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  • Writer's pictureKyra Mangold-Ostovich

Voices of the Past: George and Martha Thirkell

Location: Old Section C, Lot 130

Photo of headstone, courtesy of Find-A-Grave user, "LAB." Originally added 10 Jun 2014.

On Thursday, December 5, 1929, tragedy struck the Munhall area at 12:40 PM. A gas blast caused the 942 8th Avenue Post Office to explode, killing five, and wounding more than 40 others, including many schoolchildren passing by. The blast had been powerful enough to mangle and topple a streetcar that had been directly outside the storefront.

Of those five dead, was Martha (Kahler) Thirkell, aged 37. The Post Gazette reported the following morning that Martha, who lived in an apartment with her husband, George, above the Post Office, had been chatting with a friend, Miss Josephine Mulcare, a resident of Swissvale, aged 28, when the blast occurred. George, who had also been in the apartment, miraculously survived the initial blast and was covered in debris. Following his rescue, he began frantically searching for his wife, only to be informed by a physician that she had died seven minutes prior. George fell silent before being taken to the Homestead Hospital in an ambulance full of other injured victims. It was noted that Josephine had been killed instantly.

After being treated, George told the Post Gazette that he had been hanging a new chandelier in the living room while his wife and her guest had been sitting in the kitchen. He stated that "without warning the floor seemed to drop under me with a great roar." He had screamed for his wife, but was met with only smoke, dust, and darkness as debris rained down upon him. He lost consciousness shortly afterwards, only regaining memory once two men began to pull him from the wreckage.

The blast, as reported in the Post Gazette, was said to have been caused by a leak under the building. Postmaster Riley made mention to the Assistant Superintendent of Mails for the Homestead District, D. L. Armstrong, of noticing the gas during the morning hours, but, due to there only being a three-foot clearance in the cellar, it was unable to be addressed any further. As the debris was explored, it was reported that corroded pipes had allowed the gas to leak, and ignited upon reaching an open stove on the first floor.

It was estimated that the damage done to the building, its contents, and surrounding areas exceeded $100,000.00 (over $1,742,700 today).

George survived his injuries but was rendered mostly deaf. A judgment in the sum of $33,375 (nearly $726,000 today) was awarded to him from the Equitable Gas Company just months before his death on 25 Oct 1932 of laryngeal cancer. He had been a foreman within the Carnegie Steel Works, Munhall, before retiring following the blast. He had been in born Pennsylvania on 24 Nov 1885 to English immigrants, James and Elizabeth Thirkell.

Martha had been born in Boston, MA, on 10 Jan 1892 to Norwegian immigrants, Henry and Mulla (Esplin) Kahler.

Their funeral arrangements were both handled by Gillen and Coulter of Homestead.

Information gathered from:

  • "Dies 3 Years After Blast." Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, 26 Oct 1932.

  • “Five Dead, Scores Injured, Toll of Munhall Explosion.' Pittsburgh Post Gazette, 06 Dec 1929, pg. 1, 9.

  • "Rescued Man's First Cry for Wife, Dead in Blast." Pittsburgh Post Gazette, 06 Dec 1929, pg. 9.

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