Logan County, West Virginia was being soaked with a steady drizzle of rain as a crowd gathered to wait for news at the entrance of the Macbeth Mine. At about 1:30 in the evening on September 2, 1936 the Macbeth Mine of the Hutchinson Coal Company blew killing ten men. It was considered a major disaster since five or more lives were lost. This was Logan County’s first major mine disaster and first mine explosion. The Logan Banner rushed to put out an extra edition with headlines crying out the devastating news.
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.
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
|Jack Adkins||50||wife – 5 children|
|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|
|Elisha Watts||32||wife – 3 children|
Resources: The Logan Banner microfiche. They Died in the Darkness by Lacy A. Dillon, copyright 1976 in Ravencliff, West Virginia.
WORKERS POSE UNDER THE SAME SAFETY SIGN PICTURED ABOVE
The tattered picture of the tipple crew was sent to me by Florence Gay Browning Backus, who recently became Mrs. George Early, Jr. They were both born at Dehue and attended Dehue Grade School together.