Sunday, March 3, 2013

Fatal Explosion Kills Memphis Graduate Student 1922

Located in Elmwood Cemetery is the headstone of William Eastman Spandow.  Unlike most headstones that proclaim the loved one has "Gone Home", is "At Rest" or perhaps is engraved with a Biblical saying the monument that Spandow shares with his mother tells the story of an accident beyond his control.   

1897   -   1922
1865   -   1959

But, is that really what happened or was it a grieving mother looking to find someone to blame for the grisly death of her son?  Reports say that when the explosion occurred that Spandow was leaning over a steel autoclave attempting to read the gauge when the autoclave exploded.  The top was blown off and he was hit in the head.  The force of the hit crushed his head.  He died instantly.  His  lab partner, Reginald Gordon Sloane, was burned by the chemicals and cut by the flying debris.  They had been under the direction of Dr. Arthur W. Hixson with this being a popular class at Columbia.  

The following article states that Spandow had been in charge of the experiment that day and disregarded instructions making him at least in part, responsible for the accident. 

Laboratory Explosion Kills Student
An accidental explosion in a laboratory used by graduate students at Columbia University, on Nov. 17, caused the death of William Eastman Spandow, a graduate student, of Memphis, Tenn., and the serious injury o Reginald Gordon Sloane, a Harvard graduate and son of Mr. and Mrs. Charles William Sloane.

The students were experimenting in the manufacture of intermediate compounds for aniline dyes.  The lives of at least seven other graduate students in the laboratory were imperilled by flying steel missiles which were hurled in all directions as a highly explosive compound shattered the lid of its steel container.  The detonation was heard several hundred feet away.

The general opinion among the investigators for the university and the city was that Spandow, who was in charge of the apparatus for the day, in part at least had disregarded instructions given to him by the professors who direct the work in chemical engineering. He opened a valve on the side of the heavy steel apparatus before a gas flame had died out of the gas heater underneath, and a tongue of flame darted in to the chamber and ignited the imprisoned gases.
Volume XI, number 21 of  Drug and Chemical Markets, Nov. 22, 1922


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