This is the second post in a three-part series commemorating the 33rd anniversary of the day the Kopper Kettle blew up (and celebrating the scores of injuries and deaths that miraculously did not occur — remember the song ‘The Kettle’s Gone’? What about the t-shirts? Click here. Oh, and now we have video.).
On Sunday morning, January 15, 1978, several businesses on East Magnolia Ave in downtown Auburn were destroyed in an explosion caused by a natural gas leak beneath the restaurant. More than 70 businesses in the immediate vicinity were damaged . Downtown looked like a war zone. The event made national news. It was a big deal.
If your scrolling finger is limber enough, here are 78 photos – most of which have never been seen until now – taken in the immediate aftermath of the blast by former Opelika-Auburn News photographer Brad Ashmore. Can you help us put names to faces? Rubble to places? Do you have any stories from that day?
We’d love to hear them.
(And if you’d like to help us keep the obsession with Auburn lore unhealthy and the lights on through the winter, click here.)
Loganville Tiger says
I went and viewed the carnage that Sunday Morning. Dang I don’t remember it looking that devastated…. WOW!
Notice the new Lincoln Continental still with dealer tag on it.
This was only a rumor by the time I got there (’79), but I think I bought that smashed up AMC Matador. Either that or one that was equally trashed.
Just amazing that no one was killed. Amazing.
I was in my second story apartment at the corner of Ross and Glenn (several blocks away) when this happened. It felt like a car had crashed into the building under my bedroom window. I got out of bed to look out the window to see. It is amazing that no one was killed.
ruth Parker says
In the seventies after graduation and being away for several years my husband wrote a series of essays about being a student at Auburn. One of which is about the Kopper Kettle. Would you be interested in looking at it?
John Naftel, D.M.D. says
In the picture where the painting is on wall of the tiger, that was my dental office. The tiger painting was done by Barbara Keel, which I still own. Had glass replaced, frame and hung in new office in Opelika. On a regular work day, not Sunday when this happened, I would’ve been at work long before 8:00 AM!
Nancy Edwards Eldridge says
Photo #85 is me! I managed a gift shop, the Tiger Lily, next door to Waldrop’s. The destruction was amazing, but it was also amazing to see all of the things from the store that were unbroken. Where I am standing is no more than 40 feet from the blast site and you can see the stacks of plates that are unharmed!
Bill Capps III says
Hello, Great photos of the Toomer’s explosion. I was a teenager at the time. I was sleeping late that morning as usual. My family was living in Willow Creek out on Highway 14. At breakfast, I remember my mother saying there was a really big “Boom ! ” and our house shook like it had been hit by lightening. I had slept through the explosion. After breakfast, our family drove as close to downtown as possible to see the damage. Later that evening, I was amazed to see photos of our downtown Auburn on the NBC National News television broadcast. Auburn had made the national news.
Richard Wood says
I remember the blast. Think I have some color photos somewhere. I had just bought my 1st camera. Thought I recognized Nancy. My mom drove through the intersection 20-30 minutes prior, on her way to the Baptist Church a block away. Great pics from Brad.
Richard Wood says
The photo after Nancy Edwards Eldridge (#86)photo shows Det. Frank DeGraffenreid w/ hat. About 40 frames later must be a young Andy Gentry in center w/ glasses w/ the fire Chief. His office blew up and “The Gentry Building” replaced/filled the hole. Built by Col. Pick and Andy Gentry. Hmmm.
David Kennedy (81) says
Was living on Thatch at the time, heard the boom, looked out the window to see smoking debris falling from the sky into the yard, including dental records. Some folks came by a day later to collect the records.
Hank Conner says
My pals and I spent many a wee hour sobering up in that building. Perhaps it suffered for our sins.
AU class of 1966
Jim Yeaman says
My will was in Andy Gentry’s office!
Molly Sarver Boren says
I was home from Texas visiting my parents for the weekend. They lived in Cary Woods, and the blast woke me up.
Phyllis Reese says
I was the dispatcher for the City of Auburn the morning this occurred. It was an event that I will always remember. Thanks to God no one was hurt that morning.
I was asleep in my apartment on West Magnolia, about a mile away, and the boom shook the whole building. But I didn’t realize what happened until later that day when I went to Foy Union to watch the Super Bowl on a (really bad) big screen TV and heard somebody say “downtown blew up!”
There were many eerie “what if” stories about people who easily could have been killed or injured but varied their normal routines that morning for one reason or another. Thanks for the great pics and the memories.
I was at the corner of Mitcham Ave. and North Gay St. going over the railroad tracks when this happened. That old ’68 Nova shook pretty hard! All this brings back some memories for sure!
Joe C. Stroud says
I was one of the first Uniform Police Officers on the scene. I had to park my Patrol Unit on West Magnolia one block away from Gay Street. An AU student from the Plainsman took my photograph as I was walking through the intersection at Gay and Magnolia. Have a blowup of that photo hanging on my wall today.
I was preparing a sermon at FBC and after the boom, felt The Lord saying don’t worry about it. Called off services due to potential other gas leaks. Knock my wife out of bed at the BSU on college. Dale H.
BJ Lindholm says
Wow, some incredible pictures. That was my best friend’s (Drew Gentry) dad that didn’t go into work that day. And those were mine and my sister’s dental records that got blown up. I hits close to home, huh?
