Remembering the Victims of Split Rock

The “Syracuse Journal” from July 3, 1918 tells the story of the tragedy at Split Rock. The newspaper and other artifacts from the event are on display at the Town of Onondaga Historical Society Museum in Onondaga Town Hall at 5020 Ball Road. The Museum is open Monday through Friday from 1-3 p.m.

A nearly century-old tragedy is motivating OCC students to make a difference in their community. “We want to preserve and memorialize what happened,” said Tara Carr (West Genesee HS, 2017). “We want to make sure Split Rock will never be forgotten.”

Carr is one of eleven students enrolled in “The Split Rock Disaster,” an Honors level class examining the tragedy that occurred July 2, 1918. What was once a former limestone quarry had been turned into a munitions factory where TNT was being manufactured for use in World War I. When a fire started at the site workers fought the blaze until they ran out of water pressure. The raging fire resulted in an explosion which was felt for miles around. Fifty-five workers were killed and 50 were injured.

Early in the semester students traveled to the site which is located off Split Rock Road in the Town of Onondaga. “To see what it looks like now gave us a sad feeling,” said student Flo Downing (Cathage HS, 2015). All that remains is a stone crusher which was built in 1903. “It was covered in graffiti,” added student Beckii Sessions (Town of Webb HS, 2016). “There was trash everywhere. The whole place was wrecked. There was a lot of broken glass and shotgun shells.”

Before and after photos of Split Rock.

Seeing what the site had become motivated students to take action in connection with the upcoming 100-year anniversary of the tragedy. Under the leadership of Professors Laurel Saiz and Melissa Hicks, students made a presentation to the Onondaga Town Board and are working on a series of related activities:

  • April 30 to May 4, 2018 will be “Split Rock Week” on campus. There will be a display in Coulter Library, a panel discussion and a performance of “Ghost Talk” by the OCC Drama Club which will focus on the perspectives of victims and survivors of the explosion.
  • A cleanup of the site led by community volunteers.
  • A ceremony at the site on July 2, 2018, the 100th anniversary of the fatal explosion.
  • A wreath-laying ceremony August 7, 2018 at Oakwood Cemetery in Syracuse on the 100th anniversary of the internment of the unidentified victims.

Even though the class is about to end the work will continue for these students. They’ll need permission from New York State to access the site. They are asking Oakwood Cemetery to include information about the Split Rock monument in the brochure they hand out to visitors. They’ve also asked the Honeywell Corporation to refurbish the monument in time for the August ceremony. “We will have a committee of people from this class who meet regularly next semester to make sure everything is still on track,” said student Abbie Moskov (Auburn HS, 2016). “We want to continue to bring awareness to the community even though we’ll be done with the class. We want to follow through.”

Students and professors in “The Split Rock Disaster” Honors class.

Loving Life in the Honors Pod

These three students have become best friends since living together in the “Honors Pod.” The are (left to right) Abbie Moskov, Beckii Sessions and Flo Downing.

They know what each other is thinking, finish each other’s sentences and love living and working together. “We help each other with class, life, everything. We literally rely on each other 24/7,” said Flo Downing. “We instantly clicked,” added Beckii Sessions. “This is our second year rooming together and it’s had a big impact on our life.”

Downing, Sessions and Abbie Moskov live in one of Onondaga Community College’s Living Learning Communities, or LLC’s as they are more commonly referred to. An LLC provides students who share common educational, social or extracurricular interests the opportunity to live together. Programs are designed around specific majors or content areas. Students become heavily connected with faculty and staff and take advantage of opportunities to explore career paths and build their resumes through activities both on and off campus.

Downing, Sessions and Moskov are all high-achieving students. They are members of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa and are in the Honors program. Their LLC is referred to as the Honors Pod. “It’s helpful to have something in common with your roommates. It gives you that instant connection.”

The three students didn’t know each other prior to meeting at OCC. Moskov is a 2016 graduate of Auburn High School majoring in Mathematics & Science. Sessions is a 2016 graduate of the Town of Webb High School in Old Forge majoring in Business Administration. Downing is a 2015 graduate of Carthage High School majoring in Criminal Justice. “It’s been the three of us since we came here. It’s like having sisters,” said Moskov. “We always say how fortunate we are because we get along so well,” added Downing.

As the three students have excelled academically, living in an LLC has also made a big difference in their personal development. “I’m a very introverted person. If I hadn’t been put with my roommates I probably wouldn’t have had as many friends as I did,” said Sessions. “They helped me get out of my shell. It’s really important to be able to make those strong connections immediately. They really pushed me. They’d say, ‘We’re going to this. We’re going to lunch. We’re going to dinner.’” “This is a support network you really need,” added Moskov.

Downing, Sessions and Moskov can’t imagine what life will be like a year from now when they are all attending different colleges and won’t have each other close by to lean on. As they enjoy their last academic year together they are working on a program to help those who come after them. They are in the process of creating an advisory board which will represent student residents and meet regularly with Residence Life administration.

New York’s NASA Champs

OCC's NASA Aerospace Scholars Program participants (left to right): Amil Vargas-Castillo, Lenoi Carter, Jevar Carter, Jacob Hammond and Brian Richardson.
OCC’s NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars Program participants (left to right): Amil Vargas-Castillo, Lenoi Carter, Jevar Carter, Jacob Hammond and Brian Richardson.

Onondaga Community College students continue to dominate NASA’s Community College Aerospace Scholars Program. In the spring semester five OCC students were selected to participate. They were the only five students selected in all of New York State.

The program allows students to take part in special courses and travel to a NASA facility where they will work side-by-side with NASA Engineers on special projects. OCC’s five representatives are:

  • Lenoi Carter – Engineering Science major from Jamaica
  • Jevar Carter – Engineering Science major from Corcoran H.S.
  • Jacob Hammond – Engineering Science major from Carthage H.S.
  • Brian Richardson – Engineering Science major from Liverpool H.S.
  • Amil Vargas-Castillo – Mathematics & Science major from Puerto Rico

“It’s a tremendous accomplishment for our students to be the only ones selected in all of New York State,” said Fred Jaquin, Chair of OCC’s Chemistry and Physical Science department. “It’s quite a statement about the work being done in our classrooms.”