Friday, October 30, 2015

1970s BJ State Desk reporter Cathy Strong, journalism lecturer at Massey University in Wellington, New Zealand, will move into her new home in Wellington today – Friday, Oct. 30.

While the new digs are sumptuous, it also means that Cathy traded in her Te Horo Beach house about an hour away from Wellington on the Kapiti Coast.  We all have to make sacrifices in life.

Happy housewarming, Cathy!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Mark Price’s 2002 story on the 1961 Crystal Restaurant disaster

Mark J. Price, BJ’s expert on nostalgia, wrote about the Crystal Restaurant disaster in 2002.

Here’s his reply to my email and the story he wrote 13 years ago about the 1916 calamity, which is far better than the one I wrote, of course:

Hi, John ...


I wrote about the Crystal Restaurant disaster more than a decade ago. The 2002

story reappeared as a chapter in my first book, "The Rest Is History: True Tales

from Akron's Vibrant Past."


Next year marks the centennial. It would be nice to commemmorate the incident with a memorial plaque. Here's an electronic copy of

my story:







   There was barely enough time to scream.

    One minute, the Crystal Restaurant was filled with customers. The next

minute, the Crystal Restaurant was gone.

    The downtown Akron building collapsed like a house of cards, burying its

horrified occupants in a jagged mass of bricks, glass and lumber.

    The disaster was so sudden that patrons were trapped at their tables and

waitresses were entombed beneath the counter.

    Before the dust could settle, nine were dead and 30 were injured in one of

the worst catastrophes in Akron history.

    The date was May 15, 1916.

    Restaurant owners George and Gust Serris were trying to keep up with the

dinner rush at 145 S. Main St. Families, downtown workers and out-of-town

visitors had packed the eatery.

    The brothers always prided their establishment on its "swift service,

sensible prices, courteous treatment and high quality."

    They had opened the Crystal Restaurant in 1913 at Main and Quarry (now

Bowery) in a narrow, brick building that served as the Akron Beacon Journal's

home from 1898 to 1911.

    On this evening, the dining atmosphere was less than ideal. Customers were

jostled by the bone-jarring noise of excavation.

    Workers were clearing an adjacent lot for construction of the new Delaware

Building, and a crew from the Franklin Bros. Co. was using dynamite to blast

away large sections of rock.

    An angry Gust Serris stormed out to complain at 6 p.m. He told the crew that

the explosions were rattling dishes and ruining dinner. Five minutes later, two

more blasts shook the building.

    And then the world turned upside down.

    "I was standing behind the counter near the long mirror, cutting bread,"

waitress Clara Leonhart, 23, later told the Akron Press. "I saw the glass give

and the heavy tile counter tilt toward me. I screamed when I saw the south wall

bend outward."

    The brick wall collapsed with a thunderous crash, pulling down the roof. The

building shuddered violently, the floor caved in and the other walls began to


    "I was startled from my meal by the sound of crashing glass," reported Sgt.

E.A. Blair of the Ohio National Guard. "I saw the large plate-glass windows in

front of the restaurant bent as though with a strong wind."

    Beams and bricks rained on diners. It all happened so fast, witnesses said

there was little time to react.

    "The front of the building sank with a deafening, splintering crash, and I

saw several people go down with the broken timbers like flotsam in a whirlpool,"

Blair said.

    The kitchen was the only part of the restaurant left standing. Had it

fallen, the ensuing fire would have raced through the debris, claiming a higher


    Blair and about 15 others escaped harm by rushing into the kitchen and

exiting through a back door. Nearly everyone else was trapped in the rubble.

    "I remember falling, then waking up in darkness," Leonhart told reporters.

"Below me I could hear groans and screams. Sometimes they were louder than

others. I could hear things move above and below me. With the movement, the

screams seemed to increase."

    The collapse could be heard for blocks. A gray cloud of dust rose above the

city. Hundreds of worried citizens rushed to help.

    Safety crews and volunteers combed the rubble for victims. Many of the

survivors were buried for up to 15 minutes.

    "I could hear men tramping above me and when the tramping grew louder, the

weight pressed harder and harder," Leonhart recalled. "Every minute I expected

to be crushed as the wreckage was moved to take out bodies."

    Bruised and bloodied survivors were rushed by stretcher to City Hospital and

Peoples Hospital. The lucky ones suffered only broken bones and cuts.

    Nine of the victims were beyond help. Some were crushed to death. Others

suffocated before rescuers could find them.

    Tragic tales emerged from the mountain of debris.

    Waitress Mary Gallup had been employed at the Crystal Restaurant for only

two hours. She and her husband, Edward, had moved to Akron six days earlier in

search of a better life.

    "My wife is in there! My wife is in there!" Gallup cried after pushing

through the crowd. "Save her! Save her!"

