Harwick Coal Company Mine Explosion
January 25, 1904
TWO HUNDRED MEN
Imprisoned at Bottom of a Burning Coal Mine.
EXPLOSION BRINGS DISASTER
Rescue Parties Are Making Desperate Efforts to
Extricate the Men With Little Hope of Success –
Believe All Will Perish.
PITTSBURG, Pa., Jan 25.-- Between 125 and
150 men were entombed by an explosion in the
shaft of the Harwick Coal company near Cheswick
this morning, shortly after 8 o'clock. None of
the men had been rescued at 11 o'clock and it is
believed that many of them were wither killed
outright by the explosion or have been
suffocated by the gas. Several hundred men are
at work trying to liberate the imprisoned
miners. There are employed at the mine 200 men,
150 working inside and the remainder on the
tipple. Three men on the tipple were badly
burned by the explosion.
Escape Is Shut Off.
With a loud report and an upheaval like an
earthquake the woodwork of the tipple was
destroyed. The shaft was filled with debris,
rocks and earth completely shutting off all
means of escape from the mine. Whether the
explosion occurred at the far extremity of the
mine and killed the men by the concussion, or
whether it occurred nearer the shaft, and
imprisoned the men, is not yet known.
They Fear the Worst.
There has been no way as yet of finding the
exact nature of the disaster or the number who
were killed. If the mine entrance cannot be
quickly cleared out so the men can get fresh air
all will have perished within a few hours. Help
was summoned from all sources available and as
many are engaged in the work of rescue as can be
crowded in. Half a dozen men working near the
mouth of the pit on the tipple were caught in
the wreckage and at least three were seriously
injured. One man, it is thought, cannot recover.
Aid Quickly Sent.
Superintendent GEORGE SHEETS immediately sent to
Cheswich and Springdale for men and other
assistance. Gangs of workmen were sent in
response and physicians hurried to the scene to
take care of the injured. The mine is about one
mile from Cheswich and was opened about two
years ago. The company is allied with the
Allegheny Coal company and is operated by
Cleveland capitalists. The mine has always been
a gaseous one, but there has never been any
serious trouble previous today. There are two
shafts, 200 feet apart and about 220 feet deep.
In the inside of the mine the headings had not
been made more than half a mile.
Number Entombed Grows.
A later report says the number of men entombed
is larger than at first reported, it now being
said that from 150 to 180 men are in the mine,
including a fire boss and the pit boss. Just how
the explosion occurred is not yet known. Intense
excitement was aroused in Cheswick and
Springdale. The three injured tipple men were
sent to Allegheny hospital on train, one of the
three were brought to the city and died when the
train reached the West Pennsylvania station in
Allegheny. His body was brought to the hospital
along with the other injured.
Fifty Men at Work.
A rescue party of 50 men has entered the shaft
and is working hard to reach the imprisoned men.
It is feared, however, that they cannot be
reached before they will have been suffocated.
The mine was gaseous at all times, but was never
considered absolutely dangerous. Many of the
imprisoned men are foreigners and their names
The Fort Wayne News Indiana 1904-01-25
NO HOPE FOR MINERS.
Not One of the 200 Men Entombed is New Alive.
RESCUE PARTIES PERISHED.
Brave Men Urged On by Scenes at Mouth of the
Shaft Die in an Attempt to Save Lives of the
PITTSBURG, Jan. 26. -- The mysteries of
one of the most dreadful mining catastrophes in
the history of Pennsylvania, or of the world,
for that matter, are yet unsolved – Harwick
mine, at Cheswick, has not given up its secret
or its dead.
Nearly Two Hundred Dead.
It can be reliably stated that between 180 and
190 miners were in the pit when the dread
fire-damp ignited, blowing the cages clear out
of the shafts and burying the inmates. Of these
miners but two have come out, one dead and one
half dead from injuries and effects of the
deadly after damp. Even the rescuing parties
have not escaped, and SELWYN M. TAYLOR, the
eminent mining engineer of this city, who
platted the mine and led the rescuers into the
dark depth, is lying dead, while his companions
escaped with their lives only with the greatest
difficulty. The work of attempted rescue was
signalized by instances of the greatest bravery,
and the scenes around the pit mouth are tragic
in the extreme.
