Gramps ID S0115


Baltimore Sun, Monday, Morning, August 3rd 1903


Gasoline Fumes Explode With Disastrous Results. Fluid Used to Kill Roaches.

Proprietor of Eating House Expected To Die - Had Just Received Notice Of An

A waiter who had been directed to rid the Bell Eating House, 308 Light Street,
of roaches by a liberal application of gasoline to the woodwork in the
establishment was indirectly responsible for an explosion yesterday at 12:35
o'clock P.M., which caused consternation in the house and resulted in severe
burns to four persons, one of whom is expected to die. The list of casualties
is as follows:

Jacob L. Zemon, 35 years old, 318 Hanover Street, the proprietor of the
establishment, may not live through the night.

George W. Dill, 54 years old, 16 East Montgomery Street, burned about the face,
hands and body.

George W. Leutbecker, about 40 years old, of Lauraville, severely burned about
the face, head and arms.

Joseph Wetzel, 19 years old, 443 West Twenty-sixth Street, a waiter, severely
burned about the face and head.

Mr. Zemon is thought to have inhaled flames, and his condition was from the
first regarded as very serious by the physicians at the Maryland University
Hospital, where all the injured were taken. The others, it is believed will get

Mr. Zemon struck a match to light up the pantry, which was very dark, and in a
second the rear of the establishment was a mass of flames. Before any one of
the four persons in the back part of the place could reach the front door there
was an explosion, which blew out the front window. The report could be heard
for four or five blocks away and in a few minutes drew a large crowd.

The four men resembled torches as they were hurled half way across the street by
the force of the concussion, and a sheet of flame shot out of the door and
windows, leaping up nearly as high as the house. The whole interior seemed to
be filled with fire.

Mr. Zemon was the last of the four to emerge from the burning building. He got
the full force of the volume of the flame, which overtook him before he reached
the door. His clothing was burning from heat to foot when he came stumbling
toward the middle of the street, apparently propelled by the explosive ignition
of the gasoline vapor.

Mr. Dill who was the third man out, was also caught by the fiery wave and driven
almost to the opposite side of the street, to Pier 4 of the Baltimore,
Chesapeake and Atlantic Railway Company. When he saw the water before him he
made a dash for it, but flames covered his face and he lost the direction toward
the basin. Patrolman Harry Knight, of the Southern district, observed him
groping blindly with his garments ablaze and pushed him over the side of the
dock. He sank below the surface, but being a good swimmer rose in a moment,
contact with the water having restored him to his senses. he had no difficulty
in keeping himself afloat until Grant Banks, a Negro stevedore pulled him upon
the wharf.

Persons in the neighborhood had meanwhile rushed to the rescue of the other men,
tearing off their charred and blazing outer garments and smoldering the flames.
Beds were hastily improvised on the wharf of the Baltimore, Chesapeake and
Atlantic Railway Company and efforts were made to ease the pain of the
suffererers. Several spectators hurried to neighboring drug stores and soon
brought supplies of liniment, palliatives being applied until all four could be
taken to the hospital.

Patrolman John Deems sounded an alarm from Box 61, Light and Lee Streets, as
soon as he heard the explosion. No. 18 truck and No. 6 engine experienced
considerable difficulty in responding and were compelled to turn up to Charles
Street because part of Light Street is closed on account of repairs. The fire
was nearly out when the engines arrived, and little damage was done in the
eating house, even in the pantry, the scene of the explosion, being hardly more
than scorched, although the interior is of frame.

Sunday morning was the time for a general weekly clean-up in Mr. Zemons place,
because customers were fewer than at any other time. Recently considerable
trouble has been experience with roaches, and a friend of the proprietor had
suggested gasoline as a substance that would kill the pest if used liberally.
Accordingly, Mr. Zemon yesterday instructed Mr. Wetzel , the waiter, to sprinkle
the corners of the pantry with the fluid. Mr. Wetzel must have obeyed
instructions, for according to Mr. Dill, the can used held more than two gallons
and was nearly full when the waiter began his operations. As the odor, mixing
with the fragrance of steaks and chops, was hardly of a character to please Mr.
Zemon's guests, he ordered the door to the pantry closed after the oil has been
scattered around.

When Mr. Zemon entered the pantry the latter was filled with gas, which flashed
as soon as he struck a match.

The same establishment was completely burned out on Sunday, August 10th, of
last year. The fire was caused on that occasion by a can of gasoline being
placed near a hot stove. Several hundred dollars damage was caused at the time,
but no one was injured.

From Mr. Dill, whose injuries did not prevent him from conversing freely, much
was learned about Mr. Zemon and his private affairs. The proprietor of the
eating house it appears, was born in Russia, and got information during the past
week that he is heir to more than $15,000. HIS FATHER, WHO WAS A WEALTHY LANDOWNER, DIED, LEAVING HIS ESTATE TO HIS TWO SONS. HIS BROTHER, WHO SHARES IN THE INHERITENCE, IS NOW IN NEW YORK STATE. Mr. Zemon has been in business in Baltimore for eight years. He is married and has four children.

Immediately on receiving notice of his good fortune, Mr. Zemon determined to
give up his business and retire. he was to leave during the present week for
Germany, whence he was going to the Russian frontier to conduct negotiations
with the trustees of the estate for the land and money bequeathed to him. The
place here was to have been in charge of Mr. Dill, a prospective purchaser, for
six months, and yesterday was Mr. Dill's first experience as manager.

He said in the afternoon at the hospital that he had many narrow escapes from
death, but that was his closest call.

"It was an unhappy start in a new business, " he said. "I suppose there is
nothing left for me to manage now, and there isn't much of me left, either."

Mr. Dill was until a few years ago a resident of Chestertown, Kent County. He
was a police officer at that place for many years and served as constable for a
few years.

"I have been caught in three fires," he said, "two from gasoline and one from
coal oil. It was in Chestertown in April 1902 that I had my first experience
with gasoline. I was an officer at the time. I saw that one of the lamps was
out and climbed up the pole to light it. As soon as I struck the match there
was a sudden puff of fire. that completely covered me. I was only scorched and
not seriously burned. On of the colored men who had just been given the
position as lamplighter had carelessly left the burner turned on after he had
put the light out."

"In November 1870, I was a sailor on the Susan Allen, a schooner of 150 tons,
when the oil with which I was filling a lamp started a disastrous blaze that
nearly destroyed the vessel. We were lying at Boley's wharf at the time. I was
in the midst of it, but was not burned."

"I don't know whether it has anything to do with the present case, but I had
another narrow escape. I was on the Fanny Kirkbride when she was wrecked off
Cape Wicomico on the night of March 28, 1872. The pilot, who was at the helm,
said that he had been on the water for 40 years, but that he had never seen a
storm to equal that one. We were finally rescued by a brig. It was one of the
most miraculous escapes I have even heard of.


  1. Dawid Zyman [I414]
  2. Jacob Zemon [I376]