Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Remembering When Greenpoint Sewers Went BOOM!!!

We're fascinated by history (both recent and less so) and one of Brooklyn events that is more interesting than most is the Great Greenpoint Sewer Explosion of 1950. It happened on October 5 a little after 12 Noon. A huge explosion in the sewer system ripped a hole in the street and sent those massive cast iron manhole covers flying. Here's an excellent description of the event from the Alan Reisner website, which also has some background on the Exxon-Mobil Oil Spill and on some of the oil facilities still located along Newtown Creek:
Imagine this: you're walking around your neighborhood on a weekday, just past noon; maybe you're getting lunch. Suddenly, an explosion demolishes a 10-foot section of the street and sends sewer covers flying dozens of feet into the air for blocks all around you. Hundreds of shop and apartment windows are shattered, and hordes of people run out onto the streets yelling "war!" and "atom bomb!"

This is what happened on October 5th, 1950 at the corner of Manhattan Avenue and Huron Street in Greenpoint.

Amazingly only three people were injured, but perhaps the scariest part is that the police were only able to make a vague guess about the cause: an explosive chemical leaking into the sewers. Several days after the explosion investigators were still searching for such a leak, giving little assurance against a repeat occurrence. Recently it has been suggested that the explosive chemical was one of the products leaked from the nearby oil refineries. This seems plausible given that a possible leak was eventually located at Greenpoint Avenue and North Henry Street, then in the middle of Standard Oil's tank farm, now regarded as a likely culprit in the spill.
Just a bit of North Brooklyn history. In any case, the entire New York City page on the site is worth checking out if you've got a minute.

[Photo courtesy of alexreisner.com]