An Inspector's Statement.
A long distance telephone message from Cheswick,
received in Pittsburg at 5 a. m., says: F. W.
CUNNINGHAM, mining inspector of the fourteenth
district, came out of the Harwick mine of the
Allegheny Coal company this morning and stated
that he had gone about one-fourth of a mile from
the mouth of the pit, and did not think there
were any living persons in the mine. He went
into the left wing between the sixth and seventh
headings and saw several dead mules, a number of
demolished cars and about sixteen dead men. He
said he thought the great majority of the men
met death through the after-damp.
Must Remove Obstruction.
Investigation between the sixth and seventh
headings was abandoned when Inspector CUNNINGHAM
came to a big cave-in that could not be passed.
Until this obstruction is removed there will be
no means of discovering what may be the
conditions in a large part of the mine. Several
men were placed at work removing the obstruction
and the work of rescue was abandoned until
daybreak. The fans are all working in the mine,
but at one of the cave-ins it was impossible to
pump the air in properly. The water pipes of the
mine are all blown in and the mine was left dry,
and there will be no danger from a flood.
Scenes Are Heartrending.
Scenes at the shaft, where all the life and hope
of many spectators was centered, were pathetic.
These heartrending scenes are what inspire brave
men to noble deeds. The saddened sights
influenced SELWYN M. TAYLOR, the distinguished
and wealthy mining engineer of Pittsburg, with
three others, to descent to the bottom in a
bucket. He was reported to be dead an hour after
he made the descent, and in the early hours of
this morning his lifeless body was hoisted to
the surface, placed upon a stretcher and carried
to the village school house, that had been
arranged as a hospital, but will doubtless serve
as a morgue. It is not now thought that the
services of physicians or nurses will be
required in connection with this horror.
Rescuer's Narrow Escape.
MR. TAYLOR'S companions narrowly escaped a fate
similar to his. SELWYN TAYLOR was one of the
best known mining engineers of western
Pennsylvania. Of late years his work and
investments had brought him rich returns and he
was rated a very wealthy man. As soon as he
heard of the accident at the Harwick mine he
hurried there. He had platted the mine and knew
it thoroughly, and hoped that this knowledge
would be of great help in the work of rescue, as
he believed that not all of the miners had met
instant death. In his attempt to save the lives
of others he lost his own. MR. TAYLOR was 43
years of age.
Relief Party Exhausted.
Word received in Pittsburg at 9 o'clock this
morning states that since 5 o'clock this morning
no attempt has been made to enter the Harwick
mine. At that hour the last rescuers came out
and on account of the scarcity of men with
enough experience to permit of their going down
into the dangerous mine, the work of rescue is
much hampered. No bodies have been recovered
since that of SELWYN M. TAYLOR, brought up early
this morning. There were this morning only a
dozen experienced men who could do relief work,
and they were exhausted by daylight.
In Temporary Hospital.
In the temporary hospital which has been made of
the school house nearby are two men, ADOLPH
GONIA, the only miner of those caught in the
explosion who has been rescued. Should he
survive he will probably be totally blind from
the injuries he received. His face and the upper
part of his body is badly burned and it is yet
impossible to learn the extent of his injuries.
Describe the Explosion.
GONIA told his rescuers that at the time of the
explosion he was between the sixth and seventh
headings on the south slope and managed to get
to the bottom of the shaft. He did not know the
fate of the others in the mine. He may not
GEORGE HORVATH, who was down in the shaft with
SELWYN M. TAYLOR when the latter lost his life,
is the other occupant of this hospital. He was
taken out of the mine at 1 a. m. He is suffering
from slight hemorrhages, but it is thought he
will recover. The hospital was in charge all
night of two heroic women who volunteered their
services and kept everything in readiness for
expected emergency – MRS. CASSIE MAMALEY, whose
brother, A. W. SHANER, is down in the mine, and
MRS. MAUDE McGRAW. DRS. W. R. McCULLOUGH, R.
MILLS and R. C. JACKSON were also on duty all
night at the hospital.
Hunting Her Family.
