On Tuesday, March 8, 1960 the Holden Mine at Island Creek No. 22 caught fire in the coal seam, and it created a carbon monoxide gas which killed eighteen men by asphyxiation. The men were trapped shortly after entering the mine at seven in the morning. The last word from them came about 8:30 that morning shortly before the telephone lines burned.
Holden Island Creek No. 22 Mine -Opened In 1943
Twenty men went into the Holden Mine on this snowy March morning, and not long after work a slate fall occurred in the tunnels between the men and the shaft bottom. Officials blamed the fire on a cable or trolley line which was suspected to have been knocked down near a wooden timber that arced until the wood caught fire. The coal then caught on fire causing a raging inferno to roar through the tunnels inside the mine. The men knew this, but were sealed off from the fire by the slate fall. Rescue workers poured water into the mine using as many as twelve different water-hose, but freezing temperatures soon froze the lines on the surface. Finally, when the fire was contained, teams of 40 men working around the clock slogged though knee-deep water in the smoke and steam hoping to rescue the men. Veteran rescue workers called it "hell's fire."
Ventilation expert, Willis Carter who was one of the trapped miners, volunteered to crawl through a narrow passageway to try an find a way out. A young miner, Kyle Blair agreed to follow him. The others decided to wait for fire fighters and the rescue team. Carter said Blair blacked out for about twenty-five minutes as they crawled toward the surface. After that, Carter's repeated remarks of encouragement kept Blair moving with him through a circular route in old mine workings. When they finally reached safety, Blair said he remembered little of their four hour ordeal except that Willis kept talking. Blair said, "I just grabbed the right man."
Carter was asked if there was panic among the men. He said, "No, I don't think so, except for a time right at the first. I thought Donaldson was in some sort of shock. He wouldn't even answer me when I told him the men could not get out through the Elk Creek Slope. He kept telling Josh Chafin, a section foreman, to take his men and head for the Elk Creek Slope." Donaldson was a safety inspector who just happened to be with them when the fire broke out. Company officials hoped he could direct survival tactics by putting up brattices (canvas walls) to block off heat and fumes. Carter said he thought all of the men could have escaped if they had followed him.
Kyle Blair and Willis Carter shortly after they reached the outside
As daylight came on Friday, the rescue teams were no closer to reaching the miners. Most of the family members and friends held vigil at their homes hoping for a miracle. Newspaper men became restless and dissatisfied with the information being handed to them by the officials. One reporter complained there was to much confusion in the reports from the rescue teams.
Roma Sargent's older brother, Orville was one of the trapped miners. Roma was a cab driver in Dearborn, Michigan, and rushed to the scene as soon as he got word of the disaster. He said he had never worked a day in the mines in his life, and after this he said they couldn't lower him into one. "I'd starve to death first," he said. His father, Alvin B. Sargent of nearby Mud Fork had ten sons and a daughter, and was a retired coal miner. Roma said his sister lost her husband in a mining accident about six months before the Holden disaster.
On Tuesday at three o'clock in the afternoon, eight days after the fire began rescue workers came upon 13 bodies. All had died within hours after the accident of carbon monoxide gas. None of the bodies were burned, and the men appeared to have been relaxed when death made its silent approach. Two men were eating from their lunch buckets. One man was found in a kneeling position with his arms encircling a timber, and was apparently praying when he was over-come with the deadly gas. Freda Enyart Horvath, wife of Berti, believed this to be her husband, and wrote him a goodbye letter after she heard the news.
Josh Chafin, Jr. of Pine Creek was found still clutching the note he had written to his wife. The note was delivered to his wife twelve hours before the first body was brought to the surface. The note read: Mable, I love you more than you will ever know. Take care of the kids and raise them to serve the Lord." It was signed, "Jr." . . . the name he went by. Josh and his wife were members of the Central Baptist Church on Holden Road.
The bodies were wrapped in blankets and plastic bags, and carried to the base of a 485-foot elevator shaft. They were lined up neatly to await their return to the surface. A heavy wet snow fell covering the ground. The men were taken to the Harris Funeral Home which was chosen as a central station where families could claim the remains and make funeral arrangements. The last two miners to be recovered were Charles Adams and Louis Workman.
By Thursday afternoon all the bodies had been recovered. It had taken nine days. Seventy-two children were left fatherless and sixteen wives were made widows by the holocaust. I pity the miner a diggin' my bones . . . deep in the mines that is as dark as a dungeon.
