Friday, December 2, 2016

HGB Ep. 167 - Portland Cement Works

Moment in Oddity - Phantom Dragoon of the Delaware River

Iron Hill in Delaware was the scene of a conflict during the Revolutionary War. The Americans were situated at Welsh Tract Church in Newark. A sentry was positioned at the outpost to keep watch at night. One night, the sentry got the scare of his life. A horse came charging at him carrying a figure in white from head to toe. The sentry hid in fear until the phantom left. After he was relieved, he went to the head of command and begged to be moved to a different area. He said he would desert before he would face the phantom again. His request was granted. The next sentry was also scared by a rush of hoofs. The horse was carrying a creature that was ghostly white. He tried to keep his wits about him and he raised his gun. He fired at the riding ghost. He was sure that he hit it with a bullet, but it only laughed mockingly at him. This continued for many nights, with the rider visiting every night and every night, the guard on duty would shoot without any effect. The Americans started calling the rider the Phantom Dragoon. The command was so fearful, that they did not push forward against the British. An old American corporal was fed up with the stories about the phantom. He was a true skeptic and he took over guard duty to put a stop to the stories. He primed his musket and set himself up near the fence. Just after midnight, the beating of hoofs started in the distance and approached quickly. The Phantom Dragoon looked like the pale figure of Death riding towards him. He mustered his courage and took aim with his flint-lock. The white form toppled from the horse and hit the ground hard. The corporal ran over as the horse sped off into the distance. He found a British scout lying on the ground, very dead. When he pulled away the white garments he found that the scout was wearing steel armor, which had protected him from all the previous gun shots. The corporal had shot the scout in the head, which was unprotected. The British had used the superstitions of the Americans to keep them from pressing forward. The idea that a British soldier dressed to look like a ghost was able to fool the Americans and keep them from pressing forward certainly is odd!

This Day in History - Peking Man Skull Discovered

On this day, December 2nd, in 1929, Chinese Archaeologist and Anthropologist Pei Wenzhong discovers the first "Peking Man" skull on Dragon Bone Hill in Zhoukoudian of Fangshan District in Beijing. It is believed that Peking Man lived in the cave system of the upper part of Dragon Bone Hill. The site was discovered in 1921 and several teeth and bone fragments were recovered, but nothing that could definitively prove this was a species. The discovery of the complete skull changed all that and it was decided that this came from Sinanthropus pekinensis, a Beijing species of Chinese ape popularly known as Peking Man. The shape of the skull indicated that it belonged to a juvenile male around nine years old. Pei continued his explorations all the way into 1966, finding stoneware and other skull caps. In 1987, the Peking Man site was listed as a World Cultural Heritage site and its relics now receive world-class protection.

Portland Cement Works (Suggested by Atticus Wolfgramm)

Portland Cement is a material that helped build much of the world in the 1800s and still continues to be a major component of construction to this day. Early Portland Cement Works were unsafe places to work, as was the case with most fields of manufacturing. Dismemberment, burns and death were a real concern. Three of these plants not only had injuries and deaths, but they are now reputedly haunted. Two are abandoned ruins and another is a world class haunted attraction today. We will explore the history and hauntings of the Portland Cement Works in Salt Lake City, Utah, Mahurangi Cement Works in Warkworth, New Zealand and Kansas Portland Cement Works in LeHunt, Kansas.

Portland Cement was developed in the 18th century in Britain and in 1824, an English stone mason from Leeds by the name of William Aspdin obtained a patent on his mix that was a middle step towards Portland Cement. He burned limestone and clay together, ground the mix to a powder and added water and sand. The result was similar to stone that was quarried on the Isle of Portland in Dorset, England and that is where it derives its name. The basic ingredient in this cement is lime from limestone and it is generally mixed with shale, silicon, chromium and other materials to make the powdery substance. This is a dangerous substance to make and use. It is very caustic and is a lung irritant. One can imagine that making Portland Cement would be a tough and dangerous job. This form of cement was a revolution in building due to it being cheap to make and very versatile to use.

