The first three episodes

  • Episode 51: The Shiloh Baptist Church stampede
    When the woman cried out, what she said was, "Fight!" But what the congregation of Shiloh Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL, heard that Friday night in 1902 was, "Fire!" The panicked crowd rushed for the front door, and within ten minutes dozens would die - all because of a misheard word.
  • Episode 50: LANSA Flight 508
    Imagine what you could do when you were seventeen. Would you have been able to handle surviving a plane crash in the middle of nowhere? Or would you have been able to get up after the crash and start walking toward where help will hopefully be, even if it meant walking for ten straight days? One teenage girl did just that, and became the sole survivor of a plane crash over the Peruvian jungle.
  • Episode 49: The sinking of the MV Le Joola
    Fifteen years ago this week, one of the deadliest shipwrecks ever happened just off the coast of western Africa. The MV Le Joola was an integral part of life in Senegal. The ferry regularly traveled along the coastline between the capital of Dakar and the city of Ziguinchor in the southern Casamance region, an area nearly cut off from the rest of Senegal by an ongoing civil war, a lack of riches, and the obstruction that was the long thin strip of the Gambia. When it sank, it took over eighteen hundred people down with it.
  • Episode 48: The Happy Land Social Club fire
    It started with an argument, the kind of argument you might see at any nightclub or bar on any given night. A man tried to get his ex-girlfriend to give him another chance. She told him no. Angry, he made a grab for her. One of the bouncers saw, and the man ended up kicked out on the street. But within a half an hour he'd return -- this time with a gallon jug of gasoline and a pair of matches.
  • Episode 47: The 1947 Texas City Disaster
    Something was burning down by the Texas City waterfront on April 16, 1947. Everyone in the growing town built on the petrochemical industry could see the plumes of smoke billowing upward from whatever was on fire. There was just one strange thing -- the smoke was bright orange. The curious sight drew many people down to the north slip at the docks to what was going on, a site which would soon turn into the most dangerous spot they could be.
  • Episode 46: The AIDS Epidemic, Part Two - Misinformation
    In part two of our AIDS epidemic series, we look at the misinformation and bigotry which negatively impacted the struggle to identify and fight the virus. This includes the misleading story of "Patient Zero," and the Reagan administration's highly problematic view of the disease from the very start.
  • Episode 45: The Galveston Hurricane
    This weekend, Hurricane Harvey struck the east coast of Texas and flooded the city of Houston. A hundred and seventeen years ago this week, a similar storm was headed straight for the nearby city of Galveston, one of the richest cities in the country. What followed was a deadly disaster which surprised Galveston and left thousands dead in its wake.
  • Episode 44: Air New Zealand Flight 901
    Who wouldn't like to go on a sightseeing flight? Have a glass of champagne, mingle with your fellow sightseers, and peer down in wonder at the glorious sights below. But for Air New Zealand Flight 901, the November 28, 1979, flight wouldn't end with a cheery goodbye to Antarctica and a swift turnaround back to Auckland, but in a smoldering pile of wreckage on the slopes of Mount Erebus.
  • Episode 43: The AIDS Epidemic, Part One - Origin
    In this short first entry in our series on the AIDS epidemic, we see the very beginnings of the AIDS virus -- not in the late 1970s, but in a jungle in Cameroon at the turn of the 20th century. We also look at a few early cases of HIV infection prior to the epidemic's explosion.
  • Episode 42: The Bradford City stadium fire
    Most of us have been to a sporting event at one time or another in our lives. In this day and age, we can spot the safety improvements which have been added the stadiums and arenas due to tragedies which struck in the past: fire doors with lit EXIT signs overhead; stadiums made of concrete, steel, and plastic rather than wood; sprinkler systems and fire extinguishers in multiple locations. One of the tragedies which led to more thorough precautions being taken in stadiums in Great Britain started with a dropped cigarette during a football match and ended with 56 dead.
  • Episode 41: The Tri-State Tornado
    It's 1925 and you leave the house on a Wednesday morning three weeks before Easter ready to go to work delivering mail in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri. While passing near a rural field in your horse and buggy, you see the telltale swirl of a newly formed tornado touching down. But what you and no one else in the Midwest know is that you just saw the birth of the deadliest tornado in American history.
  • Episode 40: The World Series earthquake
    The San Francisco-Oakland area had baseball fever. Both of their teams -- the Giants and the Athletics respectively -- would go up against one another in Game Three of the "Battle of the Bay" World Series. People across the country tuned in at 5:00 PM local time to watch the pre-game with announcers Al Michaels and Tim McCarver. But four minutes later, the video and audio would both abruptly cut out. Then Al Michaels' voice could be heard saying something which shocked the audience: "Tell you what, I think we're having an earth--"
  • Episode 39: The San Ysidro McDonald's Massacre
    It was always busy at the McDonald's restaurant on San Ysidro Boulevard. Kids invaded the play area whether or not they'd eaten in the restaurant, and for people arriving from the Tijuana border crossing only a mile south, the golden arches were like a welcome friends greeting them hello as they arrived in America. But on July 18, 1984, a stranger walked into the restaurant armed to the teeth, ready to finally end the battle in his mind.
