Barrackville Mine Disaster

The West Virginian (Fairmont)
March 18, 1925

Fate Of 34 Miners Unknown

Rescue Workers Redouble Efforts To Reach Victims

Rescue Crews Begin Six-Hour Shifts at 3 o'Clock Red Cross Issues Appeal for Pies to Feed Workers.

John L. Lewis Wires Sympathy

Determined if possible to reduce the estimates time that it will take to reach the 34 miners entombed in the old Jamison No. 7 mine at Barrackville, members of the rescue shift which went into the mine at 3 o'clock this afternoon were prepared to battle with super-human effort to break through to the ill-fated men by 9 o'clock tonight.

Whether their efforts will be successful is a matter of serious doubt. R. M. Lambie and other leaders in the work of reaching the men in the mine have not retracted previous statements that it would be midnight before the men were found, however.

A heavy rain, which began shortly after 2 o'clock, drove all of the spectators behind the police lines away except relatives of the men, who stood their ground minute after minute and hour after hour, hoping against hope for some cheering news.

There had been no word or signal of any kind from the miners since the explosion last night. According to those who have had long experience in mine disaster rescue work, there is but small chance that the men will be found alive, although there is a possibility that through some good stroke of luck they may have been sheltered behind some protection when the blast let go.

Under a general order signed this afternoon by Jack Berry of the Bethlehem Mines Corporation, George McCas of the Pittsburgh branch of the United States Bureau of Mines and R. M. Lambie, chief of the West Virginia Department of Mines, rescue crews will work in six-hour shifts.

The crew which went on at 3 o'clock this afternoon will be directed by Mr. McCas, George Groves and Pete McLinden, with Mr. Berry and J. Wells as captains.

The 9 p. m. crew will be under the general direction of Lilly, Riggleman, Morris and J. Berry, Bill Hacker and James Haley will be captains. The shift for 3 o'clock tomorrow morning has not yet been prepared.

Coroner at Mine Opening.

County Coroner L. C. Fitzhugh arrived on the scene of the disaster shortly after 2 o'clock. He announced that he would view the first body brought from the mine and then impanel a coroner's jury. If it is found that many of the entombed miners are dead, their bodies will be distributed to the various undertaking parlors, where they will be prepared for burial. Relatives may either identify the victims when they are brought from the mine or at the undertakers.

Mayor T. V. Buckley, City Attorney Albert Kern and City Clerk Luke C. Arnett visited the mine this afternoon. Mr. Buckley said that he had no statement to make officially in behalf of the city at this time.

Lewis Expresses Sympathy

John L. Lewis of Indianapolis, international president of the United Mine Workers of America, in a telegram late this afternoon to Van Bittner, chief international representative in Fairmont, said "I authorize a contribution of $500 by the international secretary for relief of the dependents of victims of the Barrackville disaster.

"The fact that the victims of this disaster were non-union miners working under guards and search lights, employed by Bethlehem Mines Corporation, does not set aside the question of humanity which is involved.

"The international union will be glad to leave you administer this fund and be helpful in any possible way to the stricken families of the victims of this terrible disaster."

Red Cross Asks for Pies

An appeal was issued by the Red Cross this afternoon for pies to feed mine rescue teams at work in the mine.

The call for pies was made late this afternoon by Miss Florence Kneisel, connected with the local office, who obtained promises of many women by telephone messages, but later decided to make a general call.

Reports on Progress Differ

At 3 o'clock this afternoon it was estimated that the rescue crews working to reach the entombed miners in the mine at Barrackville were not back more than 300 feet. Earlier in the day it was said that the men were back a much greater distance, one estimate placing the distance at one mile.

Drexel George, deputy sheriff, said this afternoon that timbers were being placed at the bottom of the shaft at 10 o'clock today, and others agreed with him that in view of the shattered condition of the entry the rescue crews could not have penetrated more than a few hundred feet. Fallen debris is said to have hampered progress to a very considerable extent.

Sheriff John C. Riggins went on duty again at noon today, after snatching a few hours' rest at home. He expected to make another visit to the mine this afternoon.

Mr. Riggins, himself an experienced miner and former superintendent, said this afternoon that he would not offer any opinion as to the cause of the explosion. He intimated that there is nothing as yet to show conclusively what occurred in the shaft at 9:30 last night.

