Indiana State University Newsroom

Historical marker dedicated to 1963 explosion victims

April 16, 2015

On Jan. 2, 1963, a blast attributed to gas line leaks imploded one-third of the Home Packing Co. at 400 N. First St. in Terre Haute Seventeen employees lost their lives, and more than 50 were injured.

Half a century later, several family members affected by the tragedy created and contributed to the Home Packing Monument Fund in the Wabash Valley Community Foundation. The Monument Fund, inspired by a local petition asking that a memorial plaque be installed at the foundation cornerstone, was to provide support to erect a monument to the persons who died and their co-workers as a result of the Home Packing disaster.

Today, those hopes reached fruition, as Indiana State University and the Terre Haute community joined together at the university's new Gibson Track and Field facility for the dedication of a historical marker paying tribute to the men whose lives were lost.

Carl Bender emceed the ceremony. Bender's father was one of the victims of the worst workplace accident in the history of Terre Haute. Other participants included Sherrie Mansfield, the daughter of Richard Maher, who led the effort to have a memorial marker at the site, and university President Dan Bradley.Bradley presented a plaque to Maher's widow in recognition of his "tireless efforts and undying devotion" to creating a lasting memorial.

Home Packing Co. was founded in 1907. In its early years, it processed about 350 hogs a week, gradually increasing to more than 10,000 hogs at its peak. The company's Dependable brand of bacon, hams, bologna and lard was shipped all over the world.

The explosion occurred about 7 a.m., when a gas main on First Street leaked natural gas through the soil and into the plant. A full crew - approximately 300 employees - was working at the time. In addition to the 17 deaths, another 52 employees were injured when the explosion led to the collapse of the front of the building. The plant never reopened.

Led by Maher, a group of relatives, friends and former employees started a fundraising effort more than five years ago to fund a historic marker. When contacted about placing the marker on the site, Indiana State University officials offered to pick up the costs, Bender said.

The funds raised by Maher and others will now be used for a one-time $1,000 scholarship for a full-time Indiana State student who is a descendant of a Home Packing plant employee. The deadline for the scholarship is June 15, 2015. The online application is available at:

Photo: - Indiana State University President Dan Bradley unveils a historical marker on April 16, 2015, in recognition of the Jan. 3, 1963, deaths of 17 employees of the Home Packing Co. plant, located on the site of Indiana State's Gibson Track and Field facility. (ISU/Rachel Keyes)