Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Kansas City Skywalk Disaster

Forty years ago (July 17, 1981) two of three atrium-spanning ‘skywalks’ at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri, collapsed onto a crowded dance event, resulting in 114 deaths and 216 people injured. The hotel had been open for one year. The skywalks design called for a fourth-floor span 120 feet long, a third-floor span of the same length, offset to one side, and a second-floor span directly under the top span. Each walkway weighed about 64,000 pounds. The walkways were was suspended from the roof of the building by three pairs of steel rods, each 1.25 inches in diameter, attached to steel beams that crossed under the walkways.  

To right, the 4th and 2nd floor skywalks, fallen
to the atrium floor. The bottom of the 3rd floor
 skywalk is top, center. Click to enlarge photos.
Approximately 1,600 people had gathered in the atrium for a tea dance. The second-level walkway held about 40 people, with an additional 16 to 20 on the fourth. Just before the disaster, guests heard popping noises and a loud crack. The fourth-floor walkway dropped several inches, paused, then fell completely. It and the second-floor walkway landed on the crowded atrium floor.

Did the roof collapse? Did the rods pull out at the top? Did the rods break? No, no, and no. Months of investigation concluded that the structural failure was a consequence of a cascade of human errors. The architect’s original design called for rods to pass through three steel cross-beams supporting the upper skywalk and continue to cross-beams underneath the lower skywalk. For each skywalk, nuts threaded on the rods would be under the beams, the full weight of the skywalk supported by these nuts. The company contracted to manufacture the rods objected. For nuts to be in place under the upper skywalk beams meant that the entire length of the rod from the end supporting the lower skywalk all the way to the upper skywalk would need to be threaded, so the nuts at the upper level could be rotated up the rods from the bottom.

Right side image shows what 
was actually built. Center image
shows the welds.
Their counterproposal was to have one set of six rods suspending the fourth-floor walkway from the roof and a second set suspending the second-floor walkway from the fourth-floor walkway. An engineer at the architecture firm approved the proposed change via a phone call without performing necessary calculations or viewing sketches that would have revealed its serious intrinsic flaw. So, failure because – oops! – rather than three cross-beams under each skywalk, each supported on two nuts affixed to the descending rods, the revised design meant that the lower skywalk was hanging from the upper skywalk. This doubled the weight exerted on the nuts holding the upper skywalk in place. ["2P on nut" in diagram]

This horrific flaw was compounded by the fact that the design of the cross-beams had also been changed. For each cross-beam, two pieces, each shaped like a squared-off letter “C” were designed to be welded to each other along the edges, creating a rectangle. The design call for the welds to be on the sides, so that the holes drilled for the support rods would go through solid metal. Instead, the rectangular cross-beams were set under the skywalks with the welds on top and bottom, so that the drilled holes went through the welds. The collapse came when the upper beams separated at the weld line, allowing the nuts to slip through, leaving the upper rods still firmly attached to the roof. Lawsuits were filed. Court reports stated that in the process of going from initial design to completed construction, architects and engineers each believed that someone else had performed safety calculations. As there was no formal review process to track all changes, this never happened.

Has Maynard’s history been marred by any construction design flaws that led to a catastrophic event? There has been a slew of building fires, but there is no reason to believe that causes were other than mishaps with wood stoves, coal stoves, kerosene lamps and candles (or arson, at least two, likely more). There are mentions of bridges being destroyed by floods, but those were natural disasters.

The 105-year history of gunpowder manufacture at American Powder Mills, located on the Maynard/Acton border on both sides of Route 62, was marred by explosive disasters. In fact, between 1835 and 1943, there were at least 26 explosions, 30 deaths. Newspaper reports mention windows broken in Maynard, explosions heard in Concord, and workers’ body parts being collected in buckets (funerals were closed-casket). The salient point about gunpowder manufacture was that explosions were a given, so by design, the plan was to minimize damage.

