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A tough time for all miners

Published January 23. 2010 09:00AM


January 1910 proved to be a deadly month for miners, not only locally but throughout the nation.

The largest loss of life came on the last day of January a century ago when an explosion of gas and dust killed 75 people at the Primero iron mine in Colorado. The Tamaqua Courier carried the story on its front page but somehow it doubled the actual death count in its headline which claimed "150 dead in Mine Horror."

According to reports, 35 of the 110 men had already walked out of the Colorado mine and another four were in the entrance when the explosion occurred. Those who lived through the ordeal remembered a horrible scene. Three men at the mine entrance were killed when they were hurled against a set of moving coal cars.

About one-fourth of the victims were identified as Americans, while the others were Austrians, Italians, Mexicans and Bohemians. One reporter wondered if the disaster was caused by a foreign miner's love for cigarettes.

"While it cannot be confirmed because the men who know are dead, it is rumored that the desire for a few puffs was gratified by a man who afterwards threw the burning stub into a pile of inflammable material," he said. "While the state mine inspection department and the county coroner will conduct investigations, the exact cause of the explosion may never be definitely known."

A number of other mine tragedies occurred much closer to home.

The Courier reported on the death of six miners in a "terrific explosion of gas" at a mine in Plymouth, just outside Wilkes-Barre, on Jan. 12.

"The bodies of the dead were recovered and the injured were rescued after considerable effort and daring on the part of their fellow workers," the report stated.

At about the same time, there was a mine subsidence story out of the Wilkes-Barre area that horrified many since it involved a cemetery. The grim scene unfolded after part of the Slovak Catholic cemetery in Plains, near Wilkes-Barre, sank into a mine shaft about 15 feet.

The report stated that the "bodies of scores of the dead fell out of the bottom of their graves. Headstones have disappeared, thrown down or keeled over, while the broken and shaken surface is cracked in all directions by deep fissures."

The subsidence caused large fissures in the streets adjoining the cemetery. The foundations of a number of houses and the new city hall which was being erected were also damaged.

There were also some grisly accidents involving local miners.

The first tragedy which brought local attention actually occurred in December 1909. "Mule Tradition Comes True" said the headline in the Tamaqua Courier.

The accident involved John Dobiska, a mule driver working at the Lehigh Coal and Navigation drainage tunnel at Coalport. A Slovakian from East Mauch Chunk, he was kicked in the head by a mule, breaking his neck.

The same mule had been involved in a similar tragedy nine years earlier, and a Tamaqua Courier writer linked the incidents to an old miner's tale.

"The old tradition that a mule will be good to a man nine years in order to get revenge for some fancied or just cause was demonstrated at the drainage tunnel in Coalport yesterday," the writer said. "It was just nine years ago to the day that a young man by the name of Handcock of Nesquehoning was kicked to death by this same mule, but in the intervening time the mule was as gentle as a child."

The writer said the mule's fate was set after the second accident.

"It is quite likely that the mule will now be put to death in order that it may not accomplish any more injury to men employed around it," he stated.

On Jan. 11, a breaker boy named Roy Coogan became a mining fatality after falling into the rollers at the Dutch Hill breaker. The Courier reported that before the machinery was stopped, his left leg had been crushed to the hip.

It was first decided to take him by train to Ashland Hospital but he grew so weak before it arrived that physicians advised that he be taken to his home on Union Street where he died - four hours after suffering the horrible accident.

He was survived by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas Coogan, three sisters and one brother.

On Jan. 20, William Moll, a carpenter, was repairing a conveyer line at No. 6 colliery when he lost his balance and fell 35 feet, landing on his head. Unconscious and suffering from a fractured skull, he was taken to his home on Centre Street where a physician, Dr. Hinkle, was summoned.

Moll died the next day. He was a former resident of Mahanoy Plane but lived in Tamaqua for five years. He and his wife, the former Mae Springer, had two infant children.

On Jan. 23, Michael DaVinci and Cesare Lumbrose, who resided on Dutch Hill, were buried under an avalanche of coal dirt while washing the culm at the banks of the Greenwood colliery. Workers nearby witnessed the landslide of coal and dirt and worked feverishly with picks and shovels to dig the men out but their attempts were fruitless because they could not keep the culm from falling back in the hole as they dug.

Five hours after the slide the bodies were found. A reporter told the grim news.

"Life was extinct," his report said.

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