A LIST OF THE EIGHTEEN VICTIMS
Name Age survivors
Charles Adams 46 wife and 7 children
Frank Ardis 63 wife and 4 children
Ernest Bevins 35 wife and 7 children
Okey Bryant 49 widower and 5 children
James Carter 30 wife and 6 children
Josh Chafin, Jr. 37 wife and 4 children
Roy Lee Dempsey 52 9 children
William Donaldson 53 wife and 1 child
Garfield Hensley 43 wife and 5 children
Berti Horvath 32 wife and 4 children
Flint Lock Jarrells 39 wife and 6 children
Albert Marcum, Jr. 34 wife and 5 children
Melvin Newsom 46 wife and 1 child
Isom Ooten 43 wife and 6 children
James V. Lundell 26 wife and 2 children
Orville Sargent 32 wife and 1 child
Carl White 39 wife and 3 children
Louis Workman 32 wife and 1 child
Betty Sheppard Dulcie lived at Holden at the time of the disaster, and her husband, Matt helped bring out the first four bodies. One of them he brought out was James Carter, brother of Willis who escaped death by crawling to safety through a tunnel. She said, James was to big to fit into the tunnel, and that he was known by the way he always squatted down when he rested.
According to John Stepp from Logan County, Kyle Blair who escaped death at the Holden 22 mine disaster, died tragically in another mining accident about 1974. He was a mine foreman on the tipple at a Boone County mine, and fell into a coal crusher.
MacBeth Miners at the mouth of the mine in 1951
left to right -back row: (1) Jess Bryant - machine operator (2) Gene Cochran -shooter (3) Howard Gallion - switch man (4) Harold Spears - loader operator (5) John Frye - machine operator (6) Cecil Vance - ventilation man (7) Norris Craighead - loader helper) (8) Thedore Fraley - switch man
left to right - front row: (1) Merle Minix - motorman (2) Robert Grimmit - track man (3) Tommy Browning - track man (4) Tilden Thompson - timber man (5) Jess Watts - brake man (6) Claude Horton - timber man (7) Hassel Browning - section foreman
Names courtesy of Bill Dalton. Above picture courtesy of Sharon Roberts. This crew produced 104.5 cars of coal for the month of March 1951 from MacBeth's 7th West - 2nd hallway. Photo was taken by photographer, Joe Rimkus of the Logan Banner on March 15, 1951
DOUBLE, DOUBLE, TOIL AND TROUBLE
THE BODY OF MINE FOREMAN FLOYD FIELDS
Only six months after the first Macbeth explosion on March 11, 1937, the Macbeth Mine blew again killing eighteen men. As a March rain fell, scenes from September past were being replayed. Some of the men who helped carry out bodies in the first explosion were now mangled corpses in the same entries they had trudged over bearing stretchers.
Again, family and friends rushed to the gaping black mouth of the Macbeth Mine. The women could only imagine how the entries and rooms looked where their loved ones were lying hurt or dead. The miners knew the dead bodies would be sprawled where they fell . . . lying in complete darkness until a rescuer's light fell upon them.
Florence Gay Browning was a seventh grader at Dehue Grade School, and went to school with many of the victims children. She remembers the dark dismal days following the explosion. Her father, Ed was on the safety team that helped recover the bodies. "No one attended school, and we just stood around the mine entrance in the pouring rain like immovable objects. I'll never forget the mournful whine of the cable bringing another body to the surface, and the screams that followed when the miner was identified. If I had taken color pictures they would have turned out black and white. Day after day . . . all I remember is grey and black tones."
Like the first explosion, the blast hit only one section of the mine about a mile from the bottom on 2 West and 18 Right. Several men escaped without injury. Some by walking up the slope, and some by a screw-type escape ladder with 152 steps. The authorities soon knew where the explosion occurred, and had a list of men in each area.
The bodies of Joe Fry and Troy McCoy were located about a mile and a half from the foot of the slope. They were hurdled a hundred feet from the motor in which they were riding. Floyd Fields' body was found hundreds of feet away from Fry and McCoy. All of their bodies were badly burned, and apparently they were killed by the force of the blast. Fields was formerly employed by the Lyburn Mine, and had worked at Macbeth Mine for three days when he was killed.
Mrs. R.B. Kimball came to the scene carrying her baby of a few months, and her other three children were hanging to her dress-tail. She remarked she had faith her husband would make it out alive. Her brother, Tom Tiller had died in the first explosion, and she knew her husband was working in the section that blew. Finally, a body was brought to the surface. As rescuers passed by Mrs. Kimball with a blanket-covered miner, she was told it was the body of her husband. She collapsed. Women came to her aid, and onlookers stuffed fingers in their ears to block out her screams. She was led away sobbing, "He was so good to me."