The further development of Portland Cement is a list of men from various countries throughout the 1800s claiming to have the patent on Portland Cement. Isaac Charles Johnson of Britain would claim to be the father of the cement and he is considered a pioneer in the industry. The United States imported the cement from Germany and England before developing its own plants, starting in Pennsylvania. David O. Sayler of Pennsylvania became the first producer of Portland Cement in America and he secured a patent in 1871. By the early 20th century, America was making its own cement and was no longer importing Portland cement. One of the plants in the United States was the Portland Cement Works in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The Portland Cement Company of Utah was located on the 600 block and 800 South. We've heard addresses ranging from 601 to 611 to 643. Today, the address is 666 West 900 South.  It opened in 1890 in the Parleys Canyon in Salt Lake City. Initially, they were small and developed a weak product, but a bigger company, LaGue & Campbell, took over the holdings in 1893 and decided to use the same methods as the Pennsylvania cement works. By 1896, there were only two companies west of the Mississippi River producing Portland Cement on a commercial scale and this plant in Utah was one of them. The manufacturing process took 80 steps and included using a rotary kiln to chemically combine the raw materials at 3000 degrees, which is hotter than the temperature used to melt steel. The compound was pounded to a fine powder and gypsum was added to regulate the time of hardening.

In 1898, the plant caught fire and nearly burned to the ground. All that was left were brick walls, damaged machinery and the large smokestacks. *Fun Fact: They were filling an order for the Denver Mint at the time of the fire.* It was rebuilt and then later restored in 1910 to produce a capacity of 1000 barrels of cement a day. Work in a cement factory was incredibly dangerous. Many workers lost their limbs or their lives in cement factories and Utah's Portland Cement Works was no different. George Howe was one of these men. The coal crusher was a machine that had huge grinding gears and George was in charge of its operation. He worked the graveyard shift and one night he was oiling the gears. One of the gears hooked his shirt sleeve and began pulling him further into the machine. He screamed for help, but no was there. His arm initially pulled free from the socket, but eventually George was pulled in completely and crushed together. Not much was left of his body in the morning.

Despite this first accident, no real precautions were put in place and the factory continued to be a place of dismemberment and death. Charles Whitner was another victim and he had only been at the cement works for two weeks. The steam from the vat caused him to become dizzy on an upper platform that was above the chemical boiler. He experienced some kind of vertigo and lost his footing. He fell, but managed to grab the lip of the vat. His hands were no match for the hot steel and he fell into the chemical concoction.

Portland Cement Company of Utah was sold to Lone Star Industries in August 1979 and they ran it until 1987 when they decided to shut down its Salt Lake City cement plant. The closure was suppose to be temporary, but eventually became permanent when conditions did not change. Not only was the work dangerous, but to keep costs low, cheaper fuels were used and these included waste solvents, shredded tires and other materials that may have contained toxic chemicals. This left behind contaminated dust. A Superfund Clean-Up was formed in the mid 1990s to clean up the site and this was completed in 1999. It was still being monitored in 2014 to ensure that no toxic elements were still around. In 2011, the current owners acquired the property. They rebuilt and now host one of the most successful and one of the scariest haunted attractions in America, the Fear Factory Haunted House. The haunts that they create are fake, but there are real spirits here. This is a haunted haunted attraction!

The haunting experiences reported here by staff and guests of the haunted house include the distant screams of terror. These are not screams manufactured by the attraction as they are only heard when everything is quiet. Could this be George or Charles? Shadow figures are seen looking down from upper levels. During the witching hour, it is claimed that a little girl laughing is heard, although there are no records of any deaths of children at the factory. Ghost Adventures came and investigated the building.

This is not the only haunted cement works in the world. New Zealand had the Mahurangi Cement Works, located near Warkworth. Warkworth was originally a timber camp called Brown's Mill for a man named John Anderson Brown who built a sawmill there. Brown eventually changed the name to Warkworth after Warkworth in Northumberland. The Mahurangi Cement Works is quite different from Utah's cement works in that it sits in ruins today. But at one time, it was producing 20,320 tonnes per year. (A tonne is a metric ton that equals around 2, 204 pounds.) Nathaniel Wilson had emigrated from Glasgow with his family when he was a child and as an adult, he bought a parcel of land south of Warkworth Village. There he set up a lime kiln in 1866. He produced Roche Lime, which was used in the making of plaster and mortar.

In 1885, he began experimenting with Portland Cement and opened Wilson Cement Works with his brothers. The Roche Lime had been an inferior product, but once Nathaniel started producing Portland Cement, they were able to ship high-quality cement to Auckland. The cement was used in many building projects, including the Queen Street Sewer, Rangitoto Beacon, Grafton Bridge, and Queen’s Wharf, the Rotorua’s Bath House and Napier’s breakwater. By 1903, the plant employed 180 workmen. The works was expanded with a large concrete building at that time. The Mahurangi River was nearby and that is where the cement works got the name it is known by today. The river is a tidal estuary in Northern New Zealand. Success continued until 1918 when the New Zealand Portland Cement Company amalgamated with Mahurangi. This company was located at Limestone Island and the cement production was moved there. Mahurangi then focused on hydrated lime. It eventually closed in 1929.

