Siouxland Observer


Sunday, October 16, 2016

Swift Explosion, Iowa, 1949

On Friday, December 16, 1949, the American flag flew at half staff at the Swift and Company packing plant, 2001 Leech Avenue, in Sioux City, Iowa. Flags at the Woodbury County courthouse, the city hall and the United States post office also flew at half staff.

The city was in shock and mourning after a devastating natural gas explosion killed 22, injured 92, and laid waste to the building they worked in. 1   The deadly destruction of twisted steel rods, broken machinery, shattered glass and collapsed floors crushed hope as employees struggled to get out of the six-story building. Cars damaged by the explosion became obstacles as rescue workers scrambled to find survivors (archive photos of 19 killed below).

“Down the street bulldozers groaned as street crews removed wreckage," Wes Petersen wrote for the Sioux City Journal-Tribune in 1949, "while huge automobile wreckers strained to pull away ruined steel girders on the south side of the building and to tear away the remains of the loading dock on the east side."

That is where Henry Louis Babcock died  making a delivery for the Sioux Transportation Company.  According to the Sioux City Museum archive, he had just entered the building when the explosion ripped the plant apart Wednesday, December 14,1949, at 11:33 A.M.  He was looking for someone to sign for a small package destined to a food processing area.  He was unsuccessful.

"It was like a big puff," an employee said.  "I don't remember much."

In the "basement," which was actually the first floor of the building, cucumbers were cleaned and prepared as sweet pickles.  Meat was washed and hung also.  Up above, on the fourth, fifth and sixth floors, where smoked meats were among some of the products processed, there was no activity, according to Pedersen.

"(The rooms) were dim and deserted," he said, "with the meats hanging unappetizingly from racks or laying on tables, speckled with debris.  One man, busy roping of the elevator on the sixth floor, said bitterly, 'This use to be the most modern sausage room in the country, now look at it.' "

Indeed, the destruction was ugly and depressing.  The death too.  One man hung on a meat hook.  A photograph taken by the Associated Press documented the horror of a man in a smock hanging from what was left of the second floor.

Many who survived were taken to hospitals or their homes in makeshift ambulances.  Six or eight people were taken downtown in a beer truck, according to Pedersen.  Private cars were also commandeered to help transport victims.

At 1:30 P.M. the first bodies were taken to the naval reserve training center armory on Jones Street a mile away.  Anxious relatives examined the bodies to help identify victims, fearing the worst,  Many had just come from Saint Vincent's Hospital on the hill across the street. Unfortunately. there were so many bodies, Thomas Munson, the museum's archival clerk said, officials had to erect a quonset hut on the roof of the armory.  Simply stated, it was one of the most horrific disasters the city had ever faced.

E,B. White, a city building inspector, and supervising engineer when Swift's structure was built, told a reporter that there was no question the explosion came from the basement.  And although it was never determined who was responsible, at least $1,270,000 was paid to claimants, including $325,000 to Swift and Company for damages caused by the blast.

The figures were compiled from district court records, statements by attorneys and from reports of several of the claimants.  The companies sued were Swift and Company, the Iowa Public Service Company and the Northern Natural Gas Company.  Robert Nagey published his story March 28, 1952.  The archive did not list the name of the publication.

"Forty-three suits were filed in district and federal courts here," Nagey said in his article, "by those who were injured and the next of kin of those who died in the explosion.  Sixty-five other claims were settled without the benefit of court procedures.

"Not one case was tried in district or federal court."

Muriel L. Parker, in Muriel L. Parker vs. Iowa Public Service Company, and The Northern Natural Gas Company, for example, filed one last time in Woodbury District Court, "herein by her counsel," that the controversy over her husband's death (No. 67540 Law) having been settled out of court, should be dismissed.

It was.

Nagey suggested that because of the payment of $325,000 to Swift and Company by insurance companies for the two gas firms (which seems to have gone mostly to family members) the meat packer was not to blame for what happened.  However, the two gas firms, prior to the Parker dismissal, filed a motion against Swift and Company as cross-defendant.

Joyce DeLaughter sued for damages also, and although Swift and Company had not been named in the suit originally, The Honorable L.B. Forsling agreed they should be.  The final ruling (No. 67702 Law) was recorded March 16, 1951 (the same as what appears to have happened in Parker vs. Iowa Public Service.  Swift and Company was brought in as a cross-defendant for an out-of-court settlement).

The only certainty, however, was that someone or something — a worn part, a poorly tightened fitting — let natural gas escape. People died horribly when it ignited.

Others, who escaped death, suffered terribly.  Arno Ristau, for example, suffered a debilitating brain injury and had to live in a mental institution, Nagey said.  And Kenneth Townsend could not work because of his injuries.  It was a terrible tragedy, and many families still have their scrapbooks to prove it was horrible.

1 Robert Nagey reported this number, which is one too many on each count according to many earlier reports, in his article "More Than a Million Dollars Has Been Paid in Damage Claims from Swift Plant Disaster."