  • Episode 38: The 1918 Hammond circus train crash
    You're the engineer on an empty troop train in the middle of the night in 1918, headed west to pick up more soldiers meant to head off to the war in Europe. You've had little sleep but you've eaten well and taken some pills for your kidneys. Almost all of the rest of the crew are back in the caboose -- perhaps playing cards or sleeping, with no passengers to tend to. You are alone, and after a while the movement of the train rocks you right to sleep. So you don't see the circus train cars on the tracks in front of you, not until it's too late.
  • Episode 37: Air Florida Flight 90 and the Washington Metro Train Collision
    They say God never gives you more than you can handle. On January 13, 1982, He sure as hell attempted to do so to the city of Washington, DC. Snow cascaded from the sky, making driving home from work to the suburbs a treacherous undertaking. At National Airport, an Air Florida flight with a crew inexperienced in flying under winter conditions waited impatiently for takeoff. And underneath the city, an improperly closed rail switch and a subway train packed to the gills would have a devastating introduction to one another.
  • Episode 36: Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961
    The harrowing video aired on a loop around the world -- a passenger airliner gliding down toward the sea near a tourist-filled beach, then tumbling over and over as it struck the water. What happened in Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961 in the hours prior to its crash into the sea near the Comoros Islands required bravery, quick patience, and resourcefulness out of pilot Leul Abate -- and more than a little bit of luck. (My apologies for any audio issues. I had some microphone problems this week.)
  • Episode 35: The Up Stairs Lounge fire
    On the last day of Pride in 1973, the Up Stairs Lounge in New Orleans felt like it always did. The Sunday beer bust was in full swing, patrons were discussing an upcoming charity event, and the gay bar repeatedly busted out their anthem, "United We Stand." When the downstairs buzzer rang, one of the regulars went to open the door to the stairwell to see who it was. It wasn't a person, though. It was an inferno.
  • Episode 34: Centralia
    The name conjures up images of the bare skeleton of a ghost town, swallowed in smoke and haunted by the spirits of its past. But Centralia was once a normal small Pennsylvania town full of hard-working Americans who just wanted to live safely in their homes. The few who still live there still feel the same way.
  • Episode 33: The Boston Molasses Flood
    It towered over Commercial Street in the North End of Boston, its massive form looming over the elevated train tracks and Engine #31 firehouse. It groaned loudly every time it was filled, its contents leaking in an absurd mockery of bleeding. It wordlessly threatened for years to collapse. Finally, on January 15, 1919, it spilled its contents onto the neighborhood -- 2.3 million gallons of molasses.
  • Episode 32: The 2011 Norway attacks
    Heavy rains soaked the Norwegian Labour Party's youth camp on Utøya that Friday in July of 2011. What might have otherwise been a miserable day was lightened by a visit from former prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland. The campers -- all smart, capable, and eager to change the world -- could deal with a little rain if it meant meeting one of their idols. But after she left the island, they started to receive texts. A bomb had exploded in Oslo. As terrifying as it was, though, they all felt safe on Utøya.
  • Episode 31: The Westwego grain elevator explosion
    Dust seems so harmless most of the time ... annoying, sure, but not deadly. However, on December 22, 1977, dust would lead to the sudden and tragic destruction of a Louisiana grain elevator, taking the lives of 36 people only days before Christmas. However, theirs was not the only facility to suffer an explosion that week, or even that day.
  • Episode 30: The Great Smog of London
    Creeping tendrils of smoke particles and sulfur dioxide wound their way through the fog already blanketing London on the evening of December 5, 1952. When it infiltrated the harmless fog, those dangerous invaders turned the mist into a lethal smog so thick you couldn't see an inch in front of you. Thousands would die before anyone would realize the effects of the smog on Londoners.
  • Episode 29: A Massacre in Wilkes-Barre
    In the vein of My Favorite Murder, this episode features one of Jennifer's hometown murders: a mass shooting which happened at a time when mass shootings were still fairly uncommon. They were an unlikely family: one man, four women, and their children living together in a crowded home in Wilkes-Barre, PA. But one of them was suffering from the effects of a crumbling mind, and on September 25, 1982, that mind disintegrated into violence.(Trigger warning for the deaths of children.)
  • Episode 28: The Gothenburg discotheque fire
    The Halloween party thrown by the Macedonian Association in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 1998 was a popular event -- far too popular. Teenagers crammed in shoulder to shoulder with barely enough room to dance. Everyone wanted to get in, but some who couldn't wanted to get back at those who had. What followed sent a horrified shockwave through Sweden.
  • Episode 27: The Carrollton bus collision
    It was a beautiful day to visit Kings Island in Ohio, and church groups poured from buses to enjoy the rides and games. One of those groups, the Radcliff Assembly of God and their friends, would travel home that night on a school bus with a fatal flaw. Everything would come to a head when a drunk driver heading the wrong way down Interstate 71 emerged from the darkness right in front of them.