Disaster Causes $500,000 Damage To Mining Plant

Chief of State Department of Mines Sees Little Hope for 34 Lives

Crews Doing Everything Possible To Reach Men

Red Cross Establishes Headquarters at Scene to Aid Rescue Men.

Although rescue workers had been busy all morning in an effort to locate the 34 miners entombed in Mine 41 of the Bethlehem Corporation at Barrackville, which was blown up at 9:28 o'clock last evening, it was announced at noon today by R. A. Lambie, chief mine inspector, that the men, either dead or alive, could not be reached before late tonight.

In a statement issued earlier in the morning, Chief Lambie said that the situation was "bad," intimating that the chance of finding the miners alive was only slight. The Red Cross and several rescue crews were on hand, doing all that is within the ability of human beings to break down the barriers that are holding the unfortunate workers in the shaft.

Company officials, while they did not make an official announcement, declared that the loss in all probability would reach a figure close to $500,000. The mine is practically a total wreck.

Thirty-six horses which are used in the mine were found dead in an under-ground stable 300 feet below the surface of the earth. All of these were found dead this morning, but there were no human bodies near them.

Sends Telegram to Gore.

While thousands jammed the rope "dead line" along the highway various rescue parties were battling their way this morning through the mine chambers in the hope of reaching the entombed miners shortly after noon. At 11 o'clock R. A. Lambie, chief mine inspector of the state, sent a telegram to Governor Howard Gore, in which he intimated that the situation was bad and that it was impossible yet to tell whether when found any of the miners would be alive.

T. R. Johns, general manager of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, with headquarters at Johnstown, Pa., arrived on the scene about 10 o'clock, and after making a survey of the situation with Benton Mitchell, he returned to Fairmont without giving a statement to press representatives.

Safety teams from three sections of Pennsylvania arrived about 9 o'clock. These parties left Johnstown by automobiles at 2 a. m. today. In the Ellsworth division were A. J. Frazier, Edward Python, Vince Sikota, William Beverage, Charles Lewellyn, Charles Grim. In the Johnstown division, Edward Williams, David Malcolm, Owen Robertson, Richard Lewis, Euen Reese, Alfred Wallace, Joe Martin, George Winder, Arthur Shallenberger.

In the Preston division were E. J. House, Andy Debaise, John Fallon, Rollow Friend, Rex Longude, Frank Allison, Jeff Clark, Louis Hazadon, Dale McClure, Vernon Bernard and George Bernard.

Red Cross Gets on Job

The local Red Cross is giving full assistance to J. A. Northwood, general safety director of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, with offices in the Cambria plant, Johnstown, Pa. Local Red Cross workers on the scene are Miss May Maloney, Miss Nellie Nash, Miss Ruth Heintzelman, Miss Florence Kneisel and Miss Francie Sorensen.

Miss Elsie Lawrence of Washington, D. C., national field director of the American Red Cross wired that she would arrive this afternoon.

Two rooms in the office of the company have been fitted up as a temporary and emergency hospital and headquarters for the Red Cross workers.

Shortly before noon, J. A. Northwood conferred with Dr. E. P. Smith, one of the company physicians, in regard to making arrangements for a temporary morgue in case it would be found that the miners had been killed. The bodies will be placed in the morgue after being prepared for identification. Here relatives will be permitted to identify the dead.

Carpenter and Ford, it was said, are the company undertakers, but it was decided that arrangements should be made to have all local undertakers available at a moment's notice if necessary.

Among the members of the local rescue crews are J. B. and Frank Berry, James Holy, I. E. Bayles, Arthur Tennant, Al Victor, Furman Suttkin and William Hacket.

Frank Woodward went down in the mine with the first phone set shortly after 3 o'clock this morning. He now is an employe of the traction company, but is a former telephone man. He volunteered his services.

Rescue Car Arrives.

Rescue car No. 3 of the United States Bureau of Mines at Pittsburgh arrived at the mine early this morning, in charge of G. S. McCas, assistant chief engineer.

He was accompanied by two experts, G. W. Grove and R. S. Thornburg also of Pittsburgh. A short time after the arrival of the car, the Federal Bureau of Mines representatives made their first trip into the workings. Other mine experts at the scene are R. M. Lambie of Charleston, chief of the West Virginia Bureau of Mines; William Riggleman, Fairmont district inspector, and C. T. Wolty, Bethlehem Mine Corporation inspector.

