|Rubble from explosion, 1300 block of Merchant St.|
May 6, 1930
This is all that was left of a two-story building in the 1300 block Merchant St., Ambridge, after it was apparently bombed today. One man was killed. Fire following the explosion spread to the Hotel Grant (sic).The 3:30 A.M. explosion, presumed to be a result of a bomb according to the Press, destroyed a building on the corner of 13th and Merchant Sts. which that paper said was occupied by George Scoursis'* fruit and vegetable market and Peter Ambrosio's** shoe repair shop, as well as a second floor "club room" operated by Joseph Martin.
The May 7, 1930, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said the blast was on the southeast corner of 13th and Merchant and destroyed a 100 year-old Harmonist building--although the building now at that corner looks like a Harmonist building, so perhaps the destroyed building wasn't exactly on the corner or was on a different corner at that intersection.
[Update February 4, 2016: Thanks to a tip from John Domansky, I may now know the correct location of the building that was destroyed: 1301 Merchant St., so the northwest corner of 13th and Merchant St. See Economy Fruit Market ad below.]
The Post-Gazette also said the blast was "mysterious" and "of unknown origin," and reported that Fire Chief A. G. Fisher said he didn't think a bomb or gas had caused the explosion. Instead, Fisher believed that "at least 25 gallons of gasoline were used."
The body of Joseph Musitino, a roomer in a building across the street, was later found in the ruins beneath a door. He was clutching a .38 caliber revolver and part of a door handle. Ammunition was found in his pocket, and a flashlight was found near his body.
The Post-Gazette said that laborers were still searching the ruins, looking for a friend who had been seen with Musitino the day of the blast.
The fire following the blast spread to a two-story building behind the fruit market, home to several families. The Press reported that "Mr. and Mrs. Michael Moses, their three children, Mary, 4; Rose, 3, and Gladys, 1, fled to the street."
The shock from the explosion was felt for blocks. Houses shook and residents were thrown from their beds. Windows in homes and businesses in the surrounding block were blown out. According to the Press, the nearby Grand Hotel*** lost over 100 windows. And like a comedic touch after a huge explosion in an action movie, fruit and vegetables from the fruit market flew through the air and smashed through hotel windows. The Post-Gazette said fruit "literally rained through the nearby windows."
According to the Press, B. S. McDonald's hotel room was "filled with vegetables blown through the windows," and he was quoted saying, "I was pelted with vegetables and with fragments of plate glass. Some of those glass slivers buried themselves in the wall right near my head." An adjoining room occupied by Walter Knox was "filled with fruit." The Post-Gazette had a photo (unfortunately, not a good one, at least in the digitized version) of another hotel resident, Mike Demo, holding a pineapple that "was hurled through his window, and into a wardrobe."
The Press also reported that James Dillon arrived at his home across from the fruit market about 10 minutes after the explosion and found his two-year old daughter, Geraldine, asleep under a pane of glass which had blown out of the window, but remained intact. Amazingly, the toddler not injured--and still asleep.
When the two articles were written, police were looking for two men seen just before the explosion by a milkman, running from the building.
Damage from the explosion was estimated to be $30,000.
I don't know why Musitino was in or about to enter the destroyed building with a gun in his hand. I also don't know if Musitino's friend eventually was found in the rubble, if the cause of the bombing was ever conclusively determined, or if a bomber or arsonist was ever found. If I find any additional information, I'll update this article.
Another article I found in my meanderings through old newspapers that made me say "whoa!" led to my June 25, 2015, article, "Daring daylight holdup, plucky girl clerk."
[Update February 4, 2016: John Domansky pointed me to this ad in the program for Ambridge's Canady-Hull Post American Legion's February 10 and 11, 1927, musical "The Bimbo," showing the address of the Economy Fruit Market was 1301 Merchant St., owned by Geo. Scourcos.
|Economy Fruit Market ad|
program for "The Bimbo"
Canady-Hull Post American Legion
February 10 and 11, 1927
program courtesy of John Domansky
** I believe the Press is referring to Peter D'Ambrosio, a long-time Ambridge shoe repair shop owner who owned a shop on the southwest corner of 13th and Merchant in the 1940s (and beyond?). [Update February 4, 2016: Given the other incorrect information in the Press and Post-Gazette's articles about the explosion, I'm now wondering if D'Ambrosio moved his shop across 13th St. to the southwest corner after the explosion. Or if his shop was always on the southwest corner, perhaps damaged, but not destroyed, by the explosion, and the newspapers got it wrong. Does anyone know for certain?]
*** The Press and Post-Gazette articles mistakenly refer to the Grand Hotel/Hotel Grand as the "Hotel Grant" in the articles. You can read more about the Grand Hotel in my February 24, 2014, article, "The Grand Hotel and the Moose."