MRS. MIKE SUMOSKIE, haunted the hospital and the
mouth of the shaft all night, just as she had
done all day yesterday since the explosion, as
she was still doing this morning, looking for
her husband and two sons who were buried in the
mine and whose fate, like all the rest, is in
the most profound mystery. She procured a
lantern when night came on and went about with
it trying to find her missing ones. During the
night, when a couple of the rescuers had thrown
themselves down on the cot in the school house,
MRS. SUMOSKIE went up to them and, lifting the
lantern to their faces, peered into them to see
if they were her men. JOE PURCLEY, the
lamp-tender at the mine, this morning revised
his estimate of the number of lamps he gave out
before the explosion, and instead of its being
150, he said this morning that he had given out
180 lamps. Casks of oxygen were ordered from
Pittsburg this morning for facilitating the work
of purification of the mine.
The body of SELWYN M. TAYLOR has not yet been
brought to the city. It was placed in the office
of the company near the mouth of the shaft until
an undertaker could come from Pittsburg to take
charge of the remains. A small cut on the
forehead and a few scratches on the face are the
only marks on the body, and this was caused when
he was overcome by the after-damp and fell on
the floor of the mine. Inspector CUNNINGHAM, the
last man out of the mine at 5 o'clock this
morning, said at 10 o'clock that he had no
reason to revise his statement that probably all
those in the mine had perished.
Expect the Worst.
That the worst is to be expected in connection
with the fate of the entombed men is evinced at
the county coroner's office. Coroner JESSE M.
McGEARY this morning dispatched three deputy
coroners to the scene, and the morgue officials
have been instructed to prepare for the
reception of many bodies. From an early hour
this morning there had been a steady stream of
curious people at the Allegheny morgue, bent of
viewing the bodies of JOHN WALDMAN and HENRY
MAYHUGH, two of the victims of the Cheswick mine
disaster, who were brought to the top
immediately after the explosion yesterday and
succumbed to their injuries during the
Try Rescue Again.
At 10 o'clock a volunteer rescue party of eight,
accompanied by an inspector, swung down the
shaft. An hour later another volunteer eight and
another experienced inspector entered the cave
of death – while women, children and aged men,
together with the anxious throng wait at the pit
mouth tramping in the six inches of fresh fallen
snow. The creaking of a cable pulley about the
shaft is the signal for a rush towards the shaft
but although the mine bucket has made many trips
not one of the imprisoned miners have come out
today. Bodies will soon come, however, rescue
volunteers are now coming to the front fast
enough. A squad of Pittsburg policemen now
suround[sic] the pit mouth and they find a hard
task in restraining the almost crazed relatives
of the imprisoned miners upon whose countenances
is deeply furrowed with agony born of love and
Last Hope Has Fled.
The last vestage of hope has fled and there will
be no hurry now. “Brattice the mine, close up
the entries; protect the life that seeks the
remains of the dead.” These are the latest
orders of the inspectors. The air in the mine is
now pure; there shall be no more sacrifices.
Word came from Inspector BELL who was in the
mine at noon. “The men are dead. They are piled
against the north shaft. The explosion occurred
near the south shaft. The north shaft is stuffed
as solidly as if rammed with a mammoth ramrod,
and human bodies form a large part of the
wadding. There is no need of haste. The mine
must be bratticed. The air must be kept pure.
The rescuers must string out for when the
barricks to the north shaft is broken through
there will be an inrush of after damp.”
Some time will be consumed in introducing the
necessary precautions but it will not be long
now until the heroic efforts led by intelligent
and experienced men will gain its reward. It is
possible that other rescuers will soon join
those already in the mine. It is now reported
that twenty bodies were found between the shaft
bottom and the sixth entry; that many others
have been located near the bottom of the shaft.
A report also has it that none of the bodies
will be brought to the surface until after night
The Fort Wayne News Indiana 1904-01-26
BRING BODIES TO SURFACE
Awful Scenes Are Enacted Today at the Mouth of
the Hardwick Mine.
WORK OF RESCUE DIFFICULT
Ice and Water, Foul Air and After Damp Unite to
Hinder the Workers.
REMAINS TERRIBLY MANGLED
Forms of the Loved Ones Waited for Are in
Condition That Is Revolting.
