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Book Review | Disaster in Lawrence

Book Review | Disaster in Lawrence
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Disaster in Lawrence
Photo/Art by Heath Robbins
Witnesses reported that at first, it sounded like snow sliding off a roof, a familiar sound on a mild January day in Lawrence, Massachusetts. But on this day–January 10, 1860–the sound was the precursor to one of the worst industrial accidents in the nation’s history. Around a hundred people, many of them women and children, died in the collapse of the Pemberton textile mill. The exact number was never determined, as many bodies burned to ash.

Hundreds of trapped workers had been saved in the six hours before a rescuer’s lantern set fire to the rubble. The mayor of Lawrence, Daniel Saunders Jr., was digging frantically to free a 15-year-old girl when the flames drove him away. “You must imagine the rest,” he recalled. “I can’t write it.”

Alvin F. Oickle, a former New England reporter, broadcaster, and college instructor, can. His Disaster in Lawrence: The Fall of the Pemberton Mill (The History Press; $19.99) not only captures the horror of the first hours but also sets the stage brilliantly with the history of the Lawrence mills, profiles victims and survivors, analyzes the causes of the collapse, and explains why, in the end, even a tragedy of this magnitude did not result in serious reforms. In 30 years of reviewing books for Yankee, I’ve read many similar historical accounts. None was better than Disaster in Lawrence.

Read an excerpt from Disaster in Lawrence.

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Tim Clark


Tim Clark


Tim Clark has been writing for Yankee Magazine and The Old Farmer's Almanac since 1975. Subjects of his many Yankee profiles have included filmmaker Ken Burns, historian Barbara Tuchman, pediatrician and political activist Dr. Benjamin Spock, and World War II General James Gavin. Tim left his job as Managing Editor in 1999 to teach English at ConVal High School in Peterborough, N.H. for 13 years, but since retiring from that demanding and rewarding profession in 2012, he has continued to contribute articles and book reviews. Tim lives in Dublin, N.H., two miles from the offices of Yankee Publishing, and serves as Town Moderator, a post previously occupied by Rob Sagendorph, the founder of Yankee Magazine.
Updated Friday, December 19th, 2008

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