The official cause of this mass tragedy, the greatest in Dartmouth’s history, was carbon-monoxide poisoning. According to medical examiner Dr. Ralph Miller:
The smoke pipe of the furnace had been blown off in an explosion, after which some one had apparently re-shut the furnace door without noticing the displaced pipe, and that the carbon monoxide gas accumulating from an improperly banked fire had escaped through the break instead of going up the chimney.In the aftermath fingers were pointed, accusations of incompetence emerged and facts were doubted. An uncredited newspaper article entitled “The Dartmouth Mystery” proclaimed that coal gas could not have been the cause as “the annual casualties within the United States from this cause would run into the thousands.” Rumors included suicide pact or poisonous liquor as the cause.
To read more about the tragedy, the investigation and the aftermath ask for our Vertical File on the subject. To get a closer look at the administration’s response and actions ask to see Box 6942 of DP-11, President Hopkins’ presidential papers.