There is only a ruin left, but it has been registered under the Historic Places Act of 1980. It is a place important to industrial archaeology and people come to visit for the history and to take cool pictures of the ruins sitting next to a picturesque lake formed by the flooded quarry. It also serves as a testament to the first cement works in the southern hemisphere. But are the ruins completely abandoned? People who visit claim to see mysterious shadow figures amongst the ruins and screams are heard here as well. Odd lights and ball orbs have been witnessed and one of the stranger sounds people have heard is something like a generator running.

Picture courtesy of Haunted Auckland

Returning to America, we find another abandoned and haunted Portland Cement works in Kansas. As was the case with many of these cement plants, this was practically the sole provider of jobs in the small town of LeHunt and when the plant shut down, the whole town was abandoned. The United Kansas Portland Cement Company built the cement works in 1905 on 1,500 acres on the side of Table Mound outside of Independence. Leigh Hunt was president of the Hunt Engineering Company of Michigan and he supervised the building of the plant and helped design the company town around it, naming it after himself: LeHunt. Table Mound was rich in raw materials that could be used in the production of the Portland Cement and a quarry was located atop the mound. The material was transported via gravity.

The company town started with a couple hundred people and a school, church, store and bars were built. By 1906, the population was 1,000. Life in a company town was controlled since the company provided all services and deducted fees from the workers wages. A man named Tom Mix was brought in to be marshal of the town. This is the same Tom Mix that would go on to fame in silent movies. So the cowboy he played in movies was not far removed from his real life. Mix did a good job as marshal, but eventually he was run out of town on a wagon, literally. He was a womanizer and was caught with another man's wife. They loaded him in a wagon and took him outside the town limits and dumped him.

Everything was great at the plant before the Great Depression, but by 1911, things were going south and the decline was swift. The fuel they were using, natural gas, was depleted and railroad rates spiked. In 1913, the plant shut its doors. They reopened briefly in 1915, but soon World War I began and production became unprofitable. Bankruptcy followed in 1918 and the plant would never reopen. The school remained opened until 1947. Not much remains of the abandoned town. The plant is in ruins and covered in graffiti and there is a nearby cemetery. A few foundations still exist as do sidewalks and the school still stands.

There is a cemetery about a half mile down the road from the plant. Vandals have toppled headstones, but volunteers try to upkeep the grounds, although weeds do not grow much in the cemetery. Five stones mark the graves of children. One person died in LeHunt in its 1905-1917 heyday and that person's grave is here. There is also a large headstone for the Murphy family plot. That grave marker is more prominent because they donated the land for the cemetery. There is illegal dumping around the town and signs of partying left behind. There are claims that the abandoned site has been used for Satanic rituals. As a matter of fact, that came up in a trial during the 90s after a teenager named Brian Durnil was brutally beaten and shot in the woods near the plant. Keayon Hadley was convicted of the murder, although his lawyer argued that two teenage girls who were the main witnesses had actually been the killers. He claimed they were Satanists who used the abandoned cement works as a place to perform human and animal sacrifices.

There is a memorial to a Mexican laborer who was named Boars. It is three sections of wall dedicated to him near the crumbling smokestack. He was working on one of the 15 foot high walls when he became pinned inside the wall while the concrete was being poured. He died and the workers decided to leave his body in the wall since there was nothing that could be done for him. The first wall section contains his shovel and pick axe, the second section has his wheelbarrow and the third has his name sculpted into the wall. It is believed that Boars spirit is still here. Several people have claimed to see his ghost wandering the ruins.

There are other hauntings and urban legends connected to the abandoned town. A ghost dog has been seen and heard rustling among the bushes and other wooded areas. Disembodied whispers are heard near the crumbling plant. Visitors feel a heaviness, particularly near the Boars memorial. The full-bodied apparition of an elderly man has been seen walking the sidewalks at twilight.

The cement works are remnants of an earlier time. Do these abandoned places hold more than just memories? Are the ruins haunted? Is the haunted attraction Fear Factory really haunted? That is for you to decide!


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