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Our blog contains information about West Plains and surrounding areas of interest

The West Plains Dance Hall Explosion

One of the saddest chapters of West Plains, Missouri, history unfolded on Friday the 13th, April 1928, when thirty-eight people were killed, three brick buildings were reduced to rubble, and windows were broken out all over Court Square in the downtown area in the aftermath of an explosion which occurred in a building on East Main Street. Half of those who died were not able to be identified, and the final death toll rose to 39 when one of the victims succumbed to his injuries a week after the event.

Adding to the tragedy, the mystery of “the Bond Dance Hall Explosion” has never been solved. There are multiple theories, but all that is known is something happened in the Wiser Motor Co. garage under the dance hall to cause the explosion which delivered an unimaginable shock to our small town.

On April 19, 1928, services were held in every church in town, offering tributes for the victims of the blast. Along with individual members of each congregation who were eulogized, each church also remembered the unidentified dead who were laid to rest later that morning at Oak Lawn Cemetery.

Several thousand people came to town for the funeral, with some sources estimating as many as 7,000 mourners were in attendance. That number would have been more than double the population of West Plains at the time. While 19 people who were unidentified are laid to rest in the cemetery marked by the massive headstone shown here, there are 20 names engraved on the stone. Mabel Riley was identified, but her family chose to bury her with those in the common grave, because her husband, Esco Riley, was not identified, and it is his final resting place.

The West Plains tragedy remains one of the deadliest dancehall fires in US history. To learn more about the tragic event, visit or stop by the Ozark Heritage Welcome Center and purchase the book written by local author, Lin Waterhouse, “The West Plains Dance Hall Explosion.”