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Onondaga Community College Students to Memorialize the Disaster at Split Rock with Play

Town of Onondaga Historical Society/

A group of Onondaga Community College students is preparing a play to memorialize the historic 100th anniversary of the tragedy known as The Disaster at Split Rock.  It happened July 2, 1918 on the site of a former limestone quarry turned munitions factory during World War One not too far from the college.  OCC Journalism Professor Laurel Saiz says overheated equipment is believed to have sparked a fire that ignited a dynamite storage facility.

"So people's body parts were found, like, half a mile, a mile away."

The blast claimed the lives of 55 workers.  Saiz and her class spent last fall learning about it and touring the site. 

"It ties together every part of our local history.  Everything we know of as intrinsic to Syracuse History: Military, industry, environment, architecture.  Hall of languages at SU is made from Split Rock limestone. It's all sort of connected with the quarry at split rock." 

Now, students are producing an original play about those who experienced the explosion nearly a century ago.  Andrea Capodagli, one of the student playwrights, says that researching and reading about these historical figures helped her connect to the story.

Credit John Smith / WAER News
OCC Students audition for the Disaster at Split Rock play.

"It became all really real. I felt like I was almost becoming them, like I knew them, like I was their friend or their family member kind of living through that with them.  So, to now be able to perform this for people, it will bring a lot more awareness to what happened."

A group of students will set out this Earth Day to clean up the site of the explosion—now littered with broken bottles and graffiti.  Student groups have also proposed an on-site memorial ceremony to commemorate the 100th anniversary, and a wreath-laying at Oakwood Cemetery where unidentified victims were buried. Capodagli says the project is about more than just reminding people of those lost in the tragedy—it’s about remembering them. 

"If something like that happened we're not going to know. So I think this brings more awareness to people so that as a community we can come together and memorialize their lives because they would be lost otherwise."

Students  or anyone who has interest in auditioning for the play may contact Professor Saiz at

The play will be performed May 2 as a part of OCC’s “Split Rock Week,” a week in which students will be able to attend discussions and other events to learn more about the tragedy.


John Smith has been waking up WAER listeners for a long time as our Local Co-Host of Morning Edition with timely news and information, working alongside student Sportscasters from the Newhouse School.