Today marks the 55th anniversary of the explosion at the Swift meat-packing plant in Sioux City that killed 21 people and injured more than 90. Former Sioux City resident John Copeland, who’s now 81 years old, was working in the plant as a beef, lamb and veal grader on December 14th, 1949, and recalls what he was doing when the explosion occurred. Copeland was walking to the second floor office building to the first floor for lunch when the explosion went off. He recalls the well-built brick building shuddering all over and he ran back to the front of the plant. He says the whole front of the building was blown off, mostly on the loading dock and the basement floor below it. The first floor fell in. In the office, the floors buckled and injured people were laying everywhere. An image Copeland saw with his own eyes was one that people all over the country saw in the pages of a magazine the following week. He recalls the worst scene was on the loading dock on the first floor. One man’s body was blown by the explosion through to the second floor and he was impaled on a meat hook. A photographer from “Life” magazine snapped the image and it ran nationwide. Copeland says the incident is difficult to discuss even today. Copeland had returned from combat in World War Two, yet calls the scene in Sioux City as “the worst thing I’d ever seen, by far.” The explosion was caused by a gas leak under the street that made its way to the plant. What exactly sparked the explosion was never determined. Copeland says Swift built a brand new building within a year-and-a-half of the explosion and he stayed on. Copeland, who now winters in Fort Myers, Florida, went on to become C-E-O of Swift, retiring in the mid 1980s.
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