    He later had to identify her body at the morgue.

    William and Annie Lawson were enjoying a night out with their 5-year-old

daughter, Mary. Having finished her meal, Mrs. Lawson decided to step outside

for fresh air.

    "I am through, but I'll stay with Papa," Mary said.

    Mrs. Lawson exited onto the sidewalk as the restaurant collapsed behind her.

She suffered minor bruises. Her husband and daughter died at their table.

    Akron recoiled in horror at the disaster. There were immediate calls for


    State inspectors determined that Franklin Bros. Co. had planted dynamite too

close to the restaurant. The building collapsed because its foundation had been


    There would be no criminal charges, however. No state law had been broken.

    "To bring a charge that could result in no more than a nominal fine for an

act that cost the lives of nine would be mockery at the law," Mayor William Laub


    Franklin Bros. faced 42 lawsuits from victims' families. By 1917, the

company had settled every case, paying $75,000 total.

    In late 1916, George and Gust Serris opened the New Crystal Restaurant at 6

N. Howard St., where they continued to offer "swift service, sensible prices,

courteous treatment and high quality" through the mid-1920s.

    The restaurant eventually returned to South Main Street, undergoing a

succession of owners, addresses and incarnations. The Crystal name endured for

decades in Akron and was still being used as recently as the 1970s.

    Today, the 1916 disaster is forgotten. Most who pass the Delaware Building

are unaware of its tragic beginning.

    That was predicted long ago.

    A few days after the collapse, an Akron Press reporter went to the ruins and

discovered hundreds of people standing in the rain, staring at the "death hole."

    Two women were conversing quietly in the crowd.

    "Do you think people will remember the horror?" one asked.

    "For a time," the second one said. "But they soon forget."

I feel like Mark J. Price, the BJ’s “This Place, This Time” excellent writer, should be doing this piece.

It was May 15, 1916. The Crystal Restaurant, in the old Beacon Journal building at Main and Quarry streets in Akron, was crowded with diners at 6:15 p.m.

Franklin Brothers was blasting rock next door to make room for the foundation of the Delaware Building at 137 S. Main Street.

After explosions rattled dishes and glasses, drawing complaints to blasting crews from Crystal owner Gust Serris, two final explosions collapsed the Crystal’s building.

Nine were killed and 22 injured amid the falling glass, brick and steel. There were about 50 in the building when tragedy struck.

The National Guard had to be called in to restrain the crowd of more than 10,000, who impeded ambalances from reaching the victims.

The victims included a waitress who had just moved to Akron and was on the job for only two hours. One diner stepped outside for fresh air, saw the building collapse behind her, crushing her husband William Lawson and 5-year-old daughter Mary still seated at their table.

Thousands attracted to the scene as news spread like wildfire hampered the rescue. Police has to use their clubs to beat a path for stretcher bearers to get to their ambulances. Every ambulance in the city stood in a waiting line on Quarry street.

Police reserves under Chief Durkin and all the downtown fire companies under command of Chief Mertz responded.


Mary Lawson, 5, 486 Woodland ave., at Peoples Hospital.

H. M. Raney, 108 Elinor Terrace, suffocated, at City Hospital.

Mrs. Blanche Kline, 26, Mansfield, broken neck, at City Hospital.

Rev. J. C. Thomas, Cumberland, Md., identified by letters in his pockets, at Peoples Hospital.

Clarence Tompkins, Cincinnati, employed by the Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, identified by letter in his pockets, at Peoples Hospital.

Mrs. Mary Gallop, 25, waitress, Cambridge, O., at City Hospital.

Dorothy Kenyon, 20, 313 Rhodes avenue, working for Western Union. Skull fractured. Home, Medina, O., at City Hospital.

Mildred Welday, 20, waitress, Wadsworth, O.

William Lawson, 486 Woodland avenue, engineering department of the B. F. Goodrich Company.
Carney, John Olesky among the daffodils

After the surgery, Jim posted:

“I'm AOK. Very very sore. Very tired. Breathing ok. Four-hour surgery. Four-hour recovery. Shout out to KT and Crystal Clinic. More later loves! Thanks to all. Jimmyjames”
Surgery for Carney


Retired BJ reporter Jim Carney, who still subs on WAKR talk radio from time to time, will have spinal fusion at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 4 for his back problem.

Reports Jim:

Haven't been able to stand or walk for more than a few minutes without pain!”

Jim has been married 28 years to BJ reporter Katie Byard. Jim took a BJ buyout in May 2014 after 35 years at Ol’ Blue Walls.

The last time I saw Jim was last April when we both were hiking the H.S. Wagner Daffodil Trail in Summit Metro Parks. The Trail was named for the park district's first director-secretary, who planted the first bulbs in the late 1930s. Each spring more than 40,000 daffodils bloom.