|Syracuse, NY. Oakwood Cemetery. Monument to the Victims of the Split Rock Explosion. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016|
|Syracuse, NY. Billings Park, Monument to |
Soldiers of Thirty Eighth Infantry United States Army (World War I). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2011
by Samuel D. Gruber
(Cross-posted from My Central New York)
I've written about many public monuments on this blog, especially war monuments, such as the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument at Clinton Square and The Hiker at Billings Park. But one of the most unexpected war monuments in Central New York and probably among the least known is the striking memorial erected to the victims of the terrible Split Rock Explosion of 1918 and located in Oakwood Cemetery. Since we are in the midst of commemoration of the centennial of American entry into World War I, let's take a look.
The elegant stone monument is a large high thin slab flanked by two low stone urns, and it sits on the edge of Oakwood's raised section B, originally part of Morningside Cemetery, not far from Comstock Ave. It is in distinct contrast to traditional war monuments with their heroic statues of fighting men, such as the one in Billing Park to the Soldiers of Thirty Eighth Infantry United States Army, shown above). Although the dead remembered here were victims of the World War I effort, their deaths came far from combat, and thus their remembrance is largely outside the mainstream of World War commemoration. the explosion is more often mentioned in the context of catastrophic industrial accidents then in lists of casualties of war.
The Semet-Solvay Company manufactured explosives during World War I, for which work they purchased an abandoned quarry called Split Rock in the western hills of Syracuse, where they began producing TNT on site in 1915. On July 2nd, 1918 a mixing motor in the main TNT building overheated and ignited nearly three tons of explosives. The building was destroyed, fifty people were killed, and dozens injured. From my reading it is not clear to me how many died in the explosion and how many fighting the fire.
The Semet-Solvay Company erected this monument which mentions those who "voluntarily gave their lives" fighting the fire. It seems, based on a newspaper article, that fifteen victims must be buried here.