This is the October 31, 1963 scene on the Marietta Square at the site of the explosion at Atherton Drugs that left several people dead and others injured. The explosion was at 6:23 pm. The historical photo, courtesy of the Marietta Fire Department, was taken by Bartow Adair, who was at the time chief investigator for the Marietta Fire Department. Today this building is the home to a restaurant, the Marietta Pizza Company.
Photo: Bartow Adair/Courtesy of Marietta Fire Department
Photo: Bartow Adair/Courtesy of Marietta Fire Department

Halloween 1963: Tragic Marietta drugstore blast still haunts

Mayor calls blast the most horrible tragedy ever to happen in Marietta; Debris rains on crowd at Halloween carnival

MARIETTA — An explosion destroyed Atherton's Drugstore, a meeting place for teen-agers on the square in Marietta Thursday night, killing at least six persons and injuring 25.

The downtown area was packed with people. The blast occurred at the peak of a gay Halloween carnival on the Marietta city square. It was the worst tragedy ever to strike this bustling trade center 18 miles north of Atlanta.

THE DEAD

The dead were identified as Mrs. Ralph Fowler Sr., mother of Robert Fowler, editor of the the Marietta Daily Journal.

S. A. White, head of the S.A. White Sinclair Distributing Co. here

Mrs. Marie Butler.

Mrs. Betty Carlisle

A Mrs. Scott, whose full name was not immediately available

Joe B. Carter.

[Subsequent articles reported that the blast at Atherton's Drugstore on Oct. 31, 1963, killed seven — not six — and left 23 injured. Those killed in the explosion were S.A. White, Mrs. Ralph Fowler Sr., Mrs. Leslie Barfield, Mrs. Betty Carlisle, Mrs. Otelia Scott, Joe B. Carter and his 7-year-old son, Terry Carter.]

At 9 p.m. searchers were looking for four other persons believed still in the store.

Of the 21 injured, four were sent home from the hospital and the rest admitted for treatment.

IN CRITICAL CONDITION

One of the injured was reported in surgery, in critical condition.

Three policemen, standing in front of the store at the time of the explosion, were severely injured. They were on the square to preserve order during the city's traditional Halloween party.

The injured officers are Sgt. Rupert Raines, who is a son-in-law of Police Chief Ernest Sanders, Patrolman Wendell Black, and Patrolman George Kelly.

Kennestone Hospital reported Raines suffered a broken leg, Black was paralyzed from the waist down by pelvic injuries, and Kelly suffered undetermined internal injuries and severe cuts on both legs.

Scores of police officers, Civil Defense and Navy air station personnel converged on the square immediately after the explosion.

A portion of the square was roped off, as the yellow-fronted drugstore building buckled outward about two feet and threatened to collapse. Police Chief Sanders and his brother, Cobb County Sheriff Kermit Sanders, supervised emergency work.

CAUSE NOT KNOWN

Sheriff Sanders said the cause of the explosion could not be determined immediately. He theorized, however, that a leaking gas main in the basement of the building may have ripped the drugstore asunder.

Atherton's is owned by Dr. Lucius Atherton and his son, Howard Atherton, who is Marietta's major-elect.

City detective Bill Elliott stood on an automobile and directed rescuers into the building with a bull horn. Hundreds of spectators, many of them dressed in grotesque Halloween garb, watched rescue efforts as red emergency lights spun round and round, giving the scene an erie, almost ghostly appearance.

Civil Defense crews, led by Civil Defense Director Romeo Hudgins, disregarding their own safety, went into the building to probe the ruins for additional bodies. They found at least two bodies more than an hour after the explosion.

WORST EVER

Mayor Sam Welch surveyed the tragic scene from across the street. His eyes appeared red as he shook his head sadly and told a reporter: "I don't know exactly what to say. It is the most horrible tragedy ever to happen in Marietta."

The explosion splintered booths inside the store, shattered the prescription department, blew out gaily decorated display windows facing on both Whitlock Avenue and Powder Springs Street and destroyed the drugstore's store-room  on Powder Springs Street.

FOR MILE AROUND

The concussion rocked the area for a mile around and blew out the display window of Fletcher's Jewelry Store ont he opposite corner of Whitlock Avenue.

The blast threw debris high into the air, and a child's shoe was found atop the two-story First National Bank Building about 50 feet away from the drugstore.

The streets on all sides were covered with glass, broken timbers and twisted merchandise, including toys from the store.