100 years ago today, a man building a subway tunnel under the east river survived one of the most ridiculous construction accidents ever recorded – being shot out of the tunnel, up through the river and into the air.
In a comically titled NY Times article on the event, “WORKER SHOT SKYWARD FROM UNDER RIVER BED“, the accident is described in great detail:
“Unparalleled in the records of submarine engineering accidents is he experience that yesterday befell Richard Creedon of 512 /1/2 Henderson Street, Jersey City, at the Joralemon Street end of the north tube of the East River Subway Tunnel. “. Creedon was investigating a pressure leak in the hydraulic shield when the accident occurred. A hydraulic shield is a very rudimentary device that was used in tunnel construction 100 years ago. it provided a ‘safe’ way for workers to dig under rivers, with pick axes and shovels. This intense, dirty manual labor has since been replaced by the much safer TBMs, or tunnel boring machines. Pressure leaks within the hydrological shield could lead to fatal ‘blowouts’ that would flood the tunnel with water. These blowouts were relatively common – 3 had already occurred at this same spot.
Pressure in the shield caused a blow out – which resulted in a 4 foot wide hole opening through 17 feet of silt, 10 feet below the river. According to the Times “Creedon was shot through the aperture and 10 feet of East River water like a pea through a putty blower“.
Creedon described what happened to the Times:
“ohh pohh! It didn’t amount to such a lot. There were four of us, and we were looking for a little trouble with the river bed. Jack Hughes yells for bags, and as the boys pass them up I grabs them and puts them at the hole when I was drawed into the flow and shot out at the other end. Then all of a sudden I strikes water and opens my eyes I was flying through the air, and before I comes down I had a fine view of the city”.
That is probably one of the most bad ass things I’ve ever heard someone say given the circumstances. Creedon sounds like he’d be a pisser to drink with: A real man who helped build the subway tunnels of NYC with his bare hands AND one who looked death in the face and laughed. Did I note that according to the Times article, he also threw a party when he got home, to celebrate the occasion?
Today Creedon’s name today has less recognition than many people in NYC history whom should be forgotten. Boss Tweed, The Collyer brothers, and Robert Moses are all names that anyone who knows even the slightest thing about NYC history will recognize. Richard Creedon? Nearly everyone has forgotten this man’s name and what his work symbolizes today. I just don’t think that’s right.
Note – much of the story above I originally published 2 years ago. I had hoped at the time there would be some interest in commemorating this day, but there seemed to be little interest at the time. I’m still hopeful that perhaps at the very least a historic plaque can be placed near the scene of the accident in the park at the foot of Joralemon street, as not only a tribute to Creedon, but to all of those who built the tunnels which made NYC what it is today. If you agree and want to help (particularly with raising some small funds for the plaque, contacts with the city, local council people & parks dept to get it placed, etc), comment below or drop me an email – firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m a pretty busy guy but I’d love to make this happen or help anyone who can.