15 October 2011

The Blue Rock Mine Disaster - Part 1

Coal Formation in Harrison Township - In April, 1856, there occurred in [Muskingum] county one of the most remarkable mine disasters in the history of coal mining.  The Blue Rock mines are in Harrison township in the angle formed by the stream known as Blue Rock run and the Muskingum river.  The stratum of coal at this point is about four feet in thickness, the quality excellent and the formation that which miners denote "curly."  The stratum of rock which overlays this vein of coal is a slaty soap-stone, light blue in color and subject to rapid disintegration when exposed to atmospheric influences, but forming a safe roof for the miner when properly protected.

Reckless Coal-Mining - The particular vein in which this disaster occurred was owned by Stephen H. Guthrie and James Owens, Jr.  Former owners had taken large quantities of coal from the northern portion of the mine and the work was said to have been done in an unusually reckless manner:  many of the rooms were nearly forty feet square, while the pillars were small and comparatively few in number.  The hill above the mine has an altitude of about two hundred and twenty feet and the pressure from such an immense weight of earth should have dictated more than ordinary caution.

Falling in of the Mine - The falling in of the mine occurred about 11 A.M. on Friday, April 25, 1856.  At that time there were some twenty persons, many of them boys, employed in the mine.  Several were standing on the platform at the mouth of the entrance, others on the inside saved themselves by precipitate flight.  Upon investigation it was found that 16 were safe, but that four persons were either imprisoned in the mine or crushed to death by the falling mountain.  Hope preponderated strongly in favor of the former conjecture inasmuch as it was known that these persons were at work in a part of the mine from which no large amount of coal had been taken and which in consequence was supposed to be comparatively safe.  The persons who escaped were:  James (Duck) Menear, John Hopper, James Larrison, George Ross, George Robinson, William Edgell, Sr., Uriah McGee, William Gheen, Timothy Lyons, G. W. Simmons, and the following boys:  Patrick Savage, Hiram Larrison, Franklin Ross, William Miller, James Savage, Thomas Edgell.

An Attempt at Rescue - It was immediately determined that an attempt should be made for the rescue of the imprisoned men.  The labor and danger involved in this made it necessary to combine the greatest possible speed with the utmost caution.  A single false step would have brought a terrible destruction upon the excavators; for during their labors the crumbling hill hung with tens of thousands of tons of pressure imminent and threatening above their heads.

Three men only could work at a time.  Indeed, it may be said that every foot gained was the work of a single individual, for there was room for but one workman in the front;  others behind received the fragments as he passed them back.  The material encountered was principally rock.

Gathered Multitudes in Suspense - The work was carried forward night and day with varying success for fourteen days.  An immense concourse of people from the surrounding country and towns gathered at the mouth of the mine.  Miners from all the mines within a radius of many miles hastened to offer their services.  Merchants and farmers clad in miner's costume joined in the common labor.  Women worked tireless providing food and refreshments for the excavators and in ministering hope, comfort and courage to the despairing relatives of the unfortunates.  The suspense was terrible, alternating hope and despair, as the workmen progressed rapidly or met with obstructions, spread through the assembled multitude and subdued all demonstrations by the very intensity of their emotions.  One, who as a boy was present, said to us:  "It seemed like Sunday; everything was hushed and solemn, and when one spoke to another it was in suppressed tones as when face to face with death.  Religious services and prayers for the salvation of the bodies and souls of the imprisoned men were frequently held."

As day after day passed with no evidence that the men were still alive many gave up all hope, but there was no cessation of work and no scarcity of workers.

The Miners Rescued - At 11 P. M. on Friday, May 9, after having been entombed fourteen days and 13 hours the men were reached and were soon breathing the air of freedom.  They were placed under good medical care and soon recovered their accustomed health and strength.  The point at which they were rescued was about 700 feet from the entrance of the mine, and it had been necessary to  burrow through about 400 feet of earth and rock before they were reached.

Within six hours after the men were rescued more than fifty feet of the mine fell in.  If the operations had been delayed that length of time the workmen would have been inevitably killed and the imprisoned miners have perished by a lingering death in their terrible prison.

This account of this remarkable entombment and rescue has been extracted from a pamphlet written by Robert H. Gillmore at the time the incident occurred...

To be continued...

Source: Historical Collections of Ohio, Volume 2 by Henry Howe, published by Henry Howe & Son in Columbus , Ohio in 1891, pages 615-616

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