Layland Mine Disaster

Fayette Tribune
March 11 1915

A Survivors Story

"Dad" Whalen Tells of His Experience in Layland Mine Where He was Held 4 Days

Thomas Whalen, aged 73, one of the survivors of the Layland disaster, enroute to his home at Wainright, Ohio, told a Charleston Post reporter the following story of his experience in the mine where he was held a prison four days:

"I was working in the 24th room on No. 9 entry, over a mile and a half in the mine, when the explosion came. My son John, who is still at Layland recuperating from the effects of his experiences, was working in the same room with me. We were filling the third car when the shock came. We were panic stricken and started for the main entrance. The explosion seemed to life the top of my head off from my ears up. John yelled at me to come quick and we both ran. My lamp was a lard oil affair and went out but John had a carbide lamp that assisted us.

We tried to crawl out the main entry and failed. We then started back in the mine and bratticed ourselves in entry No. 10, with a line of brattice works three deep on either side of them. The larger part of the men with Will Derrick, my son John and myself were Italians and they made the air hideous in our little chamber with their yells and lamentations. The heroic work done by Will Derrick and my son John should be remembered, as I feel that they were the ones that saved the lives of all of us by using their heads and hands to the final result.

The one biggest terror that comes to a miner after an explosion is the gas that is known as the after damp. That was the reason that we tried so hard to make the chamber air tight. John found a piece of paper about size of a half of a newspaper and left it on the outside of the first brattice. He wrote on it that there were 42 of us behind the barricade. The five men that walked out of the mine Saturday morning had bratticed themselves in the same manner in entry No. 5. They had our lunch buckets, there were seventeen of these and plenty of good clean water. On Saturday morning they decided that they would make a try to get out and succeeded. They walked over a mile and a quarter, with naked lamps burning, and found their own way to the main entry.

Our main trouble in the mine, where we were entombed was the foreigners. They would continually start lighting cigarettes and muddy up the only drinking water we had. I was without food or water for ninety-five hours. All of this time was spent in anticipation of the arrival of the rescuers and it was the greatest joy of my life to hear them tearing down the wall that we had made airtight to keep out the damp. We lived in constant fear. At one time it was suggested that we make a move to release ourselves, but again the dread of the after-damp kept us inside. We were afraid that the naked lamps would cause an explosion and kill our rescuers.

Then we heard the rescuing party. The foreigners went nearly crazy. The American miners had to fight them back. That little chamber that had held so many precious lives rang out loud in thanks and echoed back the joyful sound to the innermost recesses where many of our friends were lying dead. While there was no fire the heat was so great that I felt like I was roasting alive. I could walk all right at first, as if nothing had happened, for about fifteen feet and then my knees gave way on me. An old piece of canvass lying nearby was brought into use and they improvised a stretcher for me. You couldn't hear yourself talk when they brought us to the entrance of the mines. Mothers, wives and children were there and their heartrending cries of anguish over their loved ones who had not yet been found, were terrible. It made me feel miserable in the extreme, and where there had been an orderly crowd of young fellows calling me "Dad" and slapping me on the shoulder affectiona[t]ely, there was a "murtherin' bunch of Italians" standing in a group nearby 'gibbering' at the top of their voices.

The forty-two of us were taken to the dance hall and put to bed. Every comfort that was available was bestowed upon us. I remember asking for my tobacco. That was, you know, the first thing they gave me in the mine when they found us. They then gave me chewing gum and an apple. After we were at the dance hall, I had a little chicken broth and like edibles. I have been a miner for the last forty-five years but this was the first explosion that I have even been in, and I hope my last.


West Virginia Archives and History