May 27, 1891


Peter Hart, One of the Best Known Oil Well Shooters

Of the Pennsylvania Oil Fields, …Meets His Death Last Evening….His Body Blown to Atoms…He had completed his labors for the day and was preparing for the to-morrow which was not to come to him in life….

Shortly after 6 o’clock last evening the thunderings of a nitro glycerine explosion were plainly heard in this city.  Torpedo men and others familiar with the business were immediately on the lookout for the column of blue smoke which always betrays the location of the explosion.  The vapor was soon perceived arising in the vicinity of State Line, where C. L. Casterline’s nitro glycerine factory and magazine is located.  A short time afterwards a telephone message was received from Tarport, stating that Peter Hart, a veteran oil well shooter and one of the best known men in this vicinity had perished.

C. L. Casterline, the proprietor of the works and Hart’s employer was in Ohio, but James O’Hara , Mr. Casterline’s business manager was soon found.  He had heard of the terrible calamity and was in search of the coroner when the reporter found him.  Several other glycerin men were hurridly preparing to drive from Walster & Christie’s Stables to the scene of the explosion and The Record reporter was invited to accompany one party.

The horses sped with all haste through this city and Tarport, passing on the way crowds of men and boys who were on the way to the magazine which is located about one half a mile up a hollow, the entrance to which is made by turning to the right from the main road, when near the village of State Line, on the Erie.

Upon arriving in the vicinity of the fatal spot the odor, which always accompanies a glycerine explosion, could be detected plainly.  After a short drive through the woods the magazine was reached and found to be intact.  Plainly enough the explosion was not there.  The place was crowded with men and boys walking about with their eyes fixed upon the ground.  Occasionally one would stop and call to a man who was walking from place to place with a small basket upon his arm.  The man would proceed to the place from whence he had been called and, stooping, would pick up a small mass and place it in the basket.  Thus was collected all that remained of Peter Hart.  Until darkness set in the largest piece of the body found was a portion of the vertebrae, about seven inches long.

Mr. O’Hara with Dr. Dorn and Thomas Christie had now arrived and were taken to the place where the explosion had occurred.  A hole in the ground, fringed about the edges with the remains of the roots of what was once an immense tree, showed plainly where the terrible accident had occurred.  The ground around and the interior of the cavity was covered with bits of bright green leaves which the force of the explosion had blown to atoms and had fallen like snow upon the surrounding objects.  The trees near by were stripped of their bark as well as their leaves.  About fifty feet away, tightly wedged between two trees,  stood the glycerine wagon.  In the bare branches of the trees hung portions of the unfortunate driver’s clothing and bits of flesh, portions of the latter being found hundreds of feet away from the fatal stump.

The supposed cause of the explosion is as follows:  It had been the custom of Peter Hart, as well as other shooters, to contract for the shooting of wells on their own responsibility, independent of the company in whose employ they might be.  Hart had taken a job of this kind from C. P. Byron.  The work was to have been done today.  Glycerine for these jobs is usually purchased from Thomas Gibbons, of Rixford.  Hart was to shoot a well for Connelly Brothers at Rew City on Tuesday, but owing to a cave-in the work was put off until Wednesday.  The material for the work was hidden near Rew and Hart drove to Rixford to procure glycerine for his outside job.  This being done, he returned to the vicinity of Casterline’s magazine, hid the glycerine in a hollow stump and departed.  Yesterday he returned to Rew, finished his work there and again proceeded to the magazine.  It is thought that he intended to take the explosive to the vicinity of Rutherford Run and secrete it there until this morning, thus saving a seven-mile drive.  He had placed four cans in the wagon, and was removing the fifth when it exploded, how will never be known.

The shock did not explode the glycerine in the wagon, nor did it injure the horses or the vehicle.  The animals, frightened, of course, dashed through the woods until stopped by the trees.

The shreds of flesh which had been picked up last evening were removed to Lane’s undertaking establishment in this city.

Peter Hart has been following the business of an oil well-shooter for many years.  He was employed by the Roberts Torpedo Company in the lower country before the development of the northern field.  He was a married man and his widow and a young son reside at 40 Boylston street.

This morning a search of the woods in the vicinity of the explosion resulted in the finding of several small portions of flesh, and one large piece of the trunk.  These were also brought to Lane’s undertaking establishment.

Mr. Hart was a member of Bradford Tent No. 4, K.O.T.M.  He joined this order about five years ago.  The lodge is attending to the funeral arrangements at the request of Mrs. Hart.  The interment will be at Belmont, NY., the funeral taking place Sunday afternoon.

Mrs. Hart was quite prostrated by the shocking news of the death of her husband.  She has been in poor health for about two years.

Mr. John Walster took upon himself the task of breaking the terrible news to Mrs. Hart.  Such faith in the carefulness of her husband did she have that when Mr. Walster said, “Mrs. Hart, I have bad news for you,” she did not suspect any danger to her husband.  It has been said that he was the most careful man in the business.  In the old days Mr. Hart was engaged more or less in the “moonlighting” business, and often his wife would accompany him on these expeditions.  Although at first she objected to his engaging in the work on account of the danger, her scruples were gradually overcome, and of late years she has not feared for him.