The deadliest disaster in St. Paul’s history occurred at just after eight o’clock on the morning of February 8, 1951, when a thunderous butane gas explosion tore through part of the huge Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (now 3M, Inc.) industrial complex along Bush Avenue on the city’s East Side. The explosion occurred in a six-story concrete-frame building where minerals were crushed and then heated in huge butane ovens. It left 15 people dead or dying, including a truck driver making deliveries at the plant. Another 54 workers were injured, some with terrible burns.
So powerful was the blast that it knocked over railroad cars on nearby tracks, swept though tunnels into adjacent buildings, and ejected some of its victims through shattered windows while burying others under tons of debris. The first photograph shows the blast-damaged building with the body of an unidentified victim lying on the railroad tracks behind it. The man had been decapitated in the explosion, and the Dispatch’s editors apparently thought it would be helpful to point this fact out with an arrow. This prominently displayed pointer suggested something like perverse journalistic pride in being able to deliver such a gruesome detail to the public. [I can appreciate that! – DeSpair]
Photographers also raced to Ancker Hospital (a predecessor of today’s Regions Hospital and located at Colborne Street and Jefferson Avenue in St. Paul). Many of the blast victims were treated at Ancker. Here, a doctor and nurse tend to a critically injured worker, part of whose face had been torn open by the blast. Meanwhile, Father Francis Turmeyer, a hospital chaplain, reads the last rites over the unidentified man.
Culled from: Strange Days, Dangerous Nights: Photos from the Speech Graphic Era