Wilkes-Barre, PA Mine Explosion, Dec 1896


Mine Disaster Not So Serious as First Supposed


A Score or More of the Miners Entombed by an Explosion of Gas near Wilkes-Barre, but Fourteen Are Found to be Alive

Wilkes-Barre, PA., Dec 22-Fully a score of miners have perished by an explosion of gas in Baltimore No. 2 Shaft of the Delaware and Hudson Coal Company. Fifty or 60 others barely escaped with their lives.

The mine, when in full operation, employs in the neighborhood of 350 men and boys. About one third of this force was at work, and the number of workers was further reduced after 3 o'clock , when the day shift men came out. When the explosion occurred an hour later, there were probably 60 men in the mine. Of this number, 40 or thereabouts succeeded in getting safely to the surface.

Those who perished were at work on a plane fully a mile from the foot of the shaft. They were driving a tunnel and so far as known were in what was considered a safe place.

The fire boss had inspected the plane in the morning and declared it free from gas. The cause of the explosion is therefore a mystery, although the mine officials have several theories.

One report is that a fall of roof in the slope exploded a quantity of dynamite which was stored there and that this in turn, caused a feeder of gas to become ignited.

Another theory is that the gas was ignited by a careless workman, and a third that a blast set fire to the gas shortly before noon and that the men were fighting the fire when the explosion occurred.

The first knowledge of the catastrophe came to the surface by the noise of the explosion. The foundations of the houses over the mine shook and the dreadful rumor spread that another calamity had occurred.

A rescuing party, headed by JOHN MATTHEWS, was immediately organized and the brave fellows descended the shaft as quickly as the carriages could take them. But they did not remain long below. The ventilation was bad and after two of the party had been almost overcome by the deadly afterdamp, they were compelled to return to the surface.

A half hour later, the ventilation had been improved somewhat and another rescue party went down. They found three men lying unconscious in the doorway.

All the men who escaped with their lives had thrilling experiences. As soon as the explosion occurred they made a rush for the main gangway. Some crawled on their hands and knees for nearly a mile. They did not dare walk for the force of the afterdamp would have prostrated them. The strongest reached the foot of the shaft first, for it was a fight for life and each man was for himself. The older men had a desperate time. Some of them were about to give up the struggle, when they were pulled along by their comrades.


OWEN MURRAY and JOHN MINSLEY were found by the rescuers, who entered the mine shortly after, but they were unconscious and will scarcely recover. They are in Wilkes-Barre hospital. They were found near foot of the plane, where the explosion occurred.

ANDREW MCDONALD, one of the rescuers, nearly lost his life while attempting to recover the body of his brother JAMES. He knew where it would probably be found, entered the place and stumbled over a corpse in the darkness. He said he recognized his brother's clothes by the touch. He attempted to pull the body out, but was overcome by afterdamp and sank unconscious to the ground. It was with difficulty that he was brought to the surface. After reaching the open air and regaining consciousness he wanted to make a second trip into the mine, but was not allowed to go.

The usual heartrending scenes were witnessed at the mouth of the shaft when a big disaster occurs.

Superintendent FOOLE said that he was at loss to account for the explosion. Every precaution had been taken to make the mine safe, he declared. It had always been rule of the company to never allow their employees to enter a mine where there was the least jeopardy of life and this rule has been more enforced more strictly since the Pittston disaster of last June, when 57 men were buried in the twin shaft.


Entombed Miners Found to be Alive and Many Rescued

Wilkes-Barre, Dec 22-Further investigation of the workings in the mine have brought joyous results. Fourteen of the men were rescued alive and there is still hope of reaching the others before the deadly afterdamp claims them as victims.

Immediately after the disaster became known rescue gangs descended the shaft, but it was some time before the ventilation had been so managed that they could work in safety.

The party which entered the mine succeeded in pushing their way to the plane where the imprisoned men had been working and there they stumbled over the bodies of a number of unconscious men.

As quick as the work could be accomplished they were brought to the surface, where a corps of doctors was in waiting. wrapped in blankets, some of the victims were sent to their homes and some to hospitals. The physicians have hopes that all may recover. Had they been in the mine five minutes longer, all would probably have died of suffocation.

JOHN HEALY, one of the rescuers, who was one of the first to discover the bodies on the plane, says the men were huddled close together. They had apparently abandoned all hope of rescue and were resolved to die together.

The supposition is that the men, when they realized their danger, made their way to the highest point on the plane. The smoke found its way to them, however, and they were all but suffocated when found.

The theory of the explosion now is that there was a fall of rock on the slope where the dynamite was stored, that the dynamite exploded and the smoke filled the plane.

Grief was turned into joy when the rescued men were brought to the surface.

Hornellsville Weekly Tribune, Hornellsville, NY 25 Dec 1896