12/21/08 617 W, 1 I - + 12 - 12 Johnston County Munitions Blast / Catch-Me-Eye Explosion, 1942

On March 7, 1942, a truck and trailer carrying 30,000 pounds of munitions exploded on Highway 301 just south of Selma1, killing 6 people and injuring over 50. The blast was seen and heard 50 miles away. It occurred at 2:57 a.m., two hours after the truck collided with a car and both vehicles caught fire. The truck was loaded with gunpowder, grenades, and "other explosives to be delivered to the Army."

The explosion carved a crater in the concrete highway, destroyed and damaged buildings, and broken windows more than three miles away. Nearby Luke Capp's Filling Station was demolished, with only two "gnarled gas pumps" remaining. Gurkin's Tavern, about 100 yards away, and several homes within a 500-yard radius, were "littered with broken window panes, falling bricks and timbers." Virtually all windows in Selma, one mile away, were shattered. The Selma Cotton Mill lost 900 panes. A few in Smithfield, three miles away, were broken.


The Talton Hotel nearby was "leveled to the ground." Within its smoking debris, bones from two bodies were found. Two occupants in the hotel were reported missing, last seen "in a sheet of flames." They were later identified as Edward E. Howell of Goldsboro, a taxi driver, and Jessie Holloway of Goldsboro, a cafe worker. The sister of Ms. Holloway was in her hotel room at the time of the explosion, and escaped after being "burried by falling timbers and bricks." Both troopers and firemen had warned bystanders to keep away, and had "cautioned persons in the hotel to leave."

George Stroupe of Gastonia, commander of the New Holland CCC camp, and Cecil E. Propst of Lawndale, Game and Fish Warden at the camp, were both killed, while riding past the scene. Claude "Buck" Mitchell, a cafe worker, of Dunn was a bystander, also killed. The three died instantly.

The burning vehicles attracted hundreds before the blast. Minnie Lewis of Raleigh, the driver of the car that collided with the truck, later died from burns received in the accident. The most seriously injured people were taken to hospitals in Johnston County, Goldsboro, Raleigh, and Durham.

The wreckage of the truck was scattered for 1.5 miles. The blast "ripped a hole 20 feet deep and as long as a railroad car" in Highway 70. The hole was filled by 3:00 p.m. the next day, using convict labor.

After the initial collision, firefighters (from Selma?) tried to douse the flames, but couldn't extinguish the fire. There were tons of black powder inside the "metal and wood transport van" and everybody moved away and waited. One spectator spent over an hour flagging approaching cars to a stop.

The witness remembered seeing the explosion a second or two before he felt it, "a great eruption of flam and smokes and sparks that swirled hundreds of feet into the air." For a moment, "everything was as bright as day." The concussion wave caught him "about shoulder high" and the next thing he knee, he was "flat on the ground, scrambling around on my stomach."

More than 200,000 people would visit the accident scene in the following day or two, estimated the Highway Patrol.They investigated the accident, along with an "official board of inquiry from the Charleston Ordnance Depot."

Source: News & Observer articles from that week.

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1The tavern/cabin/service station complex at that locatio was called Catch-Me-Eye.

Interesting postscript to this incident. On July 8, 1942, a bomber crashed in a cornfield near Smithfield during a storm in the late afternoon. The twin-engine aircraft caught fire in flight and exploded as it crashed, said witnesses. All nine aboard were killed. The field was a corn and soybean field of Jasper Beasley, about a mile south of Wilson’s Mill. As the wreckage burned, bullets exploded and streaked through the air. Hundreds went to the scene, slogging through 500 yards of muddy roads and fields. Source: N&O, July 9, 1942.
Legeros - 12/29/08 - 12:55

Interesting postscript #2. On July 20, 1945, the Selma town hall— one of the largest buildings in Johnston County— was badly damaged when a support structure over the second floor auditorium collapsed. The building was erected in 1913-14, and experienced damage in the 1942 truck explosion above. The force of the explosion “tore large crevices in the walls.” After the building was again damaged three years later, the Selma mayor offered the opinion that the 1942 blast greatly contributed to the 1945 damage. Wonder how many other buildings were indirectly affected by that blast? Source: N&O, July 21, 1945.
Legeros - 05/09/09 - 11:01

My father,oldest 2 Brothers were in the car that truck.WOULD LIKE ANY INFO. ABOUT THAT DAY NOT IN NEWS PAPERS 252 946 9768
LInwood Lewis (Email) - 07/30/11 - 13:06

i was four years old and remember the blast breaking the window in the bedroom that morning my daddy or grandaddy took us to the site i can remember riding down the rr bridge and seeing all the cars and people i don t remember seeing blast hole there should be a nc historical marker put there… dick parker i was about half raised in the area.. my daddy shorty parker was in the produce bus many years 1947 1957…i was in the ins real estate and income tax there for 20 years 1966 1986 have many good memories about catch me eye
dick parker (Email) - 05/30/12 - 21:33

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