Seminar examines explosion in 1943

WINDHAM – A capacity crowd turned out Monday for a public discussion the 1943 explosion at a bomb manufacturing site at the Ravenna Arsenal that shook Windham.

The March 24, 1943, explosion killed 11 people and destroyed an igloo-like structure, leaving a large crater which remains today. That portion of the arsenal occupies half of Windham Township.

The seminar, hosted by the Windham Historical Society, was held at the Congregational United Church of Christ and lasted about 90 minutes. The central speaker of the evening was Kent State assistant professor Dirk Remley, who has spent much of the past five years studying the explosion.

The official report done by the government following the disaster had been classified until the last decade. Remley noted he happened upon the explosion while researching for his doctoral dissertation in 2010, entitled, “Relationship Between Communication and Literacy Practices at the Ravenna Arsenal.”

“I sat just fascinated as I read through it and absorbing these details. The more I read about it and the more I read about the other documents associated with the arsenal, I started making various connections between the communication practices, what was going on at the scene, and the accident, as far as things that may have contributed to it.

According to the report, mishandling of the boxes by employees led to the explosion. Someone dropped a box containing a cluster bomb, setting off a chain reaction, destroying the building.

“After doing a little more reading, research and interviews, I ran into a lot of riveting things as well,” Remley said. “It is just a fascinating topic.”

Following the Remley’s description of the events which led to the accident, Remley did a question-and-answer with those in attendance. Some of those on-hand included family members of workers at the site and citizens who lived through the event.

“It was really interesting to get that kind of narrative and hear their stories,” Remley said. “It was great stuff. These are lived experiences and that is awesome when you are doing historical research.”

Lynnea St. John, founding member of the Windham Historical Society and former president, said having Remley present his findings has been on the agenda for a long time.

“Dirk is a member of our society and we’ve wanted him in specifically for this reason for a couple years now,” St. John said. “He’s a Ph.D. who really knows his stuff, so it is great to get someone like him here to help explain these historical events. He sent me the 16-page report about the explosion last fall and it is pretty amazing.”