It’s now been 94 years since the night that shook West Plains, both literally and figuratively. The blast was so strong that it could be heard for thousands, and caused such damage to the nearby court house that a new one had to be built. And it made such an impression that a 10-verse-long song was written about the disaster, which is accessible here.
It’s doubtful that anyone is alive today who remembers the blast firsthand. However, a link between past and present occurred in February 2022 when the building where the dance hall once stood also burned to the ground.
“To drive by it, it made you think a little bit of what it was like,” says McFarland of the building’s demise.
Despite the lingering question of why, McFarland notes that perhaps it’s OK not to know what happened to the building that housed the dance hall.
“Today, I think it’s one of the things you recognize you never really have an answer to,” he says. “You get to the point where it’s OK to be a mystery. You can accept that.”
Special thanks go to Great Southern Bank for helping fund the creation of articles published on Ozarks Alive.
“35 bodies are found after West Plains, Mo., fire,” The St. Louis Star, April 14, 1928
“37 dead, 22 hurt, in fatal explosion,” Howell County Gazette, April 19, 1928
“Burial robe factory,” Springfield Leader, Sept. 26, 1921
Coroner’s jury fails to find blast cause,” St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat, April 24, 1928
”Dance hall explosion shook town to its core,” Everett Kennell, Springfield News-Leader, Jan. 2, 2011
Unreadable headline, West Plains Journal, Jan. 12, 1928
“JH McFarland Dead,” Mountain View Standard, July 6, 1923
“Meeting of Good Roads Club held here Friday night,” West Plains Journal, Oct. 27, 1927
“New factory in West Plains,” West Plains Journal, Sept. 29, 1921
No headline, West Plains Journal, July 8, 1926
No headline, Howell County Gazette, Oct. 9, 1924
No headline, West Plains Journal, July 3, 1924
No headline, Howell County Gazette, Oct. 14, 1926
“Ozark embalmers in session here,” Howell County Gazette, July 9, 1925
“To establish McFarland Memorial Funeral home,” West Plains Journal, April 12, 1928
“Two Springfieldians among West Plains died; others lose relatives,” Springfield Daily News, April 15, 1928
“The West Plains Dance Hall Explosion,” Lin Waterhouse, 2010
Help make these stories happen.
While Ozarks Alive is a project of passion, crafting each story takes a lot of time, energy — and gas money.
There are several ways you can help, if you feel so led:
Purchasing a copy of “Passport to the Ozarks,” a guidebook to unique places to visit throughout the region. These books are $22 each, which includes taxes and shipping.
Donations in any amount are also gratefully accepted via Paypal, and may be sent to Kaitlyn@OzarksAlive.com, or by mailing a check/cash to Ozarks Alive, PO Box 2004, Springfield, MO 65801.
Super-soft, Ozarks Alive t-shirts are also available in two designs. They are $20, including taxes and shipping, and may be ordered here.
Thank you so much for your support of this site: The stories published here take a great deal of time and money to produce, and any and all support is greatly appreciated!