EYEWITNESS 1918 INJURED NURSE IS LAUDED AFTER OAKDALE EXPLOSION Series: EYEWITNESS

By Barcousky, Len | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), June 8, 2014 | Go to article overview

EYEWITNESS 1918 INJURED NURSE IS LAUDED AFTER OAKDALE EXPLOSION Series: EYEWITNESS


Barcousky, Len, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


A young nurse from New Philadelphia, Ohio, became the heroine of rescue efforts following the Aetna Chemical Co. disaster.

Marlyn Ashelman, 22, was injured in the last of several blasts that tore apart the explosives plant near Oakdale on May 18, 1918. Her first name was spelled "Meryl" and "Marilyn" in other news stories.

More than 190 people are estimated to have been killed by the multiple explosions. The Aetna Chemical death toll was 2 1/2 times larger than the 78 fatalities, mostly young women and girls, from the Allegheny Arsenal explosion in 1862.

When Dr. Lee F. Milford, asked for volunteers at St. John's Hospital, in Pittsburgh's Brighton Heights neighborhood, to head to the Oakdale disaster scene, Ashelman was the first to step up. She had been acting as a private nurse to an appendicitis patient, but she "procured her release ... with a plea that it was her duty to go where she was needed most," The Pittsburgh Gazette Times reported on May 20.

"When the ambulance reached the plant, I ordered Miss Ashelman to remain with it on a hill while I went to see what I could do," Milford told the newspaper. "While I was dressing the wounds of some of the victims, Miss Ashelman left the ambulance, not being able to restrain the impulse to relieve the suffering of the bleeding men all around her."

The physician also noticed a man with a motion-picture camera nearby, taking pictures of the destruction.

"While I was attending one of the victims, a terrific blast shook the earth, and I was hurled about 50 feet into a gully," he said. Milford found himself shaken up but uninjured except for a few bruises. …

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