Editor’s Note: This information is in the public domain. Photos are from the scrapbook of an employee, and most likely from the Journal-Tribune December 14, 1949.  Contact the

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Twain's Mental Telegraphy

The telegraph and the telephone are going to become too slow and wordy for our needs.  We must have the thought itself shot into our minds from a distance; then, if we need to put it into words, we can do that tedious work at our leisure"Mark Twain, Harper's Magazine, 1891.

Determinism has been refuted, according to Stephan Hawking.  But Mark Twain was a believer.  Bryce Arghiere reported, in his Senior Paper at the University of North Carolina, that in Twain’s letters (and in “What Is Man?”), he clearly detailed the theory of determinism many believe were adopted to absolve himself and the human race of guilt.

“Whatsoever a man is, is due to his make, and to the influences brought to bear upon it by his heredities, his habitat, his associations, Twain said in 'What Is Man?'.  "He is moved, directed, COMMANDED, by exterior influences — solely.  He originates nothing, not even a thought.”

Hawking, in “A Brief History of Time,” disputed this (as he also does in "does-god-play-dice," published on line). 1  Determinism is not possible.  At least in the world of particle physics.

Werner Heisenberg formulated, by way of explaination (in the Uncertainty Principle in 1926), that in order to predict a future position of a particle accurately, the observer must know with certainty its present position and velocity.  Unfortunately, this cannot be measured because the measurement itself affects the speed and location.

Thus, the position is unknowable.  Some, Richard Conn Henry, for example, say a fundamental conclusion of the new physics also acknowledges that the observer (himself, or herself), creates the reality, which has been reported on in, "Consciousness Creates Reality."

Tiny particles ruled Heisenberg’s world; and they rule the world of Stephen Hawking, et al.  The question is: do they rule everyone else's world?  There seems to be an unknowable force that suggests something doesn't want to be seen. 

Twain saw determinism everywhere, and wrote about unknowable forces reaching through time and space in a Harper’s Magazine essay:

“…there is that curious thing which happens to everybody,” he said: “suddenly a succession of thoughts or sensations flocks in upon you, which startles you with the weird idea that you have ages ago experienced just this succession of thoughts or sensations in a previous existence. 

The previous existence is possible, no doubt, but I am persuaded that the solution of this hoary mystery lies not there, but in the fact that some far-off stranger has been telegraphing his thoughts and sensations into your consciousness, and that he stopped because some countercurrent or other obstruction intruded and broke the line of communication.”

Can this be taken seriously?

As Heisenberg had discovered, 50 years after Twain’s first draft of "Mental Telegraphy," subatomic particles, with even the best and brightest light used to measure it, will be affected negatively.  He said: “In order to predict the future position and velocity of a particle, one has to be able to measure its present position and velocity accurately.”  He suggested shining a light on the particle, which, of course, did not work.  Light particles “hit” the other particles, altering their true location.

Twain could not have know this, of course, but he could have “felt it.”  Henry’s argument suggests even the observer could have cause the "countercurrents."

Heisenberg showed this would have to be true, but despite Twain's uncanny thought, he most certainly would have said "no" to anything other than determinism.

Not until Max Planck suggested radiation was quantized (that it came in discrete amounts), was Twain’s "prophecy" about telegraphy understandable: we may all be linked.  In fact, it could be argued that mental telegraphy was the first inkling of quantum physics.  Even time itself is now believed to be connected, and assessable, according to Arjun Walia.

This means mental telegraphy (although dated metaphorically) could be a form of entanglement — even through time.  What Einstein called “spooky actions at a distance”— for tiny particles, anyway — links stuff across vast distances.  Physicists have found a “duality between waves and particles in quantum mechanics" where one is two, according to Professor Hawking, et al. Humans share this duality on a subatomic level.  Is understanding "waves of consciousness" so far behind?  

Quantum particles behave like waves, according to scientists, and while their exact location cannot be known, the way they behave when reaching a statuary object (a computer chip, say, or, a big pole supporting a pier), the "waves" become predicable.  In fact, quantum mechanics is why computers work (the particles racing around inside circuits do what computer chips tell them to do!).  The ability to predict the “flow” of quantum waves, while tedious in its discovery, has changed the world.

In can be argued Twain understood this intuitively, and thus undertook the “tedious” work (as he called it) by communicating what he'd learned.

In his Harper’s article, he explained the discovery, and sent his findings to the editor.  “By glancing over the enclosed bundle,” he wrote the editor, “of rusty old manuscript, you will perceive that I once made a great discovery: the discovery that certain sorts of things which, from the beginning of the world had always been regarded as merely ‘curious coincidences’ —that is to say, accidents—were no more accidental than is the sending and receiving of a telegram an accident. I made this discovery sixteen or seventeen years ago, and gave it a name— ‘Mental Telegraphy.’” 

