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While working with high phosphorous gunpowder for firecrackers, Cripe was accidentally killed in an explosion in his workshop on May 21, 1996.

charrred remains of "Masterpiece"

The charred remains of “The Masterpiece.”

workshop explosion aftermath

Cripe’s workshop after the explosion.

Cripe tribute

A memorial set up with “Eagle” and “Tribute” the day after the accident. 

Photos by Hal Hammer, Jr.


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The following are excerpts from the St. Petersburg Times, reported on May 22 and 23, 1996 by Nancy Weil; Jeffrey Brainard:

“Tuesday afternoon, the 42-year-old guitar maker died in a fiery explosion. Authorities think he might have been working on M-80 firecrackers to sell for the Fourth of July.

Cripe's parents said their son was a stickler about safety, and always forbade anyone from smoking near his workshop.

Investigators found about 25 casings for fireworks inside the trailer. Filled with gunpowder, the finished products would have been used to make a loud blast, not an aerial display. They probably would have been more powerful than a commonly sold, loud firecracker known as an M-80. Authorities didn't know for sure what set off the explosion.

Neighbors said they had heard him igniting smaller firecrackers that morning at his property.

Neighbor Jack Smith had been to Cripe's workshop Monday and admired a guitar that was almost done. Cripe was using black wood, and Smith said he was struck by never having seen wood quite like it before. "He was working on a guitar. It was a beauty." Smith said that he enjoyed hearing Cripe talk about making guitars and liked to visit his neighbor in his workshop to chat. "I hate it," Smith said. "I lost a friend.”

We all did.

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