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Theresa E. “Tessie” McNamara

American Folk Figure. Acclaimed as the heroine of the Meadowlands Explosion, Tessie McNamara saved the lives of more than a thousand workers on January 11, 1917. During World War I she was employed as a telephone operator by the Canadian Car & Foundry Company, an arms manufacturer in the New Jersey Meadowlands near Lyndhurst. The company produced munitions for the Russian government, and allegedly became the target of sabotage by German agents. When the plant mysteriously exploded, Tessie braved bursting shells and a raging fire as she called local police and fire departments. She then remained at her switchboard, calmly alerting every workshop and office on the premises to evacuate. It was only after these calls had been completed that she thought of her own escape, and she had to struggle with paralyzing fear as she made her way out of the inferno. A fireman who had arrived on the scene spotted her and assisted her to safety. Although her heroism made her a national celebrity, Tessie shunned publicity. She moved to nearby East Rutherford and consequently commuted to work in New York City. After her retirement she lived a quiet but productive life. She attended a local Franciscan church, St. Joseph’s, where her acquaintances included young Father Mychal Judge, destined to be numbered among the heroes of a future disastrous 11th. Tessie died at age 78 in 1972, and a Lyndhurst park now bears her name. In 1979 Germany made reparations for the damage caused by the fire in 1917, but did not admit responsibility for the catastrophe. (bio by: Nikita Barlow)

Born

  • April, 10, 1892

Died

  • February, 02, 1971
  • USA

Cemetery

  • Saint Josephs Cemetery
  • USA

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