Double, Double, Toil and Trouble

FAMILY AND FRIENDS AT THE MACBETH MINE WAIT FOR NEWS IN A DRIZZLING RAIN

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.

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

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

Macbeth Night Tipple Crew August 8, 1940 – top row: unknown, Cecil Vance, George Crum-tipple boss, Buster McDonald, Jasper Barnette, 2nd row: unknown, Arthur Gayhart, Andy Drake, Bill Hall, Martin Knell

1940 Macbeth Coal Miners – 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 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.

This entry was posted in Articles, Coal Miner’s Daughter, Logan County History, Mine Disasters and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Double, Double, Toil and Trouble

  1. Kim Mullins says:

    I am enjoying your blog with my grandfather, Bill Vankovich. His brother was Edgar Vankovich, the electrician pictured above – and their father, Gazel Vankovich, was killed in the MacBeth explosion of 1937. My grandfather was able to identify the two unknown miners in the top photo. In the top row, the unknown miner is Frank Henson. In the 2nd row, the unknown miner is Frankie Drake. I hope this information helps! Thank you for allowing him this trip down memory lane!

  2. Sonja C. says:

    Enquiring – wanting more information – I believe I am a relative of Jess Bryant – where could I find more information on these men? Thank you so much.

    • We moved east of Cleveland, Ohio in 1966. When I did the Dehue History Book I did research at the court house records and the college who had microfish of the Logan Banner dating back for years. In the heyday there was three mining towns on Rum Creek, but they have been closed for years and every thing has been torn down. I am sorry I can’t be of help to you. Dolores Davis

  3. Hello;
    I knew two of the miners who escaped the MacBeth explosion. They were: Frank McCormick, and Hassell Browning. They were in the search & rescue group who recovered the dead miners. I believe Arlie Burgess was the mine manager. He had a brother (Delmer) who also worked at the MacBeth mine, but I’m not sure he was working the day of the explosion.

    Shelby B.

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