MOUNT VERNON -- Young employees can of course be of priceless value to a business establishment. It is, however, important for the adult in charge to keep a close eye on what the youngster is doing.
A dry goods establishment in Chesterville, in Morrow County, discovered this 111 years ago this month.
Late in the afternoon of Aug. 24, 1910, store clerk Harold Corwin and store owner Samuel Bonner noticed that the afternoon light was beginning to hit a low angle where it was blocked by surrounding buildings and trees, making the Bonner Dry Goods Store dim.
Bonner decided to do what he and his staff did every afternoon around this time: fire up the gaslights. Like many buildings in those days, the store was equipped with gaslights fed by a tank of acetylene gas in the basement. One simply had to go from light fixture to light fixture throughout the store, open up the gas flow, and strike a match.
This would provide bright lighting until the store closed for the evening and the gaslights could then be extinguished.
But when the men tried the first couple of fixtures, they were surprised and dismayed to find that the gaslights wouldn't light. Deciding to figure out the problem, they tromped down to the basement to take a look at the acetylene gas tank. The basement, however, was even more dim.
The two peered closely at the tank.
“I can't see anything,” Bonner said.
“Hang on,” Corwin said, fishing a match from his pocket.
I'll detour from our tale here a moment to tell you that Harold Corwin was the son of Burr Corwin and his wife Ella, who was born a Bostwick. Burr grew up around Mount Gilead, but moved to Mount Vernon in the late 1800s, where his son Harold was born. When a farming opportunity opened up back in Morrow County near Chesterville, Burr moved his family back there.
By the early summer of 1910, Burr's daughter Marie had gotten a job at the Bonner Dry Goods Store. Later that summer, she got her brother Harold a job there, too. This was a move she probably later regretted.
In all likelihood, store owner Sam Bonner was probably in the process of trying to hastily tell his young employee not to strike that match when the explosion removed both men's eyebrows and probably a bit of their hair, too. For acetylene gas is, of course, highly flammable, else it wouldn't be very useful for gaslights.
It turned out that there had been a leak of the gas tank, meaning that so much gas had leaked out, the gaslights upstairs were no longer operable.
But there was a fair amount of gas now floating around in the basement. Luckily for both men, the leak was a slow one, and the full contents of the gas tank had not leaked out into the room. Doubly lucky for them was that the resulting explosion was small enough that it did not rupture the tank itself.
If the entire tank of acetylene gas had exploded, parts of the building probably would have landed in Harold's home town of Mount Vernon. As it was, the men suffered a nasty flash explosion that badly burned their peering faces, hands, and shoulders, but they both recovered in due time.
Both went on to live many more years, though not working at that particular store. Bonner moved to Columbus, and Corwin returned to Mount Vernon, to work as manager in a department store.
It's probably a safe bet to guess that Harold Corwin was very happy to see electric lighting replace gaslighting.