  • Episode 26: Aeromexico Flight 498
    August 31, 1986, was a beautiful day to fly the skies over the neighborhood of Cerritos in Los Angeles. William Kramer was on his way to Big Bear Lake in his Piper Cherokee with his wife and daughter. Aeromexico Flight 498 was about to land after a morning of stops across Mexico. Neither plane saw what was about to happen -- nor did those readying for a lovely Labor Day weekend below.
  • Episode 25: The story of Marten Hartwell
    Marten Hartwell was a bush pilot in the wilds of northern Canada tasked with an emergency medivac flight to Yellowknife. He and his three passengers never made it. But Hartwell did end up rescued alive from the wilderness a month later, and with a harrowing story to tell.
  • Episode 24: The Schoolhouse Blizzard
    The morning of January 12, 1888, towns across the Great Plains of the United States encountered relatively warm weather for an area experiencing a frigid winter. But the afternoon would bring a nasty surprise at about the same time as children were being let out of school for the day. A ferocious blizzard raced across the plains like a stampeding horse, moving with supernatural speed and swallowing those outside at the time whole before they even knew what was happening.
  • Movie Break: Dante's Peak
    This week, Jennifer found a wine she likes (a first!) so she's taking a break from researching the next episode to watch Dante's Peak, where everything is made up and the facts don't matter. Except for Pierce Brosnan being a gorgeous magical creature. That always matters.
  • Episode 23: The eruption of Mount St. Helens
    Sunday dawned warm and sunny in the Cascade mountain range. Hikers and fishermen savored the beautiful weather that morning, sure they were far from the danger they knew had been rumbling for weeks now. But at 8:32 AM on May 18, 1980, an earthquake shuddered through Mount St. Helens which triggered the massive volcanic eruption which everyone had been waiting for -- and yet, in at least one major way, almost no one saw coming.
  • Episode 22: Avianca Flight 52
    When LaMia Flight 2933 crashed in Colombia in November, the possible causes echoed a crash which occurred almost twenty-seven years ago in New York. Avianca Flight 52 came down on a slope in Cove Neck, Long Island in comparative silence, not bursting into flames as happens in so many crashes. The reasons why would lead to the industry considering the flaws in communication that can happen between flight crews and air traffic controllers.
  • Episode 21: The Ecole Polytechnique massacre
    On December 6, 1989, a man carrying a dark plastic bag containing a long object walked into the main building of Ecole Polytechnique, a suicide note in his pocket and hate for women in his heart. An hour and a half later he and fourteen women would be dead, inspiring changes in Canadian gun laws.
  • Episode 20: The 2010 Love Parade disaster
    Love Parade was meant to be a celebration of peace, love, and understanding. The German electronic music festival was known for loud techno, colorful costumes, and sexual openness. But in 2010, the enormous event at an old freight station in Duisburg, Germany, ended with 21 people dead in a crushing incident on an entrance ramp.
  • Episode 19: The Aberfan disaster
    This year is the 50th anniversary of the tragic events in the quaint mining town of Aberfan in south Wales. Days of heavy rain and an underground spring combined to turn a hillside tip into a dark sludge which slid down and plowed through the Pantglas Junior School, taking away a generation of the town's children.
  • Movie Break: Airplane vs. Volcano
    On this episode, Jennifer uses the Movie Break she saved up for a special occasion to cap off a ridiculously awful week and watch "Airplane vs. Volcano." Keep liquor and the Internet Movie Database handy. If you can pronounce the name of the Icelandic volcano by the end of the episode, you're a better person than Jennifer.
  • Episode 18: The Aggie Bonfire collapse
    Texas A&M's annual bonfire was meant to symbolize their burning desire to beat the hell out of the University of Texas at Austin's football team. But in 1999, Bonfire never burned. Instead it collapsed underneath the feet of several dozen students working to build the stack at the time, putting all of their lives at risk.
  • Episode 17: Japan Airlines Flight 123
    The worst single-plane loss of life in aviation history occurred on August 12, 1985, when a 747 loaded with holiday travelers crashed in the mountains near Mt. Fuji. The reason: A simple repair with a dangerous flaw.
  • Episode 16: The Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire
    At first, people who wandered over from Washington Square Park thought someone was throwing sack of shirtwaists out of the ninth floor windows of the Asch Building. But it quickly became apparent to the watching New Yorkers that these weren't bags of the Triangle Factory's finished products -- they were women. These young women had no other option, caught between the raging inferno blowing through the factory on March 25, 1911, and the ninth-story drop in front of them.
  • Episode 15: The Bath School massacre
    When children die in a disaster, it's the worst of tragedies. When children die due to the diabolical work of a man with dark intentions, it's even worse. May 18, 1927, was a typical spring day in Bath, Michigan, until a pair of explosions broke the day apart. One set the Kehoe farm alight. The other struck the Bath Consolidated School with devastating consequences.
  • Episode 14: The Versailles wedding hall disaster