Early this morning a recheck of the men who went to work last evening showed that 34 miners had entered the workings, and this morning the little community of Barrackville was wrought with sorrow. Women and children with tear-stained faces were standing about the police lines which held back the crowds from the entrance to the mine.

Hundreds of persons were attracted to the scene, many automobiles being parked along the highway near the mine. State police and mine guards were keeping the crowds orderly.

Whistle Misleads Rescuers.

Shortly after the explosion the whistle used by the men in the mine to signal the hoist engineer to bring up the cage started blowing. It was believed that the men were sending a signal. This whistle soon ceased to blow and was not heard again.

Several of the men who were caught in the explosion had just obtained work with the company yesterday and were working their first trick in the ill-fated mine.

Arthur Woody of Huntington and W. H. Kittle of Norton were two who obtained jobs at the mine yesterday. Walter Richter and two other men in the mine whose names could not be learned came to Fairmont yesterday to purchase automobiles.

Rescue crews from Pittsburgh and the Bethlehem Mines Corporation properties on the M. & K. Railroad were started toward Fairmont as soon as possible after the explosion.

The federal rescue car from Pittsburgh arrived here at 4 o'clock this morning, while the crew from the M. & K. arrived on a special train about three hours later.

Superintendent Called Back.

Superintendent Benton Mitchell of the mine was en route to Charleston when the blast went off. He was located in Grafton and was brought back to this city on a special train, reaching the scene of the explosion shortly after midnight.

The fact that the fan was wrecked by the blast was one of the first serious obstacles encountered in making for the possible rescue of the men. By heroic work the fan was repaired and in operation by 1 o'clock this morning, however.

Several times it was reported that signals had been received from the entombed men, but these proved to be false.

List of Entombed Miners

William Sanick, 38, Pole, loader, Brownton.
A. C. Brake, 21, single, driver, Rock Cave.
Curtis Kennedy, 25, single, Meridan; first night in mine after layoff of two weeks.
J. A. Cosner, 53, American, shot firer; wife in Barrackville, three children under and two children over 16.
Burt Marshall, 40, machine boss, Idamay; four children under 16 and one over 16.
Leonard Saunders, 25, brattisman, single, Barrackville.
Walter Thompson, 24, colored, track helper; wife in Masontown, Pa.; one child under 16.
Willie Robinson, 26, colored, loader, single, Glen White.
Willie Alston, 30, colored, driver; wife in Barrackville, two children under 16.
Pete Temest, 25, Italian, motorman, Barrackville; two children under 16.
W. H. Kittle, 23, loader, Norton.
J. C. Steele, 47, loader; wife in Norton, three children under 16 and one over 16.
Walter Richter, 24, Pole, single, Cincinnati, loader.
J. H. Butler, 32, colored, loader, single, Fairchance, Pa.
G. W. Knotts, 22, loader, wife in Shadyside, Fairmont, one child under 16.
J. W. Braggert, 30, loader, Barrackville, one child under 16.
Harry Marston, 52, English, night foreman, Barrackville; three children under 16.
A. J. Harper, loader, 35, wife in Elkins, five children under 16.
Elmer Stiffler, cutter, 28; five children under 16, Barrackville.
James Tyler, cutter, colored, 30, single, Barrackville.
T. R. DeHart, 42, American; wife in Philippi, two children under 16 and two children over 16.
Hobart Waldon, colored, 28, married, cutter; wife in Monessen, Pa., two children under 16.
Callie Alstead, 38, cutter, widower; four children under 16, Barrackville.
Charles Osborn, 30; wife at Barrackville, one child under 16.
Claude Wells, 37, cutter; wife at Barrackville, two children under 16.
Hayes Perkins, 25, cutter; wife at Barrackville, two children under 16.
John Ambros, 38, Austrian, cutter, wife at Barrackville, seven children under 16.
Arthur Wody, 31, cutter, working extra for I. S. Carson, Barrackville; two children under 16.
Tom Day, 32; wife at Barrackville, five children under 16.
Harold Evans, 24, Fairmont, motorman, single.
Lloyd Wilson, 50, loader; widower, home in Elkins, two children under and two children over 16.
Bernard Ammer, 30, Romanian, loader, Lyburn; two children under 16.
Walter Mordas, 48, Russian, loader; wife at Brownton.

