“To Startle the World”: A Different Understanding of Tragedy
The Reverend Walter Clarke found few signs for hope in the days following the explosion. The other Reverend Clark may have looked for community unity after the blast, but the only unifying factor Rev. Walter Clarke saw in Hartford in the sad days of March, 1854 was the residents’ capacity for sin. “I simply say,” he warned, “that calamities come to this world because sin is here, and that they come to startle the world, and to remind the wicked that there is sin among us.” For Clarke, the blast was a reflection not just on the sinfulness of the 19 men who lost their lives, but on all sinners in Hartford who should take heed. Clarke invited his listeners to listen to the crumbled remains of the factory as they spoke to the city residents on their sinfulness:
Calamity is speaking to-day in our ears. Every splinter and fragment and fallen brick of yonder awful wreck; every forsaken forge, and every blood-stained tool, moans in our hearing its message from God. Surviving sinners of Hartford! The wreck, the dead, the elements around you, are speaking to you. And their message is, Except ye repent, ye shall all perish likewise. Let it be heard through all your factories and in all your dwellings; let it be echoed over every bench and engine, and anvil, upon every street and at every corner; around the graves of the dead, and at the tables of the living; wherever you go wherever you gather, whatever you do, let it haunt you in every place, let it come to you in your dreams, let it find you in your revels. Sabbath-days and week-days, let it ring in every ear and thunder in every conscience. Except ye repent, ye living men – except ye repent, ye shall perish also.