On March 7, 1905 a group of little more than 60 people had gathered in the Granger Meeting House for the weekly meeting of the Mutual Improvement Association. The meeting was called to order at 8:00 p.m. sharp and following the opening prayer, a 21-year-old woman named Nellie Mackay walked up to take her place next to the organ and sing for the audience.
As Nellie was singing “You Can Make the Pathway Bright” the lights began to grow dim and flicker. People weren’t too surprised because the meeting house had been having difficulty with their lights for the last several weeks. Just as she finished her song, the lights went out completely, and did not come back on. The crowd of young people began making jokes and lighting matches to try and see in the darkness.
The janitor, Lambert Bowden, followed by some young men headed for the basement to find the cause of the lights going out. As the janitor reached the doorway a puff of white smoke was seen, followed immediately by a huge explosion as he opened the door. The sound of the blast could be heard from miles away. Smoke immediately filled the building, the floor heaved upwards, windows were blown out, and the roof was lifted from the building.
The people inside were thrown about, and as they regained their senses they ran for the exit. The door had been blown free from its hinges. A few people were trampled as they tried to squeeze through the doorway as quickly as possible.
Once people were outside they started to check on their friends. People from across town who heard the explosion had immediately made their way to the church and began helping the injured people. Those who couldn’t make it out of the building on their own were carried out and placed on the lawn in front of the church.
As the smoke cleared and the confusion and horror started to subside the townspeople entered the building to survey the damage. The large iron stove that was used to heat the building was blown to pieces. The walls of the building were slightly twisted and the floor was now uneven. People outside were trying to track down everyone that was known to have been there that night.
They soon realized that no one had seen Nellie since the blast. Someone in the crowd said the last time they saw her she was standing near the organ. Men ran into the building and soon found Nellie’s body, tightly wedged underneath the organ just moments before she had been standing next to. When they first found her they thought she was just unconscious, because she had no visible injuries. Soon however it became clear that Nellie was not breathing.
In the days that followed, throngs of people came by the church to gawk and some even took relics from the building. At the moment the explosion occurred Nellie had just finished singing and Anna Horne was playing the organ. The blast blew Anna out into the room, while, unfortunately for Nellie, the blast shot the organ up into the air and it promptly crushed her as it fell back to the ground.
Out of the people in attendance that night 26 were injured. Nellie was the only fatality. People noticed that Lambert was severely burned. Rumors began that Lambert had lit a match shortly before he opened the basement door. Accusations were made that he was responsible for the explosion. On March 8th, 1905 an inquest was held. Six witnesses were examined and it was determined that no match had been lit.
Authorities would determine that the acetylene lighting plant hadn’t been working correctly for several weeks. Nellie, it turned out, had been standing directly above the gas tank.
Nellie’s funeral was held on March 12th with a large crowd in attendance. She was buried in the Taylorsville Cemetery.
The damaged meeting house was quickly condemned and eventually razed. In 1912 a new meeting house was built which stood on the corner of 3200 West and 3500 South until the 1960s.
- Nellie-Mackay-Pic: The Salt Lake Herald (Salt Lake City, Utah) · 9 Mar 1905, Thu · Page 1
- Granger-Meeting-House-After: The Salt Lake Herald (Salt Lake City, Utah) · 9 Mar 1905, Thu · Page 1
- Granger-Meeting-House-Inside: The Salt Lake Herald (Salt Lake City, Utah) · 9 Mar 1905, Thu · Page 1
- Nellie-Mackay-Grave-1: Tom Dial - Find A Grave
- 1904 Granger Meeting House: Murray Eagle (Murray, Utah) · 31 Dec 1959, Thu · Page 15