St Clair Cemetery, Mt Lebanon, Allegheny Co, PA

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: TNT Chemical Blast in Aetna and an Old Headstone Found

"Probing Fatal Blast at Aetna Chemical Plant" is declared in bold print on the front page of the December 6, 1917, Pittsburgh Press.

The article hints of German or Austrian agents "doping" the tanks of the TNT.  The Secret Service was suspicious of the blast.  The world was at war and now, a huge explosion in Heidelberg, Allegheny Co, PA, struck fear and despair into the local residents.

The plant manager thinks it was only an accident.  What caused it?  I don't know, but the list of the dead includes an extended family member.

The dead listed in the article include:

SPROULS, E age 28
MENTE, Andrew age 25
MENTE, Steve
unidentified white man, abt 25
LEA, Ellis  age 28
PORTONA, Tony age 28
PETER, Steve, age 36
MONTAGUE, Chester, age 20
four unidentified men

I became interested in the LEA family while looking deep in early Allegheny Co, PA.  We were friends.  We were neighbors.  We attended church together.  We married.

I have an old picture from 1871 on which the name of the young man is written. Also written is to whom the picture was given.  This was my first clue over a decade ago as I searched for more genealogy finds.

The picture was Cassius Monroe LEA and he gave the picture to his mother-in-law, Margaret Henry SIMMONS.  The young bride of Cassius died in late 1872 as a result of childbirth complications.  Her obit is interesting as it details she died of a "broken heart" after the death of her newborn daughter.  Click here to read more on Maggie's story.

The young Ellis LEA who died in the TNT blast was the son of Cassius LEA and his second wife, Mary HICKEY.  Cassius is buried at St. Clair Cemetery in Mt Lebanon, Allegheny, PA, with both his wives and his infant daughter.

We knew where the plot was thanks to an old map, but had not located any headstone.  We knew Cassius was there thanks to a really old cemetery census published by a genealogy society.

Two events happened yesterday to render me speechless, or rather, wordless.

1- I stumbled across the marriage of the Ellis's widow, Beatrice H, to Cloud BRYAN.  A quick look at ancestry has now led me to send an email to a descendant of his.

2- Another email arrived yesterday asking if I was sitting down.  And it was from the Historical Society of Mount Lebanon's Margaret Jackson. I became friends with Margaret when I assisted her in writing a booklet on the cemetery and its inhabitants back in 2004.  You can see this great booklet  now at

They uncovered the headstone for Cassius and his second wife, Mary!  And it was exactly where I had said it should be!!!!  So cool!!  

I am guessing this was found as they are preparing for some new gravestones for Civil War vets to be installed.  And yes, Cassius is getting a new veteran headstone, along with my Uncle Henry.  Wonder where they will place it now?

I am just so thrilled to see his gravestone!  Will they find one for Maggie and their infant daughter right next to it?  Can't wait to hear!

Update 10 Aug 2010:  The middle name for Cassius has now been confirmed as "Monroe" by an article in the Sept 24, 1905 "Leader" and was sent to me by the g-granddaughter of Mansfield B Lea (brother of Cassius.)

©2010 AS Eldredge


TCasteel said...

That's a really interesting story with a great ending. Thanks! Theresa

Aaron said...

This is a great find as I followed the story from the St.Clair Cemetery website. I am directly related to Cassius's grandfather Major William Lea and would love to see any other info you have about the Lea family. I can be contacted via email: