Santa Cruz County History - People

A Walk Through Time: The 1898 Powder Mill Explosion
by Janet Krassow and
by Randy Krassow

On the southern end of the cemetery at Santa Cruz Memorial Park stands a towering marble pedestal upon which rests a large cistern that is draped with a log, flowing, delicately hand-carved mourning cloth. It is a memorial dedicated by the people of Santa Cruz to the 13 young men who lost their lives in the devastating explosion that rocked the California Powder Works on April 26, 1898.

Photograph of the California Powder Works
The California Powder Works

The powder works, located at the present site of Paradise Park, shipped thousands of tons of blasting powder and smokeless gun powder to outlets throughout the United States. It was also one of the largest employers in Santa Cruz County, where the work was very strenuous and extremely dangerous. For this reason most of those working at the plant were young and vigorous.

The explosion, or more correctly, series of explosions, began at one of the drying sheds and ricocheted from one building to another. They were so cataclysmic that they were felt as far away as Salinas and San Jose, where citizens of these towns assumed that they had experienced a major earthquake.

Photograph of the Memorial honoring the victims of the Powder Mill explosion
Memorial honoring the victims of
the Powder Mill explosion

In nearby Santa Cruz, there was no doubt as to what had just happened as giant plumes of smoke and dust shot skyward and the ground trembled with every explosion. The city went into shock and then mourning as the dead and injured flooded into local hospitals and mortuaries. Most local families were touched in one way or another by this tragedy. The community drew together and put on a series of benefits to help the bereaved families build a fitting monument to the men who died that day.

The victims of the April 26, 1898 explosion buried at Santa Cruz Memorial Park:

  • Ernest Marshall, 19 years old
  • Luther William Marshall, 18 years old
  • Henry Clay Butler, 45 years old
  • Benjamin E. Joseph, 19 years old
  • Charles A. Cole, 51 years old
  • Charles Miller, 16 years old
  • James E. Miller, 27 years old
  • Ernest Jennings, 21 years old
  • Guy Seward Fagen, 16 years old

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cemeteries, dynamite, powder works


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