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May 8, 2012
Grandson Visits Site Where Grandfather Died in Blast

While the Ohio Departments Building (today the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center) was being built in 1932 an explosion killed 10 people and caused major damage to the building from the basement to the 11th floor.
Michael Ridge (center, wearing blue shirt) recently toured the Moyer Judicial Center for his civil engineering class. Ridge's grandfather was among those killed in the 1932 blast.
Michael Ridge looks at the walls and current gas lines in the basement of the Moyer Judicial Center.
Michael Ridge documents floor plans for his civil engineering class.
Facilities Management Director Craig Morrow shows basement floor plans of the Moyer Judicial Center to Michael Ridge, Mark Nemergut, Matthew Smith, Michael Taricska, and Jinhang Yu.
Michael Ridge and classmates check out the current chilled water line in the basement of the Moyer Judicial Center.
Michael Ridge looks at repaired beams in the basement of the Moyer Judicial Center.
The Ohio State University civil engineering students document their findings.
Facilities Management Director Craig Morrow and Michael Ridge take a tour of the basement of the Moyer Judicial Center.
The Ohio State University civil engineering students tour the Mechanical/Chiller room.
Facilities Management Director Craig Morrow explains lithium-bromide absorption chillers.
Facilities Management Director Craig Morrow shows The Ohio State University civil engineering students Mark Nemergut, Jinhang Yu and Michael Ridge where the April 14, 1932 explosion took place.
Facilities Management Director Craig Morrow discusses the April 14, 1932 explosion with The Ohio State University civil engineering students.
Facilities Management Director Craig Morrow and Michael Ridge look at old photos to see exactly where the April 14, 1932 explosion happened.
This photo of Michael Ridge's grandfather, William Free Stephenson, appeared on the front page of the Columbus Evening Dispatch following the 1932 explosion. A carpenter employed by the State of Ohio, Stephenson was found alive - buried in the rubble - and taken to St. Francis Hospital (now the location of Grant Hospital), where he died of his injuries several hours later.
Authorities stare in disbelief at the level of distruction left in the aftermath of the explosion.
Two men stand amongst the crumbled cement and twisted metal.
Debris from the blast litters the street along the Scioto River.
For more information about the historic Moyer Judicial Center, including how to schedule a tour, visit the court's website.

Michael Ridge wanted to see the exact place where his grandfather, William Free Stephenson, died.

Stephenson was 47 years-old when he was employed by the state of Ohio to work as a carpenter in the early 1930s during the construction of what was then called the Ohio State Office Building, now the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center. On April 14, 1932, an explosion ripped through the southwest side of the building. Stephenson died several hours later with severe head trauma.

“It has been passed down by word of mouth that they found him in the rubble because the tip of one of his shoes was sticking out of the debris pile,” Ridge said.

Ridge, along with four of his civil engineering classmates from The Ohio State University, visited the Moyer Judicial Center recently for a class project to study the explosion. Ridge said their class project was to select an event where a failure, collapse, or distress had occurred and to arrive at the most probable cause. Facilities Management Director Craig Morrow assisted in the tour.

“I was always told that the ruling was an explosion caused by a gas leak and had always accepted that ruling,” Ridge said.

However in 1988, Ridge spoke with an apprentice carpenter, who happened to work on the construction site with Ridge’s grandfather, who told him about labor issues and disgruntled employees. Rumors had circulated that the blast was related to those issues. Ridge said his curiosity grew after this discussion.

According to the Ohio Historical Society, all experts consulted on the blast suspected a gas leak. It was eventually determined that there was a leak in the gas main parallel to the building’s west side and gas fumes were ignited by sparks from a construction worker’s hammer.

“I have no reason to doubt that the experts were correct when they concluded that natural gas was the enabler of that tragic event,” Ridge said. “But, what I got out of the visit is that for building safety, structures need to be designed to resist upward forces as occurs with an explosion. Most reinforced concrete structures, even today, are designed only to resist the downward forces due to gravity.”

After his tour of the Moyer Judicial Center, Ridge visited the Ohio Historical Society where he found hundreds of photos from the event. Ridge said the gas supposedly migrated through a waterline portal.

“If the explosion was intentional, the saboteurs would have had to know about the impounded gas,” Ridge said.

Ridge said his and his classmates assessments are far from over. They are planning to continue digging into the facts of the building explosion.

For more information about the historic Moyer Judicial Center, including how to plan a visit, go to the court’s website.