Fred Tiller, another brother of Mrs. Kimball was on the rescue team of this explosion, and stated the second blow was much stronger than the first. He said timbers were blown out, and that slate had fallen in the main haulage ways. It took two hours per corpse to recover a body over the mountains of rock falls.
Fourteen bodies were removed during the first five days following the explosion, and funeral services were quickly arranged. R. B. Kimball and Gazel Vankovich both had six children. Tuphon Podlaska's funeral was held at the home of his friend, Joe Orloff. Podlaska was from Russia, and had one relative in America. At the time of his funeral his cousin had not be reached. Heavy slate falls four feet wide and two-hundred-fifty feet high hampered rescue efforts. The last four bodies recovered were Hubert Fleming, George McCormick, and twins, August and Jack Tusek. Fleming, a native of Kentucky had recently divorced his wife on grounds of desertion. He planned to marry Margie Lovelace in the spring.
Jack Tusek's was the fifteenth victim to be recovered. His body was taken to the Harris Funeral, and sealed in a vault. His twin, August was the last body to be removed from the blast torn mine. The twins bodies were placed in a double coffin and they were laid to rest in one large grave. It had taken rescue teams of sometimes forty men working eight hour shifts sixteen days to recover all eighteen men.
Fire Bosses had reported the Macbeth Mine free of gas and safe for the men, and yet the cause of the explosion was blamed on methane gas. Methane gas is colorless, odorless, and flammable. It is formed when plants decay in places where there is little air. It is the primary cause of mine explosions. The Macbeth Mine blew with such force and intensity that no small amount of gas could have caused so much damage.
Macbeth was the third mining town on Rum Creek. It was located about eight miles southeast of the city of Logan. Dehue was the neighboring mining town, and my parents lived there when both disasters took place. Dad often talked about the terrible disasters, and how unsafe he thought the mine was. However, Macbeth went on to produce millions of tons of coal without another major disaster.
During the mining boom in the fifties there were seven or eight mining towns on Rum Creek. All the mines have long since closed. Most of the houses and all of the tipples have been torn down. Still, the ghosts of these once thriving mining towns haunt me.
LIST OF THE EIGHTEEN VICTIMS
Name Age survivors
Tom Brodocko 48 single
Floyd Fields 30 married - 3 children
Hubert Fleming 32 divorced
Leonard Forbes 30 married
Sam French 23 single - colored
Joe Fry 32 married
Earl Gearheart 29 married
Mike Gimo 35 single
Roland Karns 27 single
R.B. Kimball 38 married - 6 children
Troy McCoy 28 married
George McCormick 23 married
Fred McCrosky 31 married - colored
Tuphon Podlaska 43 single
August Tusek - twin 36 single
Jack Tusek - twin 36 married - 3 children
James Wiley 34 married - 1 child
Gazel Vankovich 49 married - 6 children
Resources: They Died in the Darkness by Lacy A. Dillon, copyright 1976 in Ravencliff, West Virginia, and the Logan Banner microfilm.
I has been discovered many typos of names, of the victims when doing research on mine disaster stories. Sometimes, the errors are corrected in later issues of newspapers, but not always. Many times ages and family information are incorrect. Many of the victims were foreign-born with hard to spell names. Even on the death certificates of victims the information is not always correct. So, if you find a name misspelled or an age listed incorrectly please inform me it can be corrected. Dolores Riggs Davis
FAMILY AND FRIENDS AT THE MACBETH MINE WAIT FOR NEWS IN A DRIZZLING RAIN
The Macbeth mine was sunk in 1922 to a depth of 640 feet, and by 1936 entries and headings had spread two miles from the main shaft. The name Macbeth was taken from Shakespear's great tragedy. The name now seemed ominous. Had the witches of fate tossed the names of the dead men into their boiling kettle?
At the time of the blast, one-hundred and twenty men were working. The survivors were near enough to the main entry to make their escape. It was a slope mine with the mouth of the mine at valley level with huge cables that pulled coal from the mine to be dumped into railroad cars. The men walked up that slope using the cable to reach safety.
AN UNIDENTIFIED MINER AWAITS NEWS OF HIS ILL-FATED CO-WORKERS BELOW A SAFETY FIRST SIGN
The worker's families lived near the mine entrance, and within a few minutes they swarmed to the site. A rescue team was quickly organized. Rescue teams from Dehue, Holden, and Monitor were on the scene. Newsmen, ambulances, doctors, and officials of the State Department of the Mines all quickly gathered at the scene. Chilling wailing of bereaved women and children could be heard above the roar of the crowd. Lights were strung up, and illuminated the faces of the anxious crowd who milled around the area. Women from adjoining mining camps soon rushed in to setup canteens to serve food and coffee to the rescue workers and the distraught families. It was a pitiful scene as helpless onlookers stood waiting around the mouth of the mine in the drenching rain.