Jewel B says
I thought my 1 1/2 year old fell out of bed when it blew. A short time later, I realized how cold had gotten. Further investigation revealed windows … 1-upstairs, the other downstairs … had blown out of my apartment in Woodland Terrace, on Armstrong St. between Thach & Hare Avenues.
Acid Reign says
…..Awesome finds, Jeremy. The lot was still vacant when I arrived at Auburn, for Fall of 1978. There was a Kopper Kettle in Brookwood Mall at that time, and the food was pretty good, if I remember.
Ed Lewis 'FY79 says
I was asleep in my bunk bed on the corner of East Glenn & Burton (about two blocks away?) that morning. I sat up having heard the tremendous explosion, and went back to bed. When the apartment started getting cold, I got up to find that all of our gas heaters had gone out (I guess the city had cut off all of the gas lines) and the door on the side facing the Kettle had been blown open.
The War Eagle Reader says
Thanks! I remember the one at Brookwood, too. But wasn’t it more of a fancy type deal? Auburn’s was all greasy spoon and stuff. I remember associating the other one with upscale after church eating.
Gregory Moon says
I was in Magnolia Dorm cafeteria for breakfast. Mike Moore and I never heard the explosion but coming out we saw the smoke and walked down to see what had happened I remember paper everywhere things like sheets out of receipt pads. It was a miracle that it happened when the damage was to property not people. An aviation management student got up in the air and relayed to several of his ROTC friends that it looked like bomb had hit.
M Fuller says
I was living at Dexter Arms apartments, across from Hardee’s, several blocks away. Sunday morning, I was just beginning to wake up when, >BLAMMO!!<
I think I remember asking my roomie on the top bunk: "…what was that!?"
He sleepily said, "Must be somebody lighting dynamite in the parking lot." So I dozed back to sleep!
I got up to go to church and had pretty much forgotten about it. I was routed around the downtown area.. When I got back to the apartment, my roomie came out to the car and said, "Remember that noise this morning?" I thought a minute…"Yeah?" Y'know that place downtown, the Kopper Kettle? It BLEW UP!"
You could see down into the cellar. The shops across the street, "War Eagle PIzza" and others had shattered glass storefronts. A friend of mine, Richard W. said he had walked down to Toomer's Corner for a paper about 30 minutes before the blast.
By the Grace of God…not a life was lost. An hour later and people would have been going to church.
Some stories want around…the joke that "somebody lit a match to the Kopper Kettle's chili", etc.
I heard that a dentist had his office on the upper floor…that they found his diploma in his mother's yard, two miles away. That sounded rather suspect to me…until someone gave me a book a couple of years ago that had that story in it. It was an attorney's office, not a dentist. His diploma ended up on the library lawn (if I recall) and his bar papers DID end up in his mother's yard, wherever that was.
Lester Ezekiel says
The Lincoln Continental in one of the photoshad just been purchased by Larry Parker. He owned the business directly across the street from the explosion. Larry was in his building on the second floor when all this occurred. He told me later when I asked was the car a total loss. He told me it was.
I was just 3 years old when this happened but believe it or not i’ve got a good memory of it happening because i recall listening to my mom and dad have conversations with their friends about it . Matter of fact it was the talk of the Opelika-Auburn area for several months afterwards
Patricia Schroer says
There was a dentist’s office along with an attorney’s office on the second floor over the Kopper Kettle.. The dentist was, and still is, my dentist. We have had many discussions about that office, the explosion and the aftermath.
Beth Provo Shirley says
I just found this website. I was working at the old Spur station on the corner of Gay and Glenn. The room was about 20 x 10 feet. Three sides had glass. First the lights flickered. Then, the two puppies that were with me got up. Next the cardboard panels stuck in the (I think there were six vents in the block base of those glass windows) blew out and the building rattled. When I saw the bricks and wood flying in the air above the buildings at Gay and Magnolia. My first thought was: Someone used too much dynamite on the bank. If those vents weren’t there or were sealed with something solid, I’m pretty sure at least one person would have been dead.
Hal Watner says
I was downtown that morning delivering newspapers about 30 minutes before the explosion.
dottie tatum says
These photos bring back so many memories! My dad’s dental office was above the Kopper Kettle (Dr. James L. Carroll)! How no one was hurt or killed is beyond my comprehension. We were going to the office after church to do a filling on my mother! I remember people showing up at our house with charts and billing statements to give my parents, and other things they found in their yards! It is still hard to believe it happened! God Bless and War Eagle!
Chris Davis says
I was the cleanup boy at the drugstore . I was also throwing papers for the Auburn bulletin before the explosion, and came through town I could smell the gas is really strong went home to tell my father about the gas downtown since we were running the newspaper thought something crazy was going to happen and it did.I made it downtown right after the explosion I was reaching of the window at the drugstore to call my boss to tell them I would secure the store until someone got there about that time I found myself with handcuffs against a brick wall ,thought I was trying to steal the money out of the cash register but was later released what a crazy morning
Aaron Strickland says
I lived on W Magnolia at Lambda Chi house. It rocked us! We went running downtown and we’re just amazed at the damage at so many businesses. We actually got there prior to fire/police. No one even thought about looting or taking something that did not belong to us.