16 October 2011

The Blue Rock Mine Disaster - Part 2

Continued from The Blue Rock Mine Disaster - Part 1

Escape of William Edgell, Sr.
- I noticed nothing wrong about the bank that morning.  At half-past ten o'clock went in with my car as quickly as I could and loaded up with coal.  The miners were racing and I was not disposed to be behind.  Returning with a load of coal, pushing my car before me, I encountered another resting on the track.  A lad was standing beside it, whom we all regarded as rather weak in the upper story.  He was crying, and when I asked him what was the matter, replied that the bank was falling in.  Pausing to listen I heard a roaring off to the left in the old diggings, which are situated in the northern part of the mine.  I hesitated a moment what to do.  I thought I would go back to where Pearson, Gatwood, Savage, my son William and others were at work and inform them of their danger.  In the meantime I observed that the pillars of coal were crawling outwards at the bottom.  Chunks of coal began to fly from one side of the entry against the other.  They went with such force that I think they would have cut a man in two if they had hit him.  All this occurred in less time than it takes me to tell it.

Others had got to where I was standing with their cars.  I started back to warn the boys, but it was too late.  The mine was falling so rapidly in that direction that it would have been madness to venture. The way was already impassable. I turned towards the mouth; it was falling in that direction too. I called to the boys, “Hurry out, hurry out.” As I turned something struck my light and knocked it out; there were lights behind me but I stumbled on in perfect darkness. In the race I struck a pile of earth which had fallen in the entry and pitched clear over it.

When I rose I was on a fair ground again and went on rapidly, calling for the boys to follow. I came to a place where a light shone in from the mouth. I was safer now, but there was danger yet. At once a sudden faintness came over me. I grew blind and dizzy; my knees became weak and it seemed impossible to move one before another; they were as heavy as lead. But somehow I struggled and found myself upon the platform.

Experiences of the Imprisoned Miners.—The four persons imprisoned were William Edgell, Jr., aged 20 years, single; James Pearson, aged 31 years, married, with two children; James Gatwood, aged 22 years, married; Edward Savage, aged 16 years.

At the time of the accident they had their cars loaded ready to come out, but were not aware of what was happening. Edgell gives their experience as follows:

Myself, Pearson and Savage started out at the same time. My car was in front, Pearson next and Savage behind. We had gone about two hundred feet, or a little more, when I observed that my car ran over some slate which had fallen in the entry and then in a moment it ran against another car which was standing on the track. I stopped, supposing that it belonged to some one who was digging in some of the side entries, and called out, “Whose in the h---l car is this standing on the track?” I listened for an answer, but in a minute or less I heard the bank breaking with a sound like that of distant thunder. I turned around and said to Pearson, “Jim, the bank is falling in.” He replied, “It can’t be, Bill.” One of us, I forget which, said: “Let us hurry and get out.” We ran around our cars and had advanced about twenty feet when I suddenly struck a pile of slate which had fallen down, blocking the entry entirely up. In doing so I knocked my light out. Finding I could not get ahead I called out to Pearson, whose light was still burning, and said to him, “Run back, Jim, there is a bluff place and we can’t get out.” We started back at once; the slate was falling in chunks from the roof between us and our cars; we hurried back beyond them and met Ned Savage. I said to him, “Ned, for God’s sake, the bank has all fallen in.” He replied, “No, it can’t be, Bill.” Pearson then suggested that we go back and get into the old diggings in the north part of the mine as that might not have fallen in. We were about starting when Ned Savage said, “Let’s get all the oil we can find.” We started back to hunt for oil when we met Gatwood coming with his car loaded. I said to him, “Jim, the bank has all fallen in.” He replied in a frightened way, “Oh, no, I reckon not.” Pearson told him to come with us; he thought we could get out through the old diggings at the air-hole. “If we can’t,” says he, “we’re gone.” We all started together as fast as we could to and got about two hundred feet to an old blind entry. We found the mine falling faster than it had been at the place where we left the cars.

Preparing for a Lingering Death.—The falling was still accompanied by a rumbling noise; the pillars of coal along the entry were bursting out at the sides and bottom and the whole mine was jarring and trembling. We found the passage we aimed for entirely stopped up; then we turned back into the main entry where our cards were, thinking we might possibly find a way out there, but we saw it falling worse than ever. We found we were completely shut in. We at once saw there was no escape. We gave up all hope. Pearson spoke first and said, “Boys, let us go back and make up our bed whereon to die.”

Having fully realized that there was no avenue of escape they went back to one of the small rooms at the head of the entry (8 on diagram) and shoveled together a quantity of loose dirt for a bed on which to lie and wait for death. The room they had chosen for their tomb was a small compartment, like other parts of the mine, but four feet high and hardly large enough for the four to lie abreast. Having prepared their bed a search was made for what could be found to prolong life. Two dinners left by escaped miners were found. They consisted of four pieces of bread, two of which were buttered; four small pieces of fried bacon, two boiled eggs and two pickles split in two. Three jugs were found containing about five quarts of water and about a quart of oil for miner’s lamps. Having carried these supplies to their room they felt that it was useless to prolong life when death seemed so certain and decided to eat all they wanted, so each partook freely of the provisions, but they were not hungry and but half of the food was consumed. They then laid down on their bed and tried to imagine every place where there might be a possibility of escape, but could think of none.

Suffering from Cold.—While the mine was falling the air became very cold, so much so that Edgell said, “it seemed like pouring cold water down our backs and that he never suffered so much the bitterest winter he ever knew.” Do what they would they were always cold and the only way they could get any warmth was to lie down on the bed and take turns lying in the middle; sometimes they would lie on top of each other.

