly employed waitress who had just moved to Akron in search of a better life, and a diner who stepped outside for fresh air, only to see the building collapse behind her, crushing her husband and 5-year-old daughter still seated at their table (Downtown Akron Partnership)."

The Xenia Daily Gazette reported the tragic May event the next day:

Xenia Daily Gazette, Xenia, Ohio, Tuesday, May 16, 1916, Page 1.


With Crash an Akron Restaurant Building Completely Collapses During the Supper Hour Last Night Carrying Patrons to Death Beneath Tons of Masonry and Twisted Timbers

Akron, O., May 16.--Nine persons were killed and at least 20 injured in the collapse of the Crystal Restaurant building. Main and Quarry streets, shortly after 6 o'clock last night.

This was definitely known to-day when all of the nine bodies had been identified and the hospital lists showed 20 to be the number of others were hurt but not taken to hospitals.

The crash occurred at the supper hour when the restaurant was thronged with patrons. Survivors of the catastrophe estimate that from forty to fifty persons were dining when the building gave way.

One of the first bodies to be recovered was that of five-year-old Mary Lawson, who with her father, William Lawson, was a victim of the crash. The child's mother left the restaurant just a moment before the walls fell.

Screams of the injured and dying beneath the mass of masonry and twisted timbers aided in directing the rescuers to the victims.

Often long minutes elapsed before firemen and assistants were able to extricate a limp or injured form pinned under the mass of wreckage.

Thousands of curious, attracted to the scene as news of the crash spread like wildfire over the downtown district, seriously hampered the work of rescue.

The Akron Fire Department. Photo from an early 1900s postcard. Source: FamilyOldPhotos.

Stretcher bearers at times were not able to get to their ambulances until a path had been beaten for them by police. In some instances police were compelled to use their clubs to keep the surging mob under control.

As news of the collapse spread the hospitals and morgues were besieged by people who had reason to believe friends or relatives were among the dead and injured.

For nearly an hour after the cave-in occurred, it was not known who the dead were. Definite knowledge of the identity of the dead and injured came only in fragments as hospital staffs busied themselves with attention to the injured.

At last as names of injured appeared on hospital lists; relatives and friends called for information regarding their condition.

Every ambulance in the city responded to a general call, and stood in a waiting line on Quarry street. The dead were whirled away to the morgues of Akron undertakers.

During the search of the ruins the police had a difficult time to hold the crowds back, and were obliged to rope off a section of the street.

Windows in all buildings in the vicinity of the wreck were used as points of vantage for the curious crowds.

Far into the night the crowds remained at the scene of the horror.

Even at dawn there were small crowds near the spot where the nine lives were snuffed out.

One victim, Mrs. Mary Gallop, of Cambridge, Ohio, had been in the restaurant only two hours before the building crumpled like a house of cards. She went to work at 4 o'clock.

George Enwright, Pittsburgh, left the restaurant just before the crash occurred. Enwright with two companions were eating at one of the tables.

Leaving the others, he paid his check and was hardly away from the door when the crash occurred.

Excavation work on the site of the old Jackson building is believed by officials to have caused the collapse of the restaurant building.

The walls of the building tumbled in with a roar that was heard for many blocks. With the clanging of fire apparatus, and ambulances to the scene enormous crowds rushed for the scene of the tragedy.

Police reserves, under Chief Durkin, and all the down-town fire companies under command of Chief Mertz were at work with a rush. While police held back the surging throng of curious spectators, firemen and a few citizens who darted through the police lines to render aid, dug frantically amid the debris to drag forth the limp bodies of victims.

According to stories told by survivors the first intimation patrons had of anything wrong was when long cracks appeared in the long mirror back of the lunch counter.

According to eye witnesses, there was a deafening roar, then a cloud of dust that seemed to hang in the air for a tangible space. Then came the cries of dying and injured.


Mary Lawson, 5, 486 Woodland ave., at Peoples Hospital.

H. M. Raney, 108 Elinor Terrace, suffocated, at City Hospital.

Mrs. Blanche Kline, 26, Mansfield, broken neck, at City Hospital.

Rev. J. C. Thomas, Cumberland, Md., identified by letters in his pockets, at Peoples Hospital.

Clarence Tompkins, Cincinnati, employed by the Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, identified by letter in his pockets, at Peoples Hospital.

Mrs. Mary Gallop, 25, waitress, Cambridge, O., at City Hospital.

Dorothy Kenyon, 20, 313 Rhodes avenue, working for Western Union. Skull fractured. Home, Medina, O., at City Hospital.

Mildred Welday, 20, waitress, Wadsworth, O.

William Lawson, 486 Woodland avenue, engineering department of the B. F. Goodrich Company.

Besides the dead there were twenty injured, some probably fatally.

An Obituary:

"KLINE, Mrs. Blanche, 26y, w/o Frank of Mansfield, they were estranged, formerly of Loudonville, died at Akron last week when 9 persons were killed and 27 injured when Crystal Restaurant collapsed, she was a waitress there, children: Dorothy and Florence with aunt Mrs. Charles Parcell of Loudonville, Annabelle with uncle Samuel Kline of near Lucas and Margaret at children's home, parents, 2 brothers and 3 sisters survive (Source:"

A View from the New York Times:

Looking Down Into Debris After the Akron Catastrophe. This picture shows how Crystal restaurant, Akron, Ohio, looked after it collapsed at the dinner hour last Monday evening, costing the lives of nine persons and injuries to many. The disaster was caused by the restaurant sliding into an excavation just north of it where blasting had been in progress. The street to the front is Main st. Quarry st. is to the left. Source: Syracuse Journal, Syracuse, N. Y., Wednesday, May 17, 1916, Page 1.