Posted by: Diane Langton/SourceMedia Group News | November 14, 2008

A stranger among us: A story from the 1913 Lyman building collapse

   When Georgia native Luther Moore arrived for his first day of work on the new Lyman building, he was given the laborer’s check number 13. Moore wasn’t happy. He didn’t want to work under the number 13, especially since it was Friday.

   No other number was available just then, he was told. He was asked to work as number 13 just for the rest of the day and he was promised another number for the next day.

   A few hours later, Luther Moore was dead, crushed in the heaps of twisted iron, concrete and splintered lumber of the collapsed building.

   Crews worked day and night to find and recover the bodies of seven men.

   After four bodies had been recovered, Luther and Sidney Doty were discovered. They had fallen from the roof of the seven-story structure to the basement.

   According to the Nov. 17 Evening Gazette: “The body of Moore … was found at 3 o’clock yesterday in the mass of broken concrete in the northwest corner of the basement of the wrecked part of the building. The body was lying face downward, pinned down by several heavy pieces of concrete and wedged between a mass of steel rods and broken lumber. It required nearly an hour to get the body out after it was discovered. The mangled and crushed remains were taken to the undertaking rooms of John B. Turner & Son.”


On Jan 1, 1914, the weekly Cedar Rapids Tribune ran this article:

“Amid the wreckage of the Lyman building was found the mangled form of a young colored man. He was a stranger within our gates and evidently without intimate friends or even acquaintances. He had secured a permit from the business agent of the Building Laborer’s union but was in no sense a member. Amid the excitement but little attention was paid to the case and the remains reposed upon an undertaker’s slab. No one claimed the body. It was due for burial but no one appeared to advance the money. As is customary in such cases it was being prepared for shipment to the university where bright young men seek and gain knowledge by dissecting the remains of unfortunate and homeless men and women. Among the effects was found a letter from a dear old southern mammy way down in Georgia. It was full to overflowing with a mother’s love and exhortations to lead a good life. The spirit of the epistle appealed to the union committee in charge of the dead who were members. An appropriation was made to aid in shipping the remains home to mother and the balance necessary was secured by means of a street collection, the contractors, engineers and those directly financially interested giving nothing. But the reward was found in the following letter, just received by the union:


Ackworth, Ga. – Dear Friends in Union No. 224: I cannot tell you dear boys how your kindness has given me joy and how your act in sending my poor boy home to me has touched a poor old mother’s heart. To think that my boy Luther died among strangers, but that there were those who proved true friends is something to be ever thankful for. May God’s blessing ever rest with you and your union is my prayer. With us the shock is still great. But the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Again and again I thank you.”



  1. The fact no one who had a financial interest in the building speaks volumes about who really understands the needs of the workingman, even today. “Labor” is to management only a cost of doing business, little else. If there is no pay back for what management does in real money, they don’t usually participate. Studs Terkel used to say, “Ask any school kid who built the pyramids, the answer will automatically be the Pharaohs. We all know the pharaohs never got their hands dirty building these great wonders, it was the working man whole toiled for years to build these monuments.” In Luthers case, while the owners normally get the gold,he got the shaft. At least those who toil understand that if it happened to them, they would want someone to see their body got home.

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