Click to enlarge. The wheels would rotate and the 
dish they were suspended above would revolve,
to mix the dampened ingredients. Too dry, or if
the stone wheel created a spark if it touched the
dish, and there would be an explosion.
Rather than one large complex, 20-25 or so small buildings were spread out over 400 acres. The buildings were constructed with large beams, reinforced with iron rods, but the walls were light wood planking. This way, a modest explosion would blow off the walls but leave the rest standing, to be restored. Distancing meant that one explosion would not set off others. This did not always succeed; a New York Times article told of five deaths in a multi-building series of explosions on May 3, 1898.   

The black powder manufacturing process in brief: potassium nitrate, sulfur and charcoal are each milled separately to a fine powder then mixed together while dampened with water. The blend is pressed to remove water, the presscake then broken into the desired coarseness in the kernel house (coarse for cannons, fine for guns), sieved to remove dust, resulting grains glazed with graphite to prevent sticking in humid air, further dried, and then packed into copper-nailed oak barrels or tin containers. Workers considered the kernel-house the most dangerous, the drying-house next.

Shattered beams and bent iron rods from when an
explosion had destroyed a building. The 2,000 
pound grinding wheel was blown yards away.
Anything that might cause a spark was a dire risk, so workers changed from shoes with nailed soles to moccasins upon arriving at work. Wagon wheels did not have iron rims, and were pulled by mules with unshod feet. For night work – the mixing of ingredients being a long process – kerosene lamps were hung on hooks outside windows rather than being brought into the buildings. During the 6 to 8 hours of mixing, an attendant must be present at all times to add water whenever the mix starts to get too dry. Sitting in a chair could lead to fatally inattentive sleep, so the watchers were provided with one-legged stools.

The remnants of a building pictured to the left can be seen along a path that starts at the canoe launch area located on the south side of Route 62.    

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Dance Cards (Maynard, MA 1890-1910)

Associated Templars, 1895
Dance cards were used by women to record the names of the gentlemen with whom they intended to dance each successive dance with at a formal ball. A dance card was typically a small booklet with a decorative cover and a list of the scheduled dances. The cover indicated the sponsoring organization. A short pencil was attached via a cord, used by the women to write the names of their dance partners. The card would also serve as a souvenir of the woman’s evening.

The use of dance cards originated in central Europe during the 18th century, but their use first became widespread in 19th-century Vienna, spreading from there westward to France and England in the 1830s, and then across the ocean. Here in the U.S., the practice became common in the decades following the Civil War, gradually coming to an end circa 1910, with some persistence into the 1920 at dances held at colleges. In a society without inherited nobility, proper etiquette became the yardstick by which the lower and middle classes emulated the behavior of the upper classes. From one description:

Masons, Charles A. Welch Lodge
1891 (click to enlarge images)
“The act of asking a lady to dance had to be carefully orchestrated. A gentleman should stand at a comfortable distance from the lady, bow slightly toward her and request the honor of her presence as a dancing partner. He should never be hasty or overly sure of himself, and should never ask the same lady to accompany him for more than four dances; as such a degree of informality is improper in a ballroom. Furthermore, he should always be well acquainted with a dance before participating, since any mistakes he makes during a dance put his partner in an awkward position. A lady, in turn, should not refuse a gentleman's offer unless she has already accepted another's proposal.”

A fascinating part of Maynard’s musical history is a collection of dance cards in the Maynard Historical Society Archive. These can be viewed online by searching the archive on the term “dance.”  Dance cards were popular at dances held here in Maynard (and in neighboring towns) in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The cards would name the organization sponsoring the dance, name the performing band, the program, etc. These would include a list of the 16-24 dances to be conducted that evening.

One supposes that men would also have their own pencils and a slip of paper, to keep track of whom they had committed to dance with. Failing to show up at the scheduled time would be a serious faux pas. The managers of these dances were always listed on invitations and on the dance cards, showing that a dance was indeed an important social activity that required thorough planning and organization. What is shocking to our imagination is how late these dances went on. A program could start with a concert from 8-9 p.m., followed by dancing, an intermission at midnight to allow for a light meal, and then dancing continuing to 2, 3, or even 4 a.m.! No alcoholic beverages served. As to types of dances, typically half were describes as versions of Quadrilles (a square dance for four couples), the others being couples dances such as Waltz, Polka, Galop, Schottische or Newport.