    Keren and Assaf Dror thought May 24, 2001 would be the happiest day of their lives, and it was -- up until the floor collapsed at the wedding hall where hundreds of friends and family were dancing together in celebration.
  • Episode 13: TACA Flight 110
    Captain Carlos Dardano and his crew performed an exceptional feat of airmanship when their brand-new 737 lost both engines while landing over New Orleans during a violent thunderstorm.
  • Movie Break: The Day After
    For fuck's sake, Jolene. Jennifer revisits the "let's watch a nice educational TV movie about what'll happen when the Russians nuke us" genre by watching "The Day After." You know, the cheerful one.
  • Episode 12: The Sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald
    Released in 1976, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" by Gordon Lightfoot told the tragic story of the sudden loss in a November storm of a freighter hauling iron ore pellets to Detroit. The SS Edmund Fitzgerald went down with a loss of 29 crewmen and left an enduring mystery of what may have really happened in its final moments.
  • Episode 11: The Goiania Accident
    On September 13, 1987, two thieves in the city of Goiania in Brazil sneaked into what was left of an abandoned clinic and stole what they thought was simply scrap metal they could sell for a few extra bucks. Instead, their theft led to a radioactive disaster the effects of which still impact the people and city of Goiania to this day.
  • Episode 10: The Rhythm Club Fire
    It's one of the biggest American disasters you may never have heard of. On April 23, 1940, over 200 people died when the Rhythm Club caught fire in Natchez, Mississippi. But one of the most lethal fires America's ever seen has slipped through the cracks of history. (TW: This episode also features discussion of the tragic Pulse shooting in Orlando this past weekend.)
  • Episode 9: Pacific Southwest Flight 1771
    When a plane went down in the Santa Clara Mountains in California in December 1987, only the smallest of clues were left behind for the NTSB and FBI to piece together to find out what (or who) killed 43 people.
  • Movie Break: Twister
    This week, Jennifer takes an episode off and stays sober to watch "Twister," because who needs to get drunk when you've got magical tank tops, slightly less creepy than normal clown dolls, and omnipotent cell phones?
  • Episode 8: The Port Arthur Massacre
    The Port Arthur historical site in Tasmania is a beautiful place with a tragic history tied into Australia's founding by shipping convicts into the country. The penal colony at Port Arthur saw suffering, violence, and grief, but over a hundred and fifty years since its inception, that was in its distant past ... at least, until April 28th, 1996.
  • Episode 7: The Jonestown Massacre
    Over nine hundred men, women, and children died in 1978 in a small settlement in Guyana established by the People Temple, a church which presented itself as representing the ideals of racial equality, social justice, support of the elderly and children, and other seemingly positive issues. But behind the scenes, the machinations of "Father" Jim Jones led to sexual assault, violence, manipulation, and ultimately mass suicide.
  • Episode 6: The Station Nightclub fire
    Fifteen seconds of sparks given off by pyrotechnic gerbs, two different layers of flammable soundproofing foam, no sprinklers, obstructed exits, and a panicked crowd combined to leave 100 concertgoers dead at the Station Nightclub in West Warwick, RI, on February 20, 2003.
  • Episode 5: Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571
    "Rugby players eat their dead." Spotting this bumper sticker encouraged director Frank Marshall to take on the film version of "Alive," the book by Piers Paul Read about the crash of Flight 571. After the plane went down in the Andes on Friday the 13th of October, 1972, the members and supporters of the Old Christians rugby club who survived faced an impossible choice: whether or not to eat the only food available, the bodies of their dead friends. (TW: Discussion of cannibalism.)
  • Movie Break: The Poseidon Adventure
    Jennifer takes a break from the usual podcast to drink a few hard root beers and talk about one of her favorite movies of all time, "The Poseidon Adventure." In this episode, she talks about the plot hole that eats characters in the original book, emergency hot pants in the 1972 film, and Fergie paying the mortgage in the early-2000s remake. (TW: Discussion of rape as a plot point in one part of the episode.)
  • Episode 4: The Kansas City Hyatt Regency skywalk collapse
    When the Kansas City Hyatt Regency opened in 1980, its beautiful atrium with walkways which appeared to float on air impressed the entire city. But in July of 1981, the skywalk's fine reputation came crashing down - literally.
  • Episode 3: The SS Eastland disaster
    Every year, Western Electric contracted excursion boats to take employees to the annual picnic, from Chicago to Michigan City, IN. In July of 1915, one ship would never leave the wharf.
  • Episode 2: The Hillsborough Disaster
    On April 15, 1989, thousands of British football fans flocked to Sheffield to see the F.A. Cup semi-final game between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. Ninety-six never made it home.
  • Episode 1: Hartford Circus Fire
    On July 6, 1944, thousands of people arrived at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus in Hartford, CT, to enjoy the festivities. Then the sidewall caught fire.
  • Disaster Area: An Introduction
    Welcome to the first episode of "Disaster Area," a podcast focusing on disasters throughout history. In this initial episode, host Jennifer Matarese introduces herself, shares what she will and won't be discussing in each episode, and gives some idea of which disasters will be analyzed in future episodes.

