Pemberton Mill Collapse

What is likely the worst industrial accident in Massachusetts history occurred on January 10, 1860.

A large mill located in Lawrence collapsed without warning, and resulted in the death of more than 120 people.

The Pemberton Mill building was five stories high, 84 feet wide, and 280 feet long. This huge structure was only 7 years old when it collapsed. The cause of the disaster was determined to be faulty iron pillars which supported the floors, and under-strength mortar which bonded the brick walls together.

The scene after the collapse was a horror. Women, young girls and men were trapped under debris everywhere. Many were rescued but others could not be saved. A fire had broken out and many trapped victims were burned to death while observers stood by helplessly watching. Those that were saved were rescued in many cases by heroic efforts on the part of CO-workers, supervisors and passer-bys.

A young girl named Mary Bannon who was trapped under debris handed over her paycheck to a girlfriend asking her friend to pass it on to her dad and say good-by for her. She knew she was about to die. A foreman, Mr. Maurice Palmer and several other men, slit their throats rather than wait to be consumed by the rapidly approaching flames. Mr. Palmer was miraculously rescued, but ended up dying from his self-inflicted wound. In the final moments the trapped victims sang church hymns until there voices faded one by one into the consuming flames and tragic darkness.

Sometime alter seven o’clock, bells would jangle and the workers would stream across footbridges over the canal, home to dinner.

But not that night. Suddenly there was a sharp rat tie, and then a prolonged, deafening crash. A section of the building’s brick wall seemed to bulge out and explode, and then, literally in seconds, the Pcmberton i\fill collapsed. Tons of machinery crashed down through crumpling floors, dragging trapped, screaming victims along in their downward path. At a few minutes after five, the factory was a heap of twisted iron, splintered beams, pulverixed bricks, and agoni/cd, imprisoned human flesh.

Bonfires, lit to aid rescue workers, made pockets of brightness in the gathering night. But the darkness was merciful, hiding sights of unforgettable horror. Girls and men were carried otit on stretchers, with arms and legs torn from their bodies, faces crushed beyond recognition, open wounds in which the bones showed through a paste of dried blood, brick dust, and shredded clothing.