The Van Wert County Courthouse

Monday, Oct. 22, 2018

Elgin propane gas explosion remembered

DAVE MOSIER/independent editor

ELGIN — Today is the 50th anniversary of a propane gas explosion that destroyed a home near the village of Elgin in southeast Van Wert County, killed a young girl and left her mother and seven other children literally scarred for life.

Then-Van Wert County Sheriff Wilmer Clay sifts through debris at the Rigdon residence. (photos submitted)

Then-Van Wert County Sheriff Wilmer Clay sifts through debris at the Rigdon residence. (photos submitted)

It was the last in a series of misfortunes for Priscilla Rigdon and her six young children. Just 15 months before the explosion, Priscilla’s husband, Everett, died of complications from an automobile accident in Lima. Before that, he had contracted infectious hepatitis and spent months in the hospital before finally recovering. His illness had also left the family in dire financial straits, their car repossessed and dependent on relatives.

In fact, the young widow had just begun to recover financially, and had purchased another car, which, in a cruel stroke of luck, was destroyed in the explosion.

Early on the morning of August 21, 1965, the Rigdons were in bed, with twins David and Daniel and a friend, Richard Jones, all 11, camping outside in a makeshift tent and the rest of the family, Priscilla, 29; Nancy “Anna Mae”, 9; Mary, 7; Esther, 5; Rachel, 3; and 8-month-old Timothy, in bed in the house.

Little did they know that one child would be dead and several others burned and injured from a blast that would rend the night.

David Rigdon, now 61, remembers the blast like it was yesterday.

Nancy "Anna Mae" Rigdon was just 9 years old when she died in a propane gas explosion.

Nancy “Anna Mae” Rigdon was just 9 years old when she died in a propane gas explosion.

“Around 2:30 or 3, Mom was awakened by the dog barking and got up and went downstairs to the kitchen window,” he noted. “She heard a train and saw a low-lying fog on the ground and was just turning away from the window when it happened — everything exploded.”

An investigation later showed that a Buckeye Pipeline Company pipeline carrying volatile propane gas had leaked, sending a cloud of gas into the air that was ignited by a spark from a passing train. The resulting explosion flattened the Rigdons’ barn and other outbuildings, melted and crushed the family car and set fire to the house, which was destroyed by the blaze. Priscilla Rigdon was later found dazed and walking outside the house with Timothy in her arms, while passersby later removed the other children who were still in the house.

The blast broke windows in Elgin and was heard over a large area of northwest Ohio and northeast Indiana. According to news reports from the period, several motorists said they saw a pillar of fire from a distance away.

Anna Mae was killed in the resulting fire, while David and Daniel, Mary and Priscilla Rigdon were hospitalized in critical condition.

David Rigdon said their uncle, Marion Rigdon, was sleeping right before the explosion when he suddenly awoke and felt prompted to “pray for Priscilla and the children.” He then dropped to his knees by his bed and was doing just that when he heard the explosion.

The six surviving Rigdon children, now in their 50s and 60s, pose for a recent photo.

The six surviving Rigdon children, now in their 50s and 60s, pose for a recent photo.

“Of course, he had no idea what it was, but upon getting up and looking outside, he saw the glow in the sky,” David remembers. “He still didn’t know what it might be, so he got in his car and started driving in the direction of the flames. At that point, he thought, as did many others, that it might be a plane crash. The closer he got, the more he realized that it was us who were involved.”

David Rigdon also remembers the aftermath of the explosion.

“The steel windmill was flattened like a giant took the palm of his hand, and just smeared it down,” Rigdon said. “All the trees were stripped bare and major branches were gone. A piece of lumber was propelled with such force that it imbedded into a tree. All the animals were either killed or had to be put down due to injuries. Our Jersey cow was killed and one of our favorite pets, (a puppy) ‘Brownie,’ was never found.

“Our mom and all of my sisters had severe burns, with scars yet today,” he noted.

But the family has come through it all, Rigdon said.

“With the exception of Richard Jones, who passed away a few years ago, we are all surviving yet today, though not without daily reminders of this event 50 years ago,” he concluded.

POSTED: 08/21/15 at 8:27 am. FILED UNDER: News