CHESWICK, Pa., Jan. 27. -- “We have sighted
fifty-seven bodies in the mine,” said inspector
CUNNINGHAM, as he stepped from the cage at 7
o'clock this morning. “Of this number, we have
succeeded in getting twenty-two bodies to the
bottom of the shaft. Our men are pushing forward
as rapidly as possible, locating the bodies and
removing the debris obstructing their way.”
Searchers coming from the mine this morning
state that the conditions withing the mine are
fast becoming unendurable. The air, poor at
best, is now heavily laden with the odor of
decomposing bodies. A car load of burial caskets
arrived this morning and are being carted to the
improvised morgue, where, after the bodies have
been prepared for interment, the families will
be admitted to identify them.
Hard to Enter the Shaft.
The bodies which are lying at the bottom of the
shaft are ready to be brought to the surface,
but the shaft has become so encrusted with ice
that it is now impossible to drop the cage to
the bottom. Until the accumulation is picked
away the bodies must remain in the mine. The
work of removing this obstruction is progressing
as rapidly as possible. This is the information
given by the tired workers who came from the pit
at 7 o'clock this morning. The cheerless dawn
had brought little news and no comfort to the
band of thoroughly chilled and weary watchers
that can not be persuaded to abandon their vigil
at the top of the shaft. The workmen who came
out this morning differ in their estimate of the
number of bodies now at the bottom of the shaft.
One stated that there were twenty-two, another
eighteen. Three said they had counted twenty.
Others tell of seeing more that a hundred bodies
in various parts of the mine, and with few
exceptions they agree that all of the bodies are
horribly mutilated, scorched and torn.
Watchers Still Hope.
But it is the simple faith of the women and old
men gathered around the mine mouth which is
simply wonderful. With child-like simplicity,
sympathy or blindness to the awful facts, they
are yet trusting and hoping against hope that
the living faces of their loved ones will be
seen again. As the moment approaches when the
mine must give up its secret and its dead, the
scenes about the opening are so intensely
tragic, so infinitely pitiful that none would
dare describe in detail the horrors of it. Today
the climax of the tragedy will be enacted –
today the dead will be disclosed to the vision
of the living and the heart-wearing grief,
suppressed for a time, now breaks forth in the
outbursts of agony and despair. An awful,
indescribable pathos is swelling over the valley
and its little village of Harwick, a throbbing
grief seems to pervade the very air of the
countryside. It is a situation to burst asunder
the stoutest nerve cords.
Bodies Coming Out.
At 9 o'clock the words, although in whispered
tones, “the bodies are coming out,” spread with
the rapidity of an electric flash and in a
incredible time a multitude surrounded the
yawning chasm. The little pulley wheel, high in
the air, over which slowly passed the heavy
cable attached to the hoisting cage, moved fast,
but, oh, how slowly did the cable seem to
travel. Ages seemed to fly, but it was only a
moment until the cage was in view. An
unspeakagle horror was presented. A sight – it
cannot be described – came from the earth into
God's sunlight. It was a hellish trap, that
Harwick mine, else how could creatures featured
in God's own likeness become such hideous,
revolting spectacles. The one body was quickly
carried away from the cage to the morgue, and
the hoist was fairly dropped again to the bottom
of the shaft. These trips followed in rapid
A Horrible Sight.
Eighteen bodies, blackened, bruised, torn,
crushed, burned, some of them without a shred of
clothing, are now out, and more are coming. The
fragments of humanity, stiffened into all the
horrors of contortion, are placed upon
stretchers. These, two at a time, are placed on
sleds and taken to the improvised morgue. The
morgue is small and the bodies, fashioned by
fire and gas beyond the most hideous, morbid
apparation [sic] lie on the floor side by side
and are fast filling the limited space.
Identification under present conditions is an
absolute impossibility, and no attempt at it is
being made. Crowds are rushing to the scene from
far and near.
To Inspect the Mine.
The following superintendents of coal mines
throughout the country came from New York to
Cheswick mine at 11 o'clock this morning:
D'AFILITTO ARTURO, PELLGI OTTEROTWO, PETER
FRANCESEO and MORETTO CANDE. They will inspect
as to cause present conditions, etc., for the
companies they represent.
