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Port Royale, Pennsylvania

Port Royale Mine Explosion

June 10, 1901


In the Port Royal Mine of Pittsburg Coal Company.


While Two of the Injured Died Since in McKeesport Hospital.


He Says Mine Officials Took Down His Danger Signs and Explosion Followed Monday.

SIXTEEN MEN were killed by an explosion and attempt to rescue in the Port Royal mine of the Pittsburg Coal Company on Monday evening. The first explosion at about 6:30 caught four men who were working on a night shift in the mine. The others met their death trying to recover the bodies of the four men who were killed first. Three bodies have been recovered and two of the three injured recovered from the mine died since at the McKeesport Hospital. The eleven bodies still in the mine can hardly be recovered until the mine is flooded. That is the opinion of the State Mine Inspectors and other experts who have ventured into the mine.

The names of the dead men are: William McCune, aged 52, General Superintendent of Mines on Baltimore & Ohio division, wife and five children. John Keck, Mine Foreman at Darr mine, wife and family. William F. Allison, Assistant Superintendent of Mines below West Newton, wife and five children. Dennis Wardley, Mine Foreman Nos. 1 and 2 mines, wife and four children. Michael Roy, Mine Foreman Euclid mine, married, one child. Frank Davenport, roadman in No. 2, married, no children. John Stickle, pipeman in No. 2, wife and family. Peter Marchando, boss driver No. 1, wife and child. Bernard Ball, loader in No. 2, of Smithton, wife and family. Taylor Gunsaulus, Sr., loader in No. 1, wife and family. Jerry Daley, Connelsville, roadman, wife and family. John Peeble, assistant roadman in No. 2, married, no children. John Keck, machine boss at Darr mine, married. Samuel Hadley, Assistant Foreman at No. 2, wife and child.

The bodies of Taylor, Gunsaulus, McCune and James were recovered on Tuesday. Harry Beveridge and Fritz Krueger died at the McKeesport Hospital, Krueger on Tuesday and Beveridge on Wednesday. Thomas Smith, another of the seriously injured miners, is at the McKeesport Hospital and is not expected to live. A dozen others, including Mine Inspector Bernard Callaghan of Connelsville, were painfully burned by the fourth explosion in the mine Tuesday morning. In all six explosions had occurred up till Tuesday evening, two of them throwing coal and small debris out the shafts at No. 1 mine on this side of the river.

The story of the explosion was best told before Coroner A. C. Wynne by W. C. Stratton, the civil engineer in charge of Port Royal mine and a member of the rescue party, most of whom were killed. After the first explosion in which the men working in entry 20 where there was a squeeze were killed, Stratton and W. Sweeney started in. Stratton related how he pushed on to the scene of the accident and discovered the three dead bodies and the fall of coal and slate that is believed to cover the fourth. When he had found them dead he turned back together with Chris Howells, Matthew Labin, Dennis Wardley, Mike Roy and W. Sweeney. All had narrow escapes in getting to the bottom, Stratton, Howells and Labin being overcome by afterdamp and carried out. They had advised no further attempt at rescue, but the parties met, headed by McCune, whom Stratton did not in his dazed condition remember meeting, persisted in going after the bodies. Stratton went into the mine with McCune, Allison, Sweeney and Smith, having been summoned from West Newton by telephone. In the afternoon he inspected the squeeze, and, not finding any gas, left at 4 o’clock with the understanding that the work was to be continued that night. He had not considered the situation dangerous. McCune, Allison and Smith had arranged to go along, and Sweeney joined the party at the last moment. At the entry leading off the main river runnel to shaft No. 2 they detected the odor of burning wood, and with Allison he went to investigate. Sweeney and Smith were behind, and McCune stopped to wait for them. When they came along the three went on and Stratton followed when they had found all well at the shaft as well as the air shaft. They went along to entry 20, and met Sweeney and Labin coming with canvas to finish several “stoppings” that had been blown out.

Stratton pushed on to the scene of the accident in room 35. Here the three men were found dead. Sweeney, Wardley, Howells, Roy and Labin came up. It was decided to take the men out, and Wardley, Roy and Howells were detailed to go after canvas. Then came the effect of the after-damp and all started out. Stratton took Labin down entry 20 calling for help. Keck and some others came up and they managed to get back to the main entry. Stratton here advised Keck not to go after the bodies, as the men were dead. After that he remembered nothing save that somewhere he heard McCune say: “We cannot leave the men here; we must take them out for their families.”

The story of Thomas Gleason, fire boss at the mine, was rather startling. He virtually charged that the responsibility for the terrific and deadly mine explosion lays with Mine Foreman Dennis Wardley and Assistant Mine Foreman Samuel Hadley.

Gleason’s report shows that as usual he entered the mine at 2.30 o’clock on the day of the explosion and made his customary rounds of the mine. He found gas at the butt of No. 20 entry, again at No. 26 entry, in No. 29 entry and in entries 24 and 25, which were fenced off and marked dangerous, as the roof was bad from the squeeze that was working and producing at the same time a considerable gas accumulation. The butt of 20 entry and entries 24 and 25 are on either side of entry 21, where the men were put to work upon the buttress to protect No. 2 parting from a general cavein. It is within the 15 acres of territory over which it was estimated by the engineers that the squeeze was effective. The danger marks left by Gleason when he prepared to leave the mine at 5 o’clock were barricades consisting of timbers laid across the track supporting a board upon which were written in chalk the word “Danger.” These conditions are all carefully noted in Gleason’s official report. In his testimony Gleason stated that these signals were removed by Assistant Mine Foreman Samuel Hadley and asserted that Harry Hough and William Carrier had witnessed the action. Hough afterward corroborated this story by an open and positive admission of its truth.

Mine Inspector Bernard Callaghan told a thrilling tale of his trip of inspection and attempted rescue. He said: “Accompanied by seven men I entered the mine about 9 o’clock Tuesday morning. I have known the mine for years, and went down because of this knowledge and because Inspector Millison is a new man and could not arrive until 11 o’clock. We went under the river all right, and found no evidences of an explosion until we had gone some 2,000 feet, when we found Superintendent McCune’s hat and some letters that had been in his pocket. Passing along we found his mangled body, and then the body of Gunsaulus. A few hundred feet more we reached a third body. We examined it and none of the party could recognize it. I took the man’s watch, and when we were stooping over the body and Superintendent Charles McCaffrey of the Soper mines at West Newton was pinning a piece of paper on his breast, there was a roar. We all ran as fast as possible. The roaring increased, and we all instinctively fell to the floor. Then there was a roar and a blinding flash. The flame almost completely filled the entry. Our lights were put out and after the flash it was a wild scramble in the dark for the shaft bottom. All of us were singed.”

The Courier, Connellsville, PA 14 Jun 1901

Transcribed by Dorcas Moseley. Thanks Dorcas!


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