I was attending a meeting at the Marion County Visitors Bureau when I overheard someone talking about miner memorials. My family history includes Irish farmers but mining has not played a significant part in my family culture. Likewise, in a county rich with an Italian heritage, our community was everything but Italian. I knew that there had been several major mining disasters documented in our county history so I decided to do some research, then visit the memorials nearby. I started with the Monongah mine disaster and to say I was shocked by what I learned is an understatement. Even though I’m just a few steps beyond normal, I don’t have the scope to imagine the horrific impact of a disaster of that proportion.
Monongah, West Virginia. December 6, 1907. In the mid morning hours, two explosions rocked the mining community of Monongah, destroying the ventilation system and the entrances, and blowing apart the timber braces holding up the roof deep inside the earth. The worst mining disaster in our nation’s history killed at least 361 men, though the actual number of deaths was probably much higher. It was not uncommon for miners to take younger brothers or sons into the mines in order to increase their daily output. Many of the families were immigrants who didn’t speak English. They were scared to confess that they had unregistered family members working in the mine.
It’s fair to say that news of this disaster slowly spread worldwide. The public outcry was intense and the United States government responded by creating the U.S. Bureau of Mines to monitor mine safety. To the families of those killed on that hellish day, it was small consolation.