Winter scene of a small village with snowmen and a UFO

AW Amazon Store

If this site is helpful to you,
Please consider a voluntary subscription to defray ongoing expenses.


 

Welcome to the AbsoluteWrite Water Cooler! Please read The Newbie Guide To Absolute Write

Results 1 to 17 of 17

Thread: gas lines, access tunnels and explosives - 19th century

  1. #1
    down the rabbit hole of research... CWatts's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2013
    Location
    Virginia, USA
    Posts
    988

    gas lines, access tunnels and explosives - 19th century

    Okay, so I have would-be terrorists attempting to blow up a mansion and/or poison the inhabitants in early 1870s New York City. They do not have access to the house itself to place a bomb, but they are using a construction site either on the same block or across the street. Both sites are built with gas lighting and indoor toilets. Would there be access tunnels under the street for the pipes? I know the steam pipe system did not exist yet.

    I don't need a huge amount of detail, just enough for an associate they bragged to to discover and foil the attempt, preferrably without involving the police.

    I'm thinking them causing a gas leak and then trying to ignite it may be more plausible, though there's a bizarre charm in the idea of them trying to float a crate of nitroglycerine in the sewer....
    Last edited by CWatts; 11-22-2017 at 05:31 AM.

  2. #2
    practical experience, FTW snafu1056's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2013
    Posts
    765
    Personally I think sneaking around through sewers and pipes would be the hardest way to go about it. If I wanted to blow up a mansion or poison its residents I'd probably go with a plan that involved accomplices on the inside. A devious maid could easily poison people or leave a cellar door unlocked.
    Last edited by snafu1056; 11-22-2017 at 05:35 AM.

  3. #3
    down the rabbit hole of research... CWatts's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2013
    Location
    Virginia, USA
    Posts
    988
    Quote Originally Posted by snafu1056 View Post
    Personally I think sneaking around through sewers and pipes would be the hardest way to go about it. If I wanted to blow up a mansion or poison its residents I'd probably go with a plan that involved accomplices on the inside. A devious maid could easily poison people or leave a cellar door unlocked.
    Good thought. The ringleader of this scheme is overthinking it, and could be being played by professional criminals who do have contacts on the inside.

    Adulturating their coal delivery with something toxic or explosive could be another angle.

  4. #4
    practical experience, FTW cornflake's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2012
    Posts
    13,871
    Quote Originally Posted by CWatts View Post
    Okay, so I have would-be terrorists attempting to blow up a mansion and/or poison the inhabitants in early 1870s New York City. They do not have access to the house itself to place a bomb, but they are using a construction site either on the same block or across the street. Both sites are built with gas lighting and indoor toilets. Would there be access tunnels under the street for the pipes? I know the steam pipe system did not exist yet.

    I don't need a huge amount of detail, just enough for an associate they bragged to to discover and foil the attempt, preferrably without involving the police.

    I'm thinking them causing a gas leak and then trying to ignite it may be more plausible, though there's a bizarre charm in the idea of them trying to float a crate of nitroglycerine in the sewer....
    Oooh I sort of know about this, sort of!

    So, from what I know (which comes from living in NYC, not being any kind of engineer), no! They're not in the sewer, sorry. That seems dangerous!

    The same gas lines that existed then exist now -- the Dakota has their gas-burning lamps outside the entrance, and like much of NY, stuff can't be wholesale updated because the city is too small and the stuff is here and not going anyplace.

    There are large mains that are denoted by green what look like lamposts. There's one a few blocks from me. So you can find that.

    I've also seen a response to a gas leak on the street. It, just like a water main problem, requires digging up the street, entirely (not the entire length of the street, but down past the bricks into the dirt -- yes, NYC has a lovely layer of brick). So as far as I'm at all aware, unless you're in the basement of the building itself (which does have SOME piping), you're digging the hell out of the street in front, which yes, people will notice. We even have an emergency phone line for other utilities and private citizens (if they have houses) to call and ask if they're gonna hit gas pipes when digging for other stuff. ConEd comes and points -- when the street is going to be dug up for something (our electric and water and cable and etc,, are all buried like heck) you see the spray paint beforehand noting where all the mains for everything are.

    Here's
    a story about the gas pipes with pics of how far you have to dig to get to it.

  5. #5
    practical experience, FTW snafu1056's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2013
    Posts
    765
    Quote Originally Posted by CWatts View Post
    Good thought. The ringleader of this scheme is overthinking it, and could be being played by professional criminals who do have contacts on the inside.

