Shortly after we moved home to West Virginia in 1968, another explosion rocked the coal mines deep in the hills of Marion County. The explosion was north of Fairmont but the impact was felt there and for miles from the No. 9 mine. The mine crawled under 22 square miles of West Virginia countryside and towns, unbelievably the size of Manhattan Island. Miners on the opposite end of the mine continued to work, not knowing of the tragedy unfolding at the Llewelyn entrance just north of Mannington.
Twenty one men survived what is known as the Farmington Mine disaster. Following the third explosion during those early morning hours, none of the other 78 miners were taken out alive. A year later, Consol recovered 59 bodies before sealing up the mine. Controversy remains on whether they sealed it for safety reasons or as a cover-up for safety violations.
While the 1968 disaster has received a lot of publicity over the years, I was surprised to find out that it was the second disaster that took place in the same mine. In November 1954, an explosion took the lives of sixteen miners. Being just a few steps beyond normal, I got huge goosebumps when I read that a survivor of the second disaster was the son of a victim in the first disaster.
Located on Flat Run Road just outside of Mannington, the memorial has the kind of solemnity that I often feel in cemeteries. Despite the violent nature of the deaths of the 19 miners entombed beneath the ground here, I hope that their families have found peace.
A year after this disaster, Congress passed the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, the first federal legislation enacted to protect miners. It was progress, but the cost to those families was a price nobody should have to pay.