List of dances at a 
"GAL-U-MET" dance
Many of these dances were by invitation. Basically, the organizations (Masons, Templars, Caldonian Club…) held dances so that their members’ single daughters and sons could meet other people of the same social class. Others were admittance by ticket – 25 to 35 cents – not sounding like much until one learns that average mill workers’ wages were a bit under two dollars a day.

An interesting oddity is that in leap years, some of the dances reversed roles – men would have dance cards, women would approach them to reserve a dance, men were expected to remain seated until escorted to the dance floor, then returned to their seats either immediately after the dance or at the end of a conversation with that dance’s partner, the woman reserving the right to terminate the conversation if she found it uninteresting, saying no more than “Excuse me for a moment.”

Remnant from the dance card era, people still say “My dance card is full” to indicate that they day is already fully scheduled, also “Please pencil me in” as a request for an appointment later in the day or days to come. Oddly, the very concept and use of a pencil is becoming as obsolete as a dance card.

Mark and his wife met at a dance, the reason being both being quite tall, their eyes met across the crowded dance floor, over the heads of others.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Music in Maynard - The Band(s) Played On

On July 22, at 7:00 p.m., the Maynard Public Library will present a Zoomed talk titled: “And the Band(s) Played On.” Register at This is the sixth in a monthly series of history lectures produced by the Sesquicentennial Steering Committee as part of Maynard’s celebration of the 150th anniversary of its creation on April 19, 1871. The August talk will be “Thoreau Walked Thru.” A new history book “MAYNARD MASSACHUSETTS: A Brief History”, is for sale for $21.99 at 6 Bridges Gallery, 77 Main Street, WED-SAT, 12-5.  

Maynard Fife, Drum and Bugle Corp, 1898
in Boston to honor soldiers returning from
Spanish-American War. Click to enlarge.
Music has been an essential part of Maynard before Maynard was Maynard. The town's inaugural parade featured the Eagle Cornet Band of Iola Lodge and the Amateur Brass Band. The Maynard Brass Band came into being in 1875, reorganized in 1884 as the Maynard Military Brass Band. The Finnish Imatra Band formed in 1898, the Finnish National Band in 1910. Waino Kauppi (1898-1932), a child prodigy on the cornet, with the Imatra Band, went on to be a featured and recorded soloist with the Goldman Band and Edwin J. McEnelly's Orchestra. Various fife and drum corps, choral groups and glee clubs also entertained Maynard during the first half of the twentieth century.

Waino Kauppi, 
cornet player

In 1904, Abel Haynes donated a bandstand to the Maynard Military Band. It stood at the corner of Walnut and Main Streets and was illuminated by electric lights – electricity courtesy of the woolen mill. Concerts were Wednesday evenings, June through Labor Day. Hundreds of people would stand in the streets (or sit, if they brought chairs) to listen to the music. This was not as traffic-disruptive as one might think, as there were fewer than a dozen cars in all of Maynard. However, the crowd did have to make way periodically for the Main Street trolley. Sadly, a feud erupted over which bands could use the bandstand. While MMB claimed it ‘owned’ the bandstand, it stood on town property. The town called for sharing. Until the dispute could be resolved, the bandstand was moved on June 4, 1915, to a yard on Acton Street. It never returned. A fieldstone bandstand was constructed in Crowe Park in 1939, torn down in the 1990s. Music performances are now held in Memorial Park.

Dance card, International Order of 
Odd Fellows (IOOF). 1892
A fascinating part of Maynard’s musical history is a collection of dance cards in the archives of the Maynard Historical Society. Dance cards were popular at dances held in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Dance organizers would print have printed small pamphlets to describe a dance event, the performing band, the program, etc. These would include a list of 16-24 dances. Single women attending the dance would have these dance cards, with a small pencil attached, so that men could approach them and ask to be scheduled for specific dances. From this practice, we still have the sayings “My dance card is full” and “I’ll pencil you in.”  

