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Remembrance of 1862 Arsenal casualties set

| Friday, Aug. 3, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Explosions that ripped apart the Allegheny Arsenal on Sept. 17, 1862, killed scores of people — mostly child munitions workers — becoming the worst civilian disaster of the Civil War, historians say.

The Lawrenceville Historical Society and the Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the tragedy with programs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 16 in Lawrenceville's Arsenal Park on nearly the same spot where the explosions took 78 lives.

The tragedy was overshadowed that day by the Battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Md. About 24,000 casualties — the bloodiest single day of the war — occurred there. Over the years, the explosions waned from public memory, said James Wudarczyk, author and researcher with the Lawrenceville Historical Society.

“It has shamefully been neglected by people inside and outside of the city,” he said. “The Allegheny Arsenal is a national and local historical landmark.”

The cause of the explosions remains one of the great mysteries of the 19th century, Wudarczyk and others say. One explanation is that an iron-rimmed wagon wheel sparked a fire that ignited spilled gunpowder.

The commemorative event next month — “A Memorial: Lawrenceville's 1862 Arsenal Explosion” — is free and open to the public.

From 11 a.m. until noon, Tom Powers, author and editor of the Lawrenceville Historical Society's newsletter, and Wudarczyk will examine the events and theories behind the explosions. The Lawrenceville Historical Society will unveil a three-dimensional animated sequence of the explosions.

The lecture will be repeated at 1:30 p.m. and at 7 p.m. Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. in Canterbury Place, 310 Fisk St. in Lawrenceville.

Demonstrations are scheduled from 12:30 to 1 p.m. and from 2:30 to 3 p.m. Sept. 16. Concerts are planned from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. and from 3 to 4 p.m.

Historic re-enactors will be on hand. The Lawrenceville Historical Society has reissued a limited reprinting of Wudarczyk's book, “Pittsburgh's Forgotten Allegheny Arsenal.”

Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5646 or

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