Lack Of Disorder Marks Scenes At Mine Explosion

Sheriff and State Police Aid Mine Officials - Salvation Army Busy.

Bereaved Members of Miners Sob By Ropes

Unhurried Efforts of Workers Rapidly Bring Order Out of Chaotic Scene.

Among the outstanding features of the events immediately following the mine disaster at Barrackville last night was the cool generalship of mine officials, who had the situation well in hand within a few minutes, the co-operation and quick response of Sheriff John C. Riggins and of the State Police under Capt. Hobart Brown.

State Police were on the ground within a short time, and their presence as patrols on the road that runs past the mine and at points above and below kept the heavy traffic in some semblance of order and prevented a jam which would have added considerably to the confusion.

When Sheriff Riggins arrived upon the scene the mine officials, augmented by 40 mine guards, were rapidly bringing order out of the chaos which immediately followed the explosion. The blast extinguished every light about the shaft and in the adjacent houses, and until nearly midnight the men were forced to work with only flashlights and sometimes automobile headlights to brighten the scene.

Ropes were stretched beside the road and here several hundred persons, among them the wives and mothers and children of the men entombed inside, congregated to stand with strained, anxious faces while they listened for some word from below.

Deputy sheriffs and mine guards patroled the line of ropes while employes of the Bell Telephone Co. and electricians sent by the Monongahela West Penn Public Service Co. worked like beavers to re-establish communication. Men from these two companies were on the scene within a remarkably short time, and their ready response won commendation from all sides.

Meanwhile investigations were being made at the mine shaft where the explosion occurred. Work crews were rapidly organized, strengthened by the arrival of experienced miners and rescue men from mines in adjoining towns. The chaotic scene rapidly took on a semblance of order. There was no evidence of confusion within the roped-in inclosure after the first half hour, and while there was no apparent hurry, every man did the job he was sent to do and did it quickly and quietly.

Despairing Cries of Grief

Only a few relatives of the entombed miners appeared in the crowd beside the road. One of these little groups was the wife, daughter and small son of one of he miners. They stood beside the ropes, muffling their sorrow as best they could, but occasionally breaking into sobs and despairing cries of grief. The most pitiful thing about this grief was its alternate sound of hope and of despair. Sometimes, when the word would be passed that the men below were uninjured and would be brought up alive, the sobbing would take on a note of relief. Then, with a little prayer that the news might be true, the afflicted family would wipe away the tears and make a pitiable effort at cheerfulness.

Again, a few minutes later, some old miner would speak lightly of the chance that anyone in the mine remained alive, and then the sobbing would begin with all of the pathos and horror of loved ones suddenly left without their protector.

The suffering of these people was lightened by the work of Ensign Alfred Carr and other members of the Salvation Army. These workers arrived early and immediately directed their efforts to soothing the bereaved members of entombed miners.

Little Confusion at Any Time

Some of the women, standing beside the ropes for so long, had become chilled, and the heavy fog which settled over the scene had dampened their scanty clothing. Mrs. Carr and other Salvation Army folk bundled the women into closed cars, parked near the ropes and there comforted and soothed during the trying wait.

At 11:30 the lights were turned on again and the scene took on a more lively aspect. Men were sent to Farmington for a shaft bucket, to use in sending men down the shaft to discover if possible the extent of the explosion, and work on the fans was hurried. First aid teams and rescue crews were already on the ground and officials had everything in readiness to go into the mine as soon as the air was turned on.

During all of the first excitement there was little commotion. The occasional voice of an official raised in issuing orders, the nervous sobbing of a woman as her nerves gave way under the strain, and low hum of voices as men discussed with each other the possibility of men below remaining alive and the possible cause of the explosion, everything was orderly, and there was little confusion at any time.

Bittner Pledges Union Funds For Widows, Orphans

Issues Statement Expressing Sympathy for Workers Trapped in Mine.

Sympathy for the entombed miners trapped in the Barrackville mine of the Bethlehem Mines Corporation was expressed today by officials of the United Mine Workers of Northern West Virginia. In a statement made today Van A. Bittner, international representative in charge of the organization of Northern West Virginia, said that unfortunately most of the men at work in the mine were inexperienced, at least insofar as that particular mine was concerned.

