On a bitterly cold Sunday morning almost 45 years ago, the streets of Auburn violently shook as a natural gas leak exploded, destroying the Kopper Kettle restaurant on the corner of Gay Street and Magnolia Avenue and scattering its remains across downtown.
The explosion, which originated in the basement of Waldrop's, destroyed Kopper Kettle, a dentist's office and other businesses in the Brownfied Building and damaged other buildings downtown. Remarkably, no one died or suffered serious injury due to the explosion, although mannequins blown out onto the sidewalk from a nearby clothing store initially caused alarm for first responders arriving on the scene.
Although 45 years has passed, the Kopper Kettle explosion, as its popularly known, still reverberates in the annals of Auburn history. The explosion, which occurred on the morning of Jan. 15, 1978, will be featured this month with a photo exhibition at the Auburn Public Library and a commemorative presentation at the Boykin Community Center on Jan. 17.
Cynthia Ledbetter, the engagement and outreach librarian at the Auburn Public Library, said it's important to preserve this history and make sure it stays in the public consciousness.
"We have so many people here now that weren't here in the '70s, '80s or '90s and that may not even have heard of it or know of it," said Ledbetter, who lived in Auburn at the time but was only 4 years old. "I remember hearing about it my entire life.
"People blocks and blocks and blocks away had their windows shake or were blown out."
The exhibit will be on display at the Auburn Public Library throughout the month of January and feature news photos and other pictures from the Auburn University archives.
"I love photography, so it's been really fun for me," said Ledbetter. "I love looking at all of the photos."
Ledbetter is putting the finishing touches on the photo exhibit, which should be on display soon in the atrium of the Auburn Public Library on Thach Avenue.
The library will also be hosting a presentation by Auburn University alumnus James Patterson, a student eyewitness to the Kopper Kettle explosion. Patterson, a former U.S. diplomat in Washington, will also share his recollections of 9/11 and the attack on the Pentagon at the presentation, which will take place at 4 p.m. on Jan. 17 at the Boykin Community Center.
"He contacted us," said Ledbetter of Patterson. "He was going to be in the area and wanted to know if we'd be interested in hosting a presentation, so he's just going to do a talk about his experiences with those two (events)."
The library is also inviting the public to share their memories, stories and photographs of the Kopper Kettle explosion by emailing them to email@example.com.
"It's important to preserve that culture, our history here," said Ledbetter.
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