On October 16, 1928, two men, Patrick Toolis and Patrick Cleary, were buried alive in concrete while working on the construction of Terminal Tower in downtown Cleveland. They were working at the bottom of a 103 foot deep shaft in what would become a terminal death pit for them both.
Construction of Terminal Tower would begin in 1922 and would last for seven years. Over 1,000 buildings would be razed to make way for the complex. The soil was mostly clay; to reach bedrock they had to drill down 250 feet.
Toolis and Cleary were working at the bottom of a shaft that would be part the pillars that helped support Prospect Ave behind the tower. A shaft beside them was being filled with liquid concrete. The wall of the shaft which was only about two feet thick gave way and their shaft flooded with concrete.
Their co-workers immediately hoisted themselves in the shaft and began removing the liquid concrete. Unfortunately, Toolis and Cleary were under about 40 feet of concrete! As the night went on and the concrete hardened the buckets they were using turned to chisels and then to pneumatic drills. Men took shifts helping get to the bottom and find their bodies. It is believed that Toolis and Cleary most likely suffocated in about 15 minutes.
Toolis, 29, was found first, along the side of the shaft as he had been blown back by the force of the rushing in concrete. Then, Cleary, 27, was found standing and reaching toward the hoist that could have carried him to safety. Cleary had been on the job just three days.
No one was ever held accountable for their deaths and their families each received a payment of $6,500. To learn more about this Cleveland tragedy and others check out “Cleveland’s Greatest Disasters!: 16 Tragic True Tales of Death and Destruction” by John Strak Bellamy II.
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