A substantial donation will be made by the miners union to the widows and orphans, which is a custom with the United Mine Workers of America, regardless of whether it is a union or non-union mine, he added.

His statement follows:

"Everybody connected with the mining industry and especially the officers of the United Mine Workers of America were shocked to learn of the terrible catastrophe at the properties of the Bethlehem Mining Corporation at Barrackville. It has been the purpose of the United Mine Workers of America during its entire existence to have laws enacted and enforced that will prevent these terrible mine disasters. There has not been an explosion in any mine in the United States that could not have been prevented if the proper precautions to safeguard the lives of the miners had been taken by the coal companies.

"A statement appearing in the Fairmont Times to the effect that a dynamite glycerine bomb caused the blast is the most preposterous explanation of a mine explosion that I have ever heard. When men in their prejudices will attempt to spread nefarious propaganda over the dead bodies of the men killed at Barrackville, all I have to say is that they are beyond redemption and such statement cannot come except from a diseased mind.

"The paramount issue now before the people of Northern West Virginia is to properly take care of the widows and orphans that have been created by this terrible explosion. I do not want to enter into a discussion as to the statement made by the editor of the Fairmont Times that the explosion was caused by a dynamite glycerine bomb because I know that no mining men take that seriously.

"Everybody knows the condition of the Barrackville mine; everybody knows that the majority of the men at the mine at the time of the explosion were inexperienced, at least so far as the conditions of that mine were concerned, and I feel that the Federal Bureau of Mines and other experts who are on the ground will determine the real cause of the explosion.

"The United Mine Workers of America will make a substantial donation to the widows and orphans created as a result of the explosion. Our organization always does this. Under such circumstances, the question of whether a mine is union or non-union is never given consideration. All we hear is the cry of the widows and orphans and we do our best to alleviate their suffering to the greatest possible extent."

Theories Differ Concerning Mine Explosion Today

Some Officials Suggest Bomb at Shaft's Bottom - Old Miners Say Gas

At 10 o'clock today it was given out semi-officially that the explosion at Bethlehem Mine No. 41 at Barrackville last night was caused by the explosion of a glycerine charge set off at or near the bottom of the shaft.

This verdict was reached because of the strong odor of nitro glycerine which hung in the valley and about the shaft following the explosion, and because of conditions discovered in the shaft itself, it is said.

One man, a veteran oil well shooter, who worked for years with nitro glycerine, said that he caught the odor of the explosive clearly as he approached the bridge at Maple Point last night. Others also noticed the odor about the shaft opening.

Sources of accurate information concerning this phase of the situation were closed early today, however, pending the arrival of officials from the United States Department of Mines.

A veteran miner of 25 years experience said this afternoon, however, that there is still doubt concerning the cause of the explosion. He pointed out that the explosion may have been caused by what is termed "gob gas," collected around old pillars near the opening, and which may have collected in sufficient quantities to bring about an explosion, possibly when the mine locomotive came through.

This theory is offset, again, by the fact that Mine Inspector Lambie went through the mine yesterday and pronounced it in good condition.

The fact that there was little dust thrown out of the mine by the explosion may perhaps be accounted for by the location of the blast, it is said. If the explosion occurred in the distant portions of the mine, then there would have been a great deal of dust. If it was near the opening, however, this would not necessarily be true.

One instance which is said to be unusual is the fact that the pulleys and much of the machinery directly over the shaft's mouth remained intact, although other machinery and buildings in either direction from the opening were practically demolished. This at first gave rise to the belief that an overhead explosion, perhaps some sort of bomb, had also occurred. Once again, however, old miners discount this theory on the ground that the vacuum occasioned by the explosion in the shaft would cause the partial destruction of the buildings surrounding the shaft as the air rushed again into the 300-foot hole.

Deputy Sheriff J. E. Masters, who was stationed at the mine last night, said today that the explosion was terrific, rocking mine buildings dangerously.

No authoritive statement has been made yet concerning the possibility of the explosion having been caused by a glycerine bomb, but sufficient confidence was placed in the report to warrant the arrest of three men, W. D. Edmonds, Clarence Whetzel and A. G. Kendall, who are held in the county jail pending further investigation. No specific charge has been placed against the men.

At noon today it was reported at the courthouse that mine inspectors have pronounced the explosion due to gas in the mine, but the report could not be verified.


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