Twenty-five bodies were taken out by 11
o'clock. Many coffins are arriving. After
washing with embalming fluid, bodies are not
greatly marred, but twisted. Work of
identification in some cases will be easy.
Work of Rescue.
PITTSBURG, Pa., Jan. 27. -- In the face of
the terrible weather conditions, the work of
penetrating the wrecked Harwick mine has been
pressed since daybreak yesterday. A biting wind
has blown about the mouth of the shaft and into
it until it has been a test of endurance to stay
for more than a few minutes at a time away from
shelter. Along the walls of the shaft ice has
formed until it has been all but impossible to
operate the wooden cage that has been built to
take the place of the iron structure that was
blown through the tipple when the explosion
occurred. Despite strenuous efforts the adverse
conditions have made progress slow. Many think
that a full month must elapse before all the
bodies have been recovered; some doubt if all
the entombed men will ever be accounted for.
The Fort Wayne News Indiana 1904-01-27
GHASTLY WORK IN MINE SHAFT
Bodies of the Two Hundred Victims of the
Explosion Being Brought Out.
SCENE BEYOND DESCRIPTION.
Improvised Morgue Has Been Filled and Work of
Rescue Has Been Postponed.
EXPERIENCED MEN ARRIVE
New Force of Willing Miners to Relieve the
Exhausted Rescuing Party.
CHESWICK, Pa. Jan. 29. -- Work in Harwick
mine was slow last night so far as the recovery
of bodies of victims of the terrible explosion
was concerned, yet much was accomplished in the
clearing of caves and debris, making possible
more rapid progress in concluding the gruesome
task today. At 9:30 o'clock this morning the
hoisting cage again became wedged in the shaft
by reason of the accumulation of ice, a
condition similar to that of yesterday morning.
The removal of this obstruction is slow and
dangerous, but the hoisting cage will soon be in
operation. Eighty-five bodies have been brought
to the surface. Fifty-three have been prepared
for burial and the bodies placed in caskets.
Twenty-seven lie in a blackened heap in the
little school house awaiting the attention of
the undertakers who at a late hour last night
were thoroughly exhausted and stopped work until
morning. Five bodies are at the bottom of the
shaft and they will be brought out as soon as
the cage can again be started.
Volunteers Are Arriving.
Before noon today 125 volunteers, middle aged
and experienced miners, all of whom have passed
through similar scenes, will reach here from
Monongahela City and will immediately assist in
the work of rescue in the mine. They are picked
men and eminently fitted to assist. The gallant
little band of rescuers that is now working with
heroic effort to get the work completed is fast
becoming exhausted, but they work on
uncomplainingly. The dead bodies have already
been in the mine 72 hours and the need for the
utmost haste is readily apparent.
Stop Bringing Bodies.
The bringing of the bodies from the mine has
been temporarily stopped. There is no longer
room for them in the school house – dead room
until at least some of those already there have
been prepared for burial and removed. The cage
was operated a few minutes this morning and
again stuck fast in the shaft. One body was
brought out on the first trip. The latest
statement is that eighty-six bodies have been
brought to the surface and twenty-six are at the
bottom of the shaft ready to be brought out. The
embalmers resumed their work at 10 o'clock this
morning. Crowds are again flocking to the shaft
and to the morgue houses.
The throng seems to have become accustomed to
the horrible environment and today there is less
demonstration of emotion. This will probably
break forth afresh, however, when the bringing
of bodies from the mine is continued. The north
entry of the mine has been explored to the end.
The bodies found there have been piled along the
passage and can be brought out as soon as the
shaft is cleared of ice. The searchers are now
in the south entry and sights awful to behold
will be found there for it was in this entry
that the explosion occurred, and bodies already
found in this vicinity were in horribly
Cage Again at Work.
At 10:30 a. m. the mine cage was again in
operation and five more bodies have been brought
out. Some of them are much swollen. Fourteen
identifications of bodies in the morgue were
established this morning. Inspector ADAMS came
from the mine shortly before 11 o'clock and has
ordered all possible haste. He says that
conditions are such that it will be much better
to have the bodies lying outside in the cold
than within the mine entries, where the
temperature has become very high and stifling.
Funerals On Sunday.