    Adulturating their coal delivery with something toxic or explosive could be another angle.

    Right. Or poisoning their milk delivery. So many fiendish opportunities to do bad.

    Water closets were still an iffy proposition in the 1870's, by the way, especially in cities. A lot of times they did a bad job of keeping sewer air from entering the house (the sewers were poorly ventilated and pressure built up). Here's an interesting little bit about water closet technology from 1875, if you need to know more about your characters' toilet situation
    Last edited by snafu1056; 11-22-2017 at 06:59 AM.

  6. #6
    practical experience, FTW cornflake's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2012
    Posts
    13,871
    Just btw, you can see plenty of what buildings were like, because we had plenty of them that still exist. Interiors have obviously been updated (in a plumbing, etc. way), but many are very true to the original layouts, etc. The Dakota opened in the 1880s, so was probably built in the 1870s, and there are a hella lot of brownstones around from that era, many lovingly restored.

  7. #7
    down the rabbit hole of research... CWatts's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2013
    Location
    Virginia, USA
    Posts
    988

    Unhappy

    Quote Originally Posted by snafu1056 View Post
    Right. Or poisoning their milk delivery. So many fiendish opportunities to do bad.

    Water closets were still an iffy proposition in the 1870's, by the way, especially in cities. A lot of times they did a bad job of keeping sewer air from entering the house (the sewers were poorly ventilated and pressure built up). Here's an interesting little bit about water closet technology from 1875, if you need to know more about your characters' toilet situation
    Quote Originally Posted by cornflake View Post
    Just btw, you can see plenty of what buildings were like, because we had plenty of them that still exist. Interiors have obviously been updated (in a plumbing, etc. way), but many are very true to the original layouts, etc. The Dakota opened in the 1880s, so was probably built in the 1870s, and there are a hella lot of brownstones around from that era, many lovingly restored.
    Many thanks for all of your help. Yes so many of the buildings are still around, though not at this particular location - Millionaire's Row on 5th Avenue, in the heart of midtown. St. Patrick's was still under construction back then. I've been there so the challenge is visualizing that magnificence incomplete. Hmm, if I need an underground chase there's always the crypts.

    We have a lot of extant housing stock in Virginia from that era, due to rebuilding almost all of Richmond after the rebels burnt it down (which is kind of the best metaphor for the Confederacy IMHO). Restorations everywhere do reveal a lot about the original building techniques. ETA: There's a lot more surviving buildings in my MC's SoHo, with all the ironfronts that were just then being built. I used to work in Richmond's Shockoe Slip which is full of them, and my office was in an old brick warehouse converted to lofts. The walls were still full of hand-forged nails and wooden pegs.

    That gas article was fascinating, cornflake. Kind of frightening as well. I do know that the gaslight was coal gas, possibly oil gas, and there were accidental suffocations but it was still relatively rare. (One old journal article had the tale of a man who tried to hang himself from his gas chandelier. It ripped out of the ceiling and he lay unconscious for a couple hours until he was found and saved.) The reason could be that "town gas" used then naturally had the sulfur odor that is artificially added to modern gas. So the danger would be more from fire than CO. https://naturalgasodorization.com/ga...ation-history/

    ETA: By the way, the Internet Archive has a treasure trove of old guidebooks that get into the mundane details like mass transit schedules and hotel/boarding house prices.

    Oh, and in a tangent on the insanely dangerous things people dealt with during the Gilded Age (and up until WW2!) were the "Death Avenues" where trains raced down the street: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/25/re...th-avenue.html
    Last edited by CWatts; 11-22-2017 at 06:10 PM.

  8. #8
    practical experience, FTW cornflake's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2012
    Posts
    13,871
    You've probably been here, but in case you haven't, Old NYC has pics of like every block, from different eras. Move the slider if you want to restrict the years and you can see what's there. I just looked and there are a bunch from that era. Click the pics to enlarge.

  9. #9
    practical experience, FTW stephenf's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    Posts
    778
    Hi
    Don't know anything about the gas in New York . However , the early gas was made from coal or oil and was not very explosive. Gas explosions was not that common in the nineteenth century. Unlike the natural gas used today that is highly explosive . Another difference is natural gas is not toxic, killing yourself by putting your head in the gas oven is no longer a viable option .

  10. #10
    practical experience, FTW
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    The right earlobe of North America
    Posts
    35,938
    Quote Originally Posted by stephenf View Post
    Another difference is natural gas is not toxic, killing yourself by putting your head in the gas oven is no longer a viable option .
    Natural gas (methane) may not be toxic, but it certainly can suffocate you. I believe that's what happened to Sylvia Plath.

