1934 - Carbon Monoxide Kills Nine Members of Theta Chi Fraternity


Submitted 2 years ago
Created by
Michael Hinsley

Today in Hanover and Dartmouth College History, February 25, 1934

February 25, 1934, nine members of the Dartmouth College Chapter of Theta Chi Fraternity on 33 North Main Street were killed from Carbon Monoxide poisoning while they slept.

This tragedy's loss of life is second only to the airliner crash into Moose Mountain which occurred October 25, 1968 when 32 of 42 perished.

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Shortly after Midnight two non-brothers of Theta Chi left the fraternity after a quiet evening playing bridge. This was the last time the nine students were seen alive. Sunday morning, February 25th, at 6:45 am the house janitor, M.B. Little entered the house and went to the basement to check the coal boiler, as was his normal routine. He found the furnace door shut, the damper closed, the hard coal fire burning brightly, and the smoke pipe jarred out of the chimney thimble in the rear of the furnace. He replaced the pipe and stoked the furnace.

As Mr. Little went upstairs he noticed an odor of smoke in the house, but to all appearances the boys were sleeping peacefully under the heavy bed coverings made necessary by sub-zero weather. As was his custom he closed the windows, three of which were open from six to eight inches from the bottom. After straightening the first and second floor rooms he left the building. Mr. Little returned at 1:30 in the afternoon to load the furnace.

At the time, he thought nothing of the quietness in the house. Taking for granted that the house members were out for lunch, since no meals were served in the fraternities. He reported that he noticed that a newspaper that had been delivered at 10:00 am by a student who delivers newspapers across the campus had not been read. Mr. Little assumed the members had slept late and had not had time to read the paper. 

When Mr. Little returned at 4:30 in the afternoon to take care of the sleeping quarters he became uneasy over the quietness that which still pervaded the house and the newspaper that had not been read. He hurried upstairs to the bedrooms and found the occupants of the beds lying in the same position as they had been when he arrived in the morning. Mr. Little called Dennis J. Hallesey, the Hanover Police Chief who responded immediatly to the house with Dr. John J Boardman.

Dr. Ralph E Miller the Grafton County Medical Referee, was summoned at once. Finding "the bodies in positions of natural repose" and "all marked by the pink coloration characteristic of carbon monoxide poisoning", he issued a formal statement giving the cause of death as "poisoning by carbon monoxide gas."

Hanover Police Chief Dennis J. Hallisey shown inspecting the boiler in the cellar of the Theta Chi Fraternity. Investigation revealed that a slight explosion in the furnace had broken the flue pipe and allowed the gas to penetrate the basement and the upper floors of the house, killing the nine Dartmouth students in their sleep.

February 25, 1934 Hanover Police Officer Meeks Preserving the scene of the Theta Chi Fraternity and "answering the questions of students inquiring about their friends". Credit ACME

Dartmouth College Theta Chi Fraternity, 33 North Main St, February 1934

1928 Hanover Map showing Theta Chi Fraternity at 33 North Main St

Dr. Ralph E Miller MD Pathologist exiting Theta Chi Fraternity located at 33 North Main St in Hanover NH, after conducting initial examination of the nine victims, February 25, 1934.

Dr. Ralph E Miller who survived four days after a plane crash in the Pemigewasset Wilderness, died from exposure, this day February 25, 1959....

Authorities removing the body of Edward Frederick Moldenke from Theta Chi Fraternity

The investigation concluded that as near as can be determined the cause of the tragedy was as follows; Due to the sudden drop in temperature, the chapter house became cold, and one of the members who must not have unaccustomed to caring for the furnace, went down and covered the fire with a heavy layer of coal.  Gas accumulated as a result and caused an explosion which blew the furnace door open and jarred the smoke pipe out of the chimney. It was further surmised that someone heard the explosion and door opening, went to the furnace room, noticing the door was open closed the furnace door but did not notice the smoke pipe was out of the chimney.

The deadly odorless gas then formed again and accumulated in the basement and then seeped through the house, bringing with it death.

Two of the fraternity members were actual brothers, Alfred Moldenke and Edward Moldenke the two sons of a New York minister. Also killed by the carbon monoxide was the house mascot dog. A "beautiful" white collie, was found stretched on the floor alongside the bed of his master, Edward Wentworth.

Edward Frederick Moldenke 21, Senior from New York, NY

Alfred Henry Moldenke 20, Sophomore from New York, NY

William Simpson Fullerton, 20, Senior from Cleveland Heights Ohio.

Edward Norris Wentworth Jr. 21, Senior from Mount Dora, Florida.

Wilmot Horton Schooley 20, Junior from Middletown, NY

Americo Secondo DeMasi 20, Junior from Little Neck, NY

William Mandeville Smith Jr, 21, Senior, from Manhasset, NY

Harold Bernard Watson 20, Junior from Wilton, Me

John Joseph Griffin 19, Sophomore from Wallingford, CT

The Dartmouth College heating plant provides heat for much of the campus. This central heating source provided many of the building on the campus heat, without any source of carbon monoxide or other products of combustion in the building. The College through FO&M inspects and maintains those buildings that have their own boilers or furnaces for heat, to ensure not just the comfort but also the safety of the occupants.

The Office of Residential Operations conducts regular regular fire drills and inspections to make sure the fire, life safety and health codes are adhered to in the residential buildings, including the fraternities, sororities and living & learning houses. Every residential building on the Dartmouth College campus is protected with life safety code compliant, smoke detection and fire sprinkler system. Those building that have a source of carbon monoxide such as a generator in the building are also protected with carbon monoxide detection. These initiatives, implemented to improve the safety of the students and faculty of the College require constant maintenance and upgrading. Many of the private fraternities currently have carbon monoxide detection systems in place and others are working to upgrade their smoke/heat detection life safety systems to include carbon monoxide detection.

The lesson learned on a freezing cold February morning at the expense of the lives of nine Dartmouth students, members in the Theta Chi fraternity have been learned and taken to heart by the College to continue to make the campus as safe as it can be.

Have you checked your smoke detector battery? How old is your smoke detector battery?

Is your dryer vent and furnace or boiler vent clear of lint, snow and ice?

Carbon Monoxides is a killer. Many of our local fire departments carry carbon monoxide detectors on our medical kits on your ambulances. You would be suprised how many people with flu symptoms also have Carbon Monoxide in their house!!

It Saturday, it is a pretty good day to take the little steps to make sure your house safe.

Check out the State of New Hampshire Fire Marshal's link www.nh.gov/safety/divisions/firesafety/news/20131220-carbon-monoxide.html

Photo Credits Dartmouth College Rauner Library. The coolest place on campus, with history so important it might just save your life. 

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