A motorman who was at the mouth of entry 13 right heard the explosion. He said the air was immediately filled with dust and large particles of rock. He had a gash on his nose and his head was filled with cuts made by flying debris. The man had a wife and four children, and rejoiced at his narrow escape with death. Ansel White, the motorman's brakeman was nearer to the blast area, and was also injured. Both men were transported to a Logan hospital.
Another worker, Ab Lambert also cheated death. He coughed and crawled through black damp, to safety. Lambert was working with Elisha Watts and Big Andy Gazdik, and they all heard the explosion. Thinking it was a slate fall, they continued to work until the smell of black damp alerted them to danger. All of them immediately headed for the mine entrance, but Ab Lambert was the only survivor. "It smelled like ammonia and tasted bad too," Lambert told officials.
County schools had opened, and in a few days the colleges would start the fall semester. Victor Corilla had enrolled at Marshall College (now Marshall University), and was working his tuition, books, and college expenses out at the Macbeth Mine. He was to trade in his mining clothes for fashionable college clothes . . . but fate and destiny interceded and young Victor was burned to death in entry 13.
Inspector J.F. White, director of the safety team which recovered most of the bodies said, "The gas mixture was the worst I've ever experienced." His safety team dug and shoveled through four-hundred feet of a debris-choked tunnel with a risk of death and injury. Miners believed the explosion was caused by natural gas that was set off by a spark from one of the motors.
It took twenty-four hours to recover the entombed bodies. When the victims blackened and crushed bodies were brought to the surface they were taken to the Logan morgues to be prepared for burial. Victor Corilla's body was sent to his family in Indiana.
LIST OF THE TEN VICTIMS
Name Age survivors
Jack Adkins 50 wife - 5 children
Victor Corilla/Coriloll 25 single
Andy Gadzdik 60 family in Hungary
Julius McShane 45 single - colored
Gus Mounts 33 wife - 1 child
William R. Refett 40 wife
Ed Saunders 40 single - colored
Grover Saunders 28 wife - 2 children
Tom Tiller 25 wife
Elisha Watts 32 wife - 3 children
top row: unknown, Cecil Vance, George Crum-tipple boss, Buster McDonald, Jasper Barnette
2nd row: unknown, Arthur Gayhart, Andy Drake, Bill Hall, Martin Knell
top row: Tod Abbott-section foreman, Jimmy Mays, George Early, Jess Bryant, Danny Jones, Edgar Vankovich-electrician, Ancil White
2nd row: Buster Queen, Joe Loslo, Carl Harger, Benny Mixon, Emery "Pee Wee" Browning, Earnest McNeely, Bill Dalton
The tattered picture of the tipple crew belongs to Florence Gay Browning Backus, who recently became Mrs. George Early, Jr. They were both born at Dehue and attended Dehue Grade School together.
Row 1 (seated) � 1.Arley or Ollie Bradbury, 2.Elbert (Rusty) Browning, 3. Mason Adkins, 4. Claude Vanover, 5. Clyde Leman, 6. Worley Vanover, 7. Albert Hall, 8. Carl Curry, 9. Lewis Curry, 10. Ira Johnson or Sock Shields, 11. Colonel Miller, 12. Morgan Wiley, 13. Lonny Vanover, 14. Novie Dean, 15. Virgil Dean, 16. Chester White, 17. Wetzel Brumfield
Row 2 (middle) � 1. Pete Stafford, 2. Marcus Curry, 3.? Hall, or Pop Linville 4. Dick Wiley, 5. Jimmie Lohr, 6. Carlos Wiley, 7. Boyd Grimmett, 8. James Bagloma, 9. James Scites, 10. Ed Chapman, 11. Herston Davis, 12. Lewis Vance, 13.Thurel Curry
Row 3 (back) � 1. Lorenzo "Red" Curry, 2. Carlo Akers or Vito Deroushi, 3. George Brown, 4. Avery Hammons, 5. Bill Adkins, 6. Fred Hall or John Davis, 7. Joe Robinson, 8. Herston Simpkins, 9. Claude Wilbur, 10. Abe Likens, 11. Azel Brumfield, 12. Leonard Lewis, 13. Herbert Grimmett, 14. Ben Curry, 15. Doc Smith, 16. Millard Browning