In addition to Maynard’s own bands, choruses and glee clubs, innumerable were the times that organizations in town brought in dance orchestras for dances. The Historical Society has in its collection posters for dance marathons, masked balls, and even “Battle of Music” events, at which two bands would play, and attendees would vote for the best. The Music Hall, better known at “The Rink” (1885-1912; destroyed by fire), was a dance venue that also hosted roller skating, basketball games, etc. The site became Tutto’s Bowling Alleys, later home to a catering business, now a marijuana store.

Sheet music for
At times, there were problems. November 14, 1913, the weekly local newspaper The Maynard News carried this item: “At the Selectmen’s meeting Wednesday evening, it was decided that the objectional dances which have been indulged in in the dance halls in this village must be stopped. All parties holding dances in the future will be notified that these objectionable and so-called animal dances are prohibited and must not be permitted in any dance hall in this municipality… in this action for a cleaner and better Maynard.”

The “Animal Dance” craze was directly related to the popularity of ragtime music, derived from African-American traditions, with a syncopated beat. Maynard was not alone in prohibiting provocative dances. In 1912, New York City placed the Grizzly Bear under a "social ban", along with other "huggly-wiggly dances" like the Bunny Hug, Texas Tommy and the Boston Dip.

The Maynard school system offered and offers many opportunities for the musically inclined. The Concert Band, Pep/Marching band and Concert Chorus are credit-earning courses, while the Wind Ensemble, Jazz Band, Honors Chorus and A Capella Choir are non-credit electives. The school functions are supported in part by the Maynard Music Association.

Cap'n Swing, with a few member changes, 
became The Cars, also recorded in Maynard.
Worth a mention: Once upon a time, gods and demigods of rock and roll walked the streets of Maynard. It was the 1970s. Aerosmith, The Talking Heads, Cap’n Swing, The Cars, Tommy Bolin Band, Johnny Barnes, Thundertrain... all recorded at The Great Northern Studio aka Northern Studio, Northern Recording Studio, Northern Sound or Northern Lights Recording Studio, upstairs at 63 Main Street. The studio was started by Peter Casperson and Bob Runstein, both out of Boston. Life at the studio must have been interesting. This from a forum post: "The first time I ever saw a 'beer machine' [soda machine stocked with cans of beer] was at Northern Sound in Maynard…I thought it was the coolest thing in the world!!!"

Also worth a mention: Verne Q Powell started Powell Flutes in Boston, in 1927. The company, still by his name although he sold it in 1961, moved to mill building #1, Maynard, in 1999, where it continues to make high-end flutes. The company was purchased by Buffet Crampton, a France-based multi-national company, in 2016, but the brand and manufacture in Maynard, continue. In 2011, Massachusetts-resident astronaut Catherine ‘Cady’ Coleman brought her silver Powell flute with her for a stint in the International Space Station. YouTube has a video of her playing a duet with Ian Anderson, of the band Jethro Tull. (He was on Earth.)  

Maynard Community Band, 2019
Present day, the Maynard Community Concert Band performs in Memorial Park. The band – all volunteer – was started in 1947. It was brought together when Louis Koski, an immigrant from Finland, a professional conductor and composer, invited musicians from the existing or defunct Maynard Military, Imatra and National Bands to become one band. In time, Koski turned over the reins to Ilmari Junno, in turn to Alexander DeGrappo, and then in 2003 to Michael Karpeichik. Musicians from surrounding towns are welcomed. The band plays a wide variety of band literature, focusing on quality concert music, standard band repertoire and modern compositions. A “Star Wars” medley is always a crowd pleaser. Before the COVID pandemic, performances include 10-12 annual outdoor summer concerts as well as spring and fall performances ending with a Holiday Christmas concert at The Sanctuary in mid-December. The 2020 season was canceled because of the COVID pandemic. In 2021, MCCB intends to resume rehearsals in September, and hopes to be able to offer a holiday Christmas concert in December.

 This is the sixth of eleven monthly Zoomed talks that Mark is giving as part of the Sesquicentennial celebration.