    And carbon monoxide (CO) most certainly is deadly toxic, and can be produced via incomplete burning of almost any carbon-based fuel, such as coal or wood. There are tragedies every year from accidental CO poisoning, and it has also been used as a murder weapon.

    caw
    Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.

    -- Terry Pratchett

  11. #11
    practical experience, FTW snafu1056's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2013
    Posts
    765
    Yeah, gas seemed to be a very popular form of suicide in those days, especially for women.

  12. #12
    down the rabbit hole of research... CWatts's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2013
    Location
    Virginia, USA
    Posts
    988
    Quote Originally Posted by cornflake View Post
    You've probably been here, but in case you haven't, Old NYC has pics of like every block, from different eras. Move the slider if you want to restrict the years and you can see what's there. I just looked and there are a bunch from that era. Click the pics to enlarge.
    This is AWESOME. I've been pouring through the NYPL digital collections but had not come across this map yet. Yes there's a wealth of info for that era. What a great resource!

    ETA: Just the locations themselves can be plot bunnies. Here is the hotel favored by Southerners before and after the Civil War, at 721 Broadway. https://www.oldnyc.org/#717291f-a

    What makes this even more frought is that this was that just across the street at 724 Broadway was the New York Women's Medical College, where in 1870 Susan Smith McKinney-Stewart became the first African-American woman to graduate medical school in New York and only the 3rd in the nation. https://www.nymc.edu/about-nymc/hist...inney-steward/

    Plus, ya know, we can look at the past streets while we all watch the parade.
    Last edited by CWatts; 11-23-2017 at 04:18 PM.

  13. #13
    practical experience, FTW stephenf's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    Posts
    778
    Quote Originally Posted by blacbird View Post
    Natural gas (methane) may not be toxic, but it certainly can suffocate you. I believe that's what happened to Sylvia Plath.



    caw
    Hi
    I'm sure everything in your post is true except Sylvia Plath died in 1963 . Natural gas was not discoverer in the north sea until 1965 , and took a few years after that , to convert the county from coal gas .

  14. #14
    practical experience, FTW cornflake's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2012
    Posts
    13,871
    Quote Originally Posted by CWatts View Post
    This is AWESOME. I've been pouring through the NYPL digital collections but had not come across this map yet. Yes there's a wealth of info for that era. What a great resource!

    ETA: Just the locations themselves can be plot bunnies. Here is the hotel favored by Southerners before and after the Civil War, at 721 Broadway. https://www.oldnyc.org/#717291f-a

    What makes this even more frought is that this was that just across the street at 724 Broadway was the New York Women's Medical College, where in 1870 Susan Smith McKinney-Stewart became the first African-American woman to graduate medical school in New York and only the 3rd in the nation. https://www.nymc.edu/about-nymc/hist...inney-steward/

    Plus, ya know, we can look at the past streets while we all watch the parade.
    Heh, yay then! I dunno why it's not some kind of obvious link on the library page, but there you go. I like looking at my block and stuff and seeing stuff change. You can also look Miracle on 34th St. to see what's not changed (the blocks by the parade stepoff with the museum and Historical society, and a bunch downtown) and what has -- not from your WIP era; it's just fun, heh.

  15. #15
    figuring it all out Girlsgottawrite's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2017
    Posts
    73
    Just wanted to add that even with today's gas, you would have to leave it on for days to get a real explosion. The stuff you see on the TV is hugely exaggerated.

  16. #16
    practical experience, FTW cornflake's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2012
    Posts
    13,871
    Quote Originally Posted by Girlsgottawrite View Post
    Just wanted to add that even with today's gas, you would have to leave it on for days to get a real explosion. The stuff you see on the TV is hugely exaggerated.
    I don't think that's true?

    We've had building explosions here where the gas line was messed with a very short time before, like hours or less (they were accidental, there were workers who didn't connect stuff properly, or broke a line).

  17. #17
    figuring it all out Girlsgottawrite's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2017
    Posts
    73
    Quote Originally Posted by cornflake View Post
    I don't think that's true?

    We've had building explosions here where the gas line was messed with a very short time before, like hours or less (they were accidental, there were workers who didn't connect stuff properly, or broke a line).
    I'm definitely not an expert so I could totally be wrong! That's just what the man from the gas company told me when we freaked out over a leak in our house.

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •  
Custom Search