Mine Explosion Entombs 250 Men

The New York Times, December 20, 1907

Only Five Bodies Found in the Darr Mine at Jacob's Creek, Penn.


Galleries Choked by Falling of the Roof Make Rescue Difficult—
Believed That All Are Dead

Darr Mine showing the "sky ferry" across the river
Photo: Virtual Museum of Coal Mining in Western Pennsylvania , used by permission

Special to The New York Times.

JACOB'S CREEK, Penn., Dec. 19.—Another mine disaster was added to the long list in the bituminous region to-day. The Darr mine of the Pittsburg Coal Company was wrecked by an explosion at 11:30 A. M., which was heard for many miles about, and from 200 to 250 men are believed to have perished in the mine.

The Pittsburg Coal Company in a bulletin stated that 125 coal miners took out their checks to work in the mine this morning. There would also be about 65 laborers, drivers and other workers in the digging. Many of these were Greeks and Italians. Only two men escaped the deadly shock and live to tell the story of the disaster. It is believed that quite a number of men entered the mine to break down the coal who failed to take checks with them, as they did not intend to load the coal to-day.

Five bodies have been recovered. These are so mangled, blackened, and scarred that they have not been identified and are lying 5,000 feet inside the mine in what is known as the pit boss's office.

JACOB'S CREEK, Penn., Dec. 19.—This is the third mine disaster since the first of the month In the veins of bituminous coal underlying Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia, for the Naomi Mine. near Fayette City, and the two mines at Monongah West Va., in which the earlier explosions happened, are in the same belt as the local workings. Today's catastrophe swells the number of victims of mine gas for the nineteen days to between 550 and 600.

That to-day's disaster does not equal or even surpass In loss of life the West Virginia tragedy is due to the devotion to church duties of a considerable number of the miners. In observance of St. Nicholas Day many of the 400 or more Russians employed at the mine did not go to work this morning.

Heard for Miles

The explosion followed a brief shutdown. It was 11.30 o'clock when the tenth train of loaded cars bad been brought out to the tipple that there came a rumbling sound, followed immediately by a loud report and a concussion that was felt for a radius of several miles. At the same time there came out of the mouth of the mine an immense cloud of smoke and dust that floated across the Youghiogheny River.

Intuitively every one in the vicinity know what had happened, and all started for the mouth of the mine. The river separates the mine from the homes of many of the miners, so that only a portion of those who started for the scene were able to reach it, there being scant facilities for crossing the stream.

The ventilating fans were kept In operation almost without interruption, however, the power plant having withstood the force of the explosion, and up to this time the rescuers have found no fire at any place in the mine.

Joseph Mapleton, a pumper, emerged from one of the side entries shortly after the explosion. He had left the part of the mine where most of the men were working and was on his way to the engine room for oil.

"I was near entry 21," said he, "when I heard an awful rumbling. I started toward the entry, but the next instant I was blinded, and for a little time I did not know anything. Then I got to the side entry and worked my way out."

Mapleton, after having his injuries dressed, returned to the mine and joined the rescuing parties.

William Kelvington, Superintendent of the mine, was not at the mine when the explosion occurred. and he quickly organized rescuing parties, starting a force of twenty-five Men with relief In the main entry and a similar force at a side entry.

Exploring the Workings

Rescue party at the Darr Mine
Photo: Ann Toth/Donald Lancaster

It is hoped to reach the greater part of the victims through the latter entry. So far little trouble has been encountered on account of gas or lack of air by the rescuers. While the officials and the rescuers have only the faintest hope, that any of the men may be living, all work is being carried on upon the theory that some may have found places of safety. Every point of the workings will be explored at the earliest possible moment.

The main Office of the company Is In Pittsburgh, and immediately upon receipt of the news the officers hurried to the mine, and are leading and directing the rescue work.

About 1,500 feet from the mouth of the, mine a heavy fall of roof was encountered by the rescuers. It Is believed that most of the men will be found nearly a mile and a half beyond this point. How long it will require to open a passage to these remote workings can only be conjectured, as it depends upon how frequent these falls are met with. It is hoped, from the progress made up to this time however, that the further section will be reached early to-morrow.

One unusual feature of this disaster is the almost complete absence of the harrowing sights usually seen at such disasters. The difficulty of easy access to the mouth of the mine is partly responsible for this, and those in charge of the work are doing everything possible to keep the women and children away.

Mrs. John Campbell, wife of the mine foreman, whose home is located about fifty yards from the mouth of the mine, graphically describes the explosion. She said:

"About 11:30 o'clock there was a loud report and the dishes in my cupboard and on the table were rattled and knocked out of place, while the glass in the windows was shattered. Instinctively I knew what had happened. I have for a long time feared an explosion In the mine, for I knew It was gaseous. My husband and I had talked of it, and he often referred to the gas in the mine. My husband was just about due for his dinner when the loud report came, and I looked out the back door toward a manway from the mine through which he always came to his meals. Instead of my husband I saw a great cloud of dust and smoke pouring out of the mouth of the mine through the manway. It floated upward and disappeared across the river.

Location of the Mine

The Darr Mine is located on the west side of the Youghiogheny River, in Westmoreland County, along the line of the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad, forty miles southeast of Pittsburgh and eighteen miles northwest of Connellsville. The main line of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad runs along the opposite bank of the river. It is one of a group of five mines within a radius of a mile and a half, and is a part of the original Connellsville cokefields, its product being used for coking.

It is a slope mine, opened in 1899, very similar to the Naomi Mine of the United Coal Company at Fayette City, where an explosion Dec. I killed thirty-four men. The two mines are about ten miles apart. The Darr Mine is one of the largest of the Pittsburgh Coal Company's, having a daily capacity of 2,00O tons, and is modern in all equipments, including a complete electrical plant.

The only means of reaching the mouth of the mine from Jacobs Creek. where most of the miners' homes are located, is by means of a "sky ferry," a basket-like car suspended from a cable in which the men pull themselves back and forth. This car accommodates only six persons and there is almost a riot every time It starts.

There are fears of serious disorder to-morrow, and there is a report out tonight that the State constabulary may be here for guard duty until the rescue work is completed.

From The New York Times, December 20, 1907, p. 2.

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