Death Comes a Knocking – Willow Grove, Ohio 1940


What is this mystery that men call death?
My friend before me lies; in all save breath
He seems the same as yesterday. His face
So like to life, so calm, bears not a trace
Of that great change which all of us so dread
But sleeps; and soon he will arise and take
Me by the hand. I know he will awake
And smile on me as he did yesterday;
And he will have some gentle word to say
Same kindly deed to do; for loving thought
Was warp and woof of which his life was wrought.
He is not dead. Such souls forever live
In boundless measure of the love they give.

By: Jerome B. Bell – 1940

March 16, 1940


The Willow Grove Mine which has long been closed was once nestled deep in a valley beside a tumbling little stream in Belmont County, Ohio. It was located twelve miles west of Wheeling, West Virginia, and four miles south of St. Clairsville. The mine was surrounded by tiny mining communities.


When death came knocking at the door of Hanna Coal Company’s No. 10 Mine at Willow Grove, twenty-four year old Czech-born Frank Opatrny described it as a big whoosh. “The noise wasn’t loud, but the force of the blast tore doors off their hinges and smashed supporting girders like they were matches,” he said. Deaths icy fingers entombed more than seventy men in a matter of seconds at eleven o’clock on Saturday morning, March 16, 1940. Opatrny was the first man to walk from the mouth of the tipple after the explosion. “They’re all dead. . . . They couldn’t live through that blast,” he whispered sadly.

“I was working on a motor near the junction of 22 South and the Main haulage way, Frank Opatry said. “The blast crashed down the tunnel and knocked me off the motor flat on the ground filling my eyes and mouth full of dust. I was working with six men about three miles from the tipple. After the blast we huddled together and stayed where we were. In a few minutes Charley Naylor, the assistant mine superintendent came along and led us to the tipple mouth,” Opatrny said.


On May 21, 1935, the miner’s at Willow Grove defied the superstition that if a woman went inside a coal mine it brought bad luck. They gave the First Lady of the Land, Eleanor Roosevelt who was eager to obtain first-hand knowledge on mining methods, a grand tour of their mine. “It’s to clean to be a coal mine,” she declared. Mrs. Roosevelt donned a miner’s hard hat and an old grey coat for her two-mile tour. She seated herself in the first car of a six-car train, and no doubt waved or spoke to some of the miners who would later lose their lives. Willow Grove was looked upon as a model mine, and one of the safest in the nation. Yet not even five years later a death-dealing blast snuffed out the lives of seventy-three men. Mrs. Roosevelt was visiting in Pittsburgh at the time of the disaster. She expressed her regrets as she recalled her visit to the mine.


Motorman Steve Olexa was leaving 19 north at the south junction with a loaded trip and was enveloped in a cloud of dust and smoke when the blast occurred. He gave the motor full power before he lost consciousness. At the outside loop the trolley pole flew off and the trip coasted back into the mine about nine-hundred feet. Mine Superintendent John Richards and Outside Tipple Foreman Howard Sanders were near the entry when the explosion occurred. They rushed into the mine with two other outside men. The outside men brought the motorman and the trip out and revived Olexa. Richards and Sanders continued on into the mine looking for other victims, but were overcome by deadly afterdamp. Their bodies were the first to be brought out.

When news of the blast reached the people of Belmont County more than three-thousand people rushed to the scene blocking highways and delaying ambulances and rescue workers. So, an army of Ohio highway patrolmen was deployed to guard all roads leading to the mine entrance. Only vehicles carrying supplies or rescuers were permitted to pass. Sheriff Howard Duff and his deputies were also at the scene to assist.


Weary rescue crews moved against the deadly black damp with their nostrils clamped in oxygen masks and their eyes covered with goggles using picks, shovels, and drills in an attempt to reach the trapped men. As workers passed in and out of the main entrance of the mine, they would whisper softly, “We haven’t reached them yet.” Fires blazed throughout the night to fight off the chill as tragic-faced women and children held vigil.

Sad faced wp,em waot for news, Williow Grove Mine, St. Clairsville, OHSAD FACED WOMEN WAIT FOR NEWS.

Eight canaries who were poor singers were caged at the Hanna Coal Company offices by the miners who had scoured the countryside to find them. The chirp of the yellow bird was a strange contrast to the gloom that hung in the air. The canary bird organs are much more sensitive than a human’s organs, and the birds were used to detect poisonous gases. Canaries reacted to explosive methane gas faster than the tiny gasoline safety light used at that time. The birds were also used to detect black damp which is carbon dioxide and after damp which is carbon monoxide. The yellow songsters commanded great respect because they were designated as martyrs to save the lives of men who explored shattered mine passages searching for survivors.


Safety experts of the US Bureau of Mines load rescue equipment as they prepare to leave Pittsburgh for the disaster scene at the Willow Grove Mine.


Twenty-three men escaped death by collapsing from exhaustion. Soon after the blast the men started their three-mile trek plodding along the track toward the entrance of the mine. When they had walked about a mile drowsiness from the gas, began to take its toll, and every step became a little more difficult. The first man fell a mile from the entrance. Two miners grabbed him by his arms dragging him as they stumbled toward the entrance. John Grady Vechezone fell to the ground and cut his head. He managed to pull himself along with hands that soon became bloody. Frank Bakosh and Harold Stullenberger stopped often to wash the faces of the fallen with water from their dinner buckets to revive them. They were among the last to lose consciousness. The last victim they assisted was John Friedberg. Stullenberger fell over John’s body. He was conscious, but exhausted. He could hear Bakosh repeating “What’s a matter Stoney. What’s a matter.” Then he heard Bakosh fall. Nearly five hours passed before the rescue crew reached the men who were all prone. A first aid expert said none would have survived if they had been in a sitting position. Passing out saved their lives as the only good air was on the ground.

Picture courtesy of granddaughter: Kathi Wiley

Greek immigrant, John Demopolis was one of the victims of the Willow Grove disaster. He was born on the Isle of Crete on January 1, 1886, and came to America seeking a better lifestyle. His bride, Despina Spadidakis was an arranged marriage. She was also from Crete, and was born May 1, 1894. John left to morn him a wife and five children: Gus, Helen, Mary, and twins Irene and Angelo.

The Hanna Company from Cleveland, Ohio bought the Willow Grove Mine in 1931. In less than a decade they installed machinery which updated the mine to one of the best equipped mines in the state. At the time of the disaster about seven-hundred men were on the payroll, and for several years the mine worked three shifts.

The Ohio Compensation Department insured all the Hanna Coal Company men, and a spokesman said the disaster would be one of the biggest jobs the department had handled in years. According to the department widows would receive about sixty-five hundred dollars.

The Bureau of Mines declared the explosion to be caused by an excessive shot of black powder which stirred up “bug dust” and coal dust and ignited a flame. Gas at