My apologies for not keeping up with the posting too well since the start of the podcast, but I’ve been getting into the groove of the research needed to get the episodes just right.

The first three episodes are about the Hartford circus fire in 1944, the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, and the SS Eastland sinking in the Chicago River in 1915. I chose all three for different reasons. The Hartford circus fire is such an incongruous image — a joyful public gathering struck suddenly and swiftly by a tremendous tragedy. The Hillsborough disaster is one where the worst part might not even be the death of 96 innocent football fans, but the corruption and lies which followed to cover up the causes behind the disaster. And the SS Eastland disaster resulted in 844 picnickers dying in a shipwreck while the ship was still at the dock itself, within the heart of the city of Chicago.

The next episode will be about the Hyatt Regency skywalk collapse in 1981, so I’m currently doing a bit of a solo quick-and-dirty course in structural engineering. After that episode, we’ll be taking a break from the tragedy and sorrow of real disasters to discuss disaster movies, although I’m still undecided about which movie or aspect of the genre I’ll be touching on.

And please, if you like the podcast share it with your friends. I’m having a great time doing it and I’d love for lots of people to check it out. 🙂

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The first three episodes

One thought on “The first three episodes

  1. Steven B says:

    SS Eastland Episode: The Hawthorne Works remained open until 1983, when technology had moved beyond the facility. The Kansas City Works and Allentown Works both continued the summer picnic tradition while I worked at those locations through the 80’s and early 90’s. Those picnics however were held on Works property and while not “required”, attendance was highly recommended for career advancement.

    Like

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