Mental telegraphy takes many forms.  In the September 1895 issue of Harper’s, Twain recounts another experience.  He sees an old friend at a hotel where he is greeting a “throng of strangers”:

“I had not seen or heard of her for twenty years,” Twain said.  “I had not been thinking about her; there was nothing to suggest her to me, nothing to bring her to my mind; in fact, to me she had long ago ceased to exist, and ha disappeared from my consciousness.  But I knew her instantly….”

Twain did not greet his old friend that afternoon, but saw her later the same evening:  “When I arrived in the lecture-hall that evening,” Twain said, “some one said.  ‘Come into the waiting room; there’s a friend of yours there who wants to see you.’ …There were perhaps ten ladies present, all seated.  In the midst of them was Mrs. R., as I had expected.  She was dressed exactly as she was when I had seen her in the afternoon.  I went forward and shock hands with her and called her by name, and said,

‘I knew you the moment you appeared at the reception this afternoon.’

“She looked surprised, and said: ‘But I was not at the reception.  I have just arrived from Quebec, and have not been in town an hour.’

“It was my turn to be surprised now.  I said: ‘I can’t help it.  I give you my word of honor that it’s as I say.  I saw you at the reception, and you were dressed precisely as you are now.’ …Those are the facts.  She was not at the reception at all, or anywhere near it: but I saw her there nevertheless, and most clearly and unmistakably.  To that I could make oath.” 

In “A Brief History of Time,” there are also examples, and especially regarding words, equations and thoughts printed on paper.

Originally, Twain explored mental telegraphy via the written letter, an observation that reported how two people often write the same thoughts.  Twain explained how just as one sends a letter to a friend, the friend’s letter will arrive with identical or similar content that Twain just sent.  He even delayed sending a letter once to test his hypothesis, and found the same results.

A brief Google search found no examples of mental (email) telegraphy, but even physicists have encountered it in another guise: published papers.  A famous example of two people finding and writing about the same thing was recorded in 1905 when Albert Einstein pointed out “ether” did not exist (the black matter of its day).

Surprisingly, a similar paper was published, or reported, a few weeks later by a leading French mathematician, Henri Poincare (Einstein’s work could not have been copied).  The exact same phenomenon‎ explained by mental telegraphy in 1891.  

Harper’s, a well respected magazine, is Americas’ oldest, continually published publication.  Could Twain have been writing humorously, a spoof on telepathy, and other parlor tricks, popular at the turn of the 19th century? 

Not according to the author himself. Twain tried to published "Mental Telegraphy" under a nom de plume, and even wrote about it in Harper’s:  
“At home, eight or ten years ago, I tried to creep in under shelter of an authority grave enough to protect the article from ridicule—The North American Review.  But Mr. Metcalf was too wary for me.... 

"He said that to treat these mere ‘coincidences’ seriously was a thing which the Review couldn't dare to do; that I must put either my name or my nom de plume to the article, and thus save the Review from harm. But I couldn't consent to that; it would be the surest possible way to defeat my desire that the public should receive the thing seriously, and be willing to stop and give it some fair degree of attention. So I pigeonholed the Ms., because I could not get it published anonymously.”

Twain was serious, but here is the problem: 

A reporter wrote an old friend via email.  Her maiden name, Metcalf (and her reply), stood out in a remarkable way. The former Ms. Metcalf answered directly, telling of a hurtful comment made by a mutual “friend X.”  A reporter had the same experience.

While searching for signs of Mental Telegraphy, theses emails came up for reviewed  (emails being the letter of today). 

The finding was remarkable!

After sharing her experience, the former Ms. Metcalf wrote “blah, blah, blah.”  Yes, “blah, blah, blah,” as in “Who cares?  Let us rid ourselves of this wasted effort and other triflings."

Upon reading this, it could not be ignored that Twain’s editor (Mr. Metcalf) had to be thinking much the same thing as he tried to distance himself from the "Mental Telegraphy" manuscript and the "blah, blah, blah" many readers would complain about unless they knew who wrote it. 

Dear reader, this is not made up!  Simply, it cannot be a coincidence that Ms. Metcalf (a distant relative of the editor?) wrote “blah, blah, blah,” just before this post went to print. 2  Was it a comment regarding “friend X,” or! — an affirmation of the truth reported in "Mental Telegraphy?"

Entanglement exists.  And now time can be measured weird as well (as seen in the Nova video posted above).  The video does not address mental telegraphy. of course, but it does reveal that particles at great distances from one another are truly connected by what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance.”

Is mental telegraphy a coincidence, or something that actually happens?  Could editor Metcalf send something to a relative? Laughter aside, Twain believed it happened (and he knew about the cutoff obstruction as well!), as did the editors (apparently) at Harper’s Magazine, who are not shy about it.  In the archives they tell subscribers and researchers that “Harper’s published many of Twain’s most revered stories and articles, among them 'Mental Telegraphy.'"

And to that, dear reader, someone, somewhere, could make oath.

1 This lecture is the intellectual property of Professor S.W. Hawking.     A link cannot be provided.
2 Originally, June 18, 2014.