An Ante-mortem Bargain.—While lying on their bed Pearson said: “Boys, let us make a bargain that whoever of us dies first let the others lay him down on one side of the room, but on no account take him out of it, so that when we are all dead we’ll lie here together.” The agreement was made and each expressed the wish that he might be the first to die.

At what they supposed was supper-time (they had no watch) they ate what food was left and drank freely from their water-jugs.

Horrors of Darkness.—For a time after their first imprisonment they kept a light burning and when they went to examine the entries, which they did at short intervals, would light two or three lamps. But after ten or twelve hours the lamps burned dimly and gradually went out, refusing to burn in the damp air of the mine. This was a terrible deprivation to them. The perfect darkness seemed the most terrible part of their situation.

No difficulty was experienced for want of air, as there was evidently some crevice through which the outside air had access to the mine and they imagined they could tell day from night by the difference in the temperature of the air which poured into their room in a cold stream.

Drinking Copperas Water.—After the water in the jugs had been exhausted they found water in a depression of the floor in a room about fifty feet distant. This water was strongly impregnated with copperas and at first very disagreeable to drink, but PEARSON thought there was something in it which helped to sustain life. Shortly after they began using it the pangs of hunger became less severe and frequent and the knawings at the stomach less painful.

Illusions of Delirium.—For some time after they were first confined the paroxysms of hunger were frequent and terrible. It seemed as though they must have food or die. Then as the hours wore on these paroxysms became less and less common. “After a time,” says Pearson, “I became delirious; strange dreams were running through my head. Every good dinner I ever ate seemed in turn to be standing before me again. I did not merely dream that I saw them thus, but they were as plain before my eyes as you are now, sir. Tables loaded with noble baked hams and delicious pies were just within my reach, but my delirium never extended so far as to make me believe I was eating them. Notwithstanding they were so temptingly near me, I never enjoyed more than the sight of them, and then I would wake up from my delusion to the full horror of my situation. Whether we had any hope left I do not know; I can hardly tell. We would often talk over the chances of being rescued. They seemed very dark; and yet we frequently went toward the entries. It was the way out to the world, though we knew it was blocked up and impassable to us.” Gatwood says: “I had the same strange delirium of which Pearson speaks. I also saw splendid dinners standing beside me. I seemed to recollect all the good meals I had ever eaten.”

Topics of Conversation.
—Their principal Conversation was concerning things good to eat. First one and then another would mention something which would be particularly nice, but as this conversation deemed to aggravate their sufferings they found it would not do to permit it.

Savage seemed to keep in better spirits than the others. He was less in the habit of lamenting about his friends. His principal cause of trouble was concerning his want of sleep. He frequently became quite spunky because he was not allowed to sleep in the middle by his companions, and when his request was not granted he would threaten to tell his uncle “Duck” Menear and get them all a thrashing after he got out. Frequent contention arose as to who should occupy the middle of the bed. They did not sleep much nor long at a time. They were too cold to do so. Sometimes one of them would be able to sleep a little by getting in the middle and having another lie on top for a coverlet. They sometimes used the heads of each other for pillows, but the pillow generally grumbled considerably before it had been occupied very long.

The Rescuers Heard.—One day Savage and Edgell were in one of the mine entries when they heard the dull sound of a pick. The sound seemed to be communicated by the wooden rail or run which occupied the middle of the entry. “Then,” says Edgell, “I commenced pounding upon the run with a piece of sulphur stone or ‘nigger-head,’ in the hope that I might be able to make myself heard. I also hallooed two or three times, but was not able to get any reply. I went back to the room and said, ‘Boys, I hear them digging.’ They would not believe me. After this I made my visits frequently, intending to go down every hour; but I suppose that the intervals were longer than this. Two days, I presume, must have elapsed before I was able to make them hear me. When this occurred Gatwood was with me. I had called out, as usual, and this time heard an answer. What it was I could not understand, but I knew it to be the voice of a man. We then went back to the room and told Pearson, but could not convince him that we were not mistaken. In about half an hour, as we thought, I went back again, taking Ned Savage with me. This time I heard them at work plainly, and when I called to them, some one replied, ‘Is that you, Bill, for God’s sake?’ ‘It is I,’ I said, ‘Who is it that speaks to me?’ ‘You don’t know me,’ the voice replied. I then asked him if all the miners had got out alive. He said they had, and told me to go back and keep out of danger; that they would have us out before long. I made inquiry as to what day it was, and was told that it was Thursday. I supposed from this that we had been in only to the Thursday following the accident, making six days, instead of thirteen, as I discovered after we were rescued. We were all of the same opinion, and were rather surprised to find that it had been that long.”

When the entry was opened and cleared so that the miners could be taken out, they were placed in rocking chairs and carried to their homes. It was a few minutes after 1 o’clock when they were rescued, after having been entombed fourteen days and thirteen hours. Said Edgell:

"When we went in there was not a bud upon the trees. The morning after we were rescued we looked from our windows and beheld the forest clothed in green. We never before knew what a beautiful earth it was."

Source: Historical Collections of Ohio, Volume 2 by Henry Howe, published by Henry Howe & Son in Columbus , Ohio in 1891, pages 616-621

1 comment:

  1. Being claustrophobic just reading about being in mine shafts and tunnels makes me squirm; let alone being in a dangerous mine situation. Those are brave people who work the coal mines.
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)