Sunday has been set as a day of funeral
services. Definite arrangements have not yet
been completed. Twenty men are digging graves on
the hillside near the shaft and a cemetery will
be made in a day. A report is current that the
searchers have reason to fear the presence of
after-damp in the unexplored south entry and
volunteers are becoming very scarce. At 10
o'clock a call for volunteers was made. One man,
an Irishman, from a crowd of a hundred or more
was the only one to offer his services. Four
more bodies have been identified, making a total
of eighteen identified this morning.
In Great Confusion.
The bodies are now coming from the mine much
faster that the limited space in the school
house and morgue will accommodate. The bodies
lie on stretchers in the snow near the pit mouth
and at the road side. Approximately one hundred
and eleven are now above ground, but in the
indescribable confusion, excitement and frenzy,
the accurate count has been lost. The morgue
holds no more caskets and the late unidentified
arrivals from the embalmer's room are being
placed outside of the building upon the snow
covered ground, while an almost uncontrolable
[sic] throng surrounds them.
The Fort Wayne News Indiana 1904-01-28
IDENTIFY ONLY A FEW BODIES
Although 134 Mangled Forms Have Been Taken From
WORK ONCE MORE IMPEDED.
Ice Forms in the Shaft and Renders Descent
Difficult and Dangerous.
SECOND BIG FUNERAL TODAY.
Discover Cause of Explosion to Have Been a
Poorly Tamped Power Blast.'
CHESWICK, Pa., Jan. 29. -- A total of 114
bodies have been brought from the Harwick mine.
The searchers are today working in the south
course, exploring the butt entries. It was in
this part of the mine that the explosion
occurred, and much time will be required to
disentangle the bodies from the debris. The mine
inspectors have found the exact spot where the
gas in the mine had been fired, and hey have
definitely established the cause. A shot
imperfectly tamped with newspaper, instead of
clay, worked the havoc. Instead of tearing out
the coal, the shot left the wall of the mine
like a bullet from a rifle, and the flashing
fire ignited the gas and the explosion followed.
Second Funeral Today.
The second funeral of the victims will be held
this afternoon. But three positive
identifications of corpses were made this
morning. The work of establishing the identity
is both slow and difficult, on account of the
bodies. The mine shaft was again plugged with
ice accumulation this morning, and three hours
chopping was necessary before the cage could
lower the thirty-eight rescuers into the mine.
It is reported that gas in considerable volume
has been found in the south course, where the
searchers are now working, and some apprehension
is felt for their safety.
Total Number 132.
CHESWICK, Pa., Jan. 29. -- At 12:30 p. m.,
the cage brought from the mine a number of
bodies, some of which were much mutilated. The
total number now out of the mine is 132.
The Fort Wayne News Indiana 1904-01-29
TO BURY THEM IN ONE GRAVE
NO ATTEMPT WILL BE MADE TO IDENTIFY ANY MORE OF
THE MINE VICTIMS.
CHESWICK, Pa., Jan. 30. -- Work continued
all night in the Harwick mine, and much in the
way of removing debris was accomplished. Several
bodies were sighted, but none were brought to
the surface. One hundred and fifty is the total
number thus far brought up the mine shaft. The
bodies remaining in the mine are in such
condition that no attempt will be made to embalm
or identify them by exposure to view above
ground. The remains will be placed in the
coffins at the pit mouth, just as they come from
the mine, and buried immediately. Some of the
bodies found last night were taken from under
eight feet of debris.
No Funerals Tomorrow.
About twenty-eight funerals will be held
today. No bodies will be buried tomorrow. The
unidentified bodies will be help until Monday,
and then buried without further delay. The dead
pit mules in the mines will be brought out this
afternoon. Manager GEORGE N. SCHEETS stated this
morning that the list of dead may exceed 184;
that several men answered a call to work in the
mines the day before the explosion. The extra
service men were checked, but the mine officials
are uncertain as to their exact number. Seven
additional identifications of victims was
affected this morning.
The Fort Wayne News Indiana 1904-01-30
Articles submitted & transcribed by Stu
Beitler Thank you,
Mining Disasters: Cheswick, Pennsylvania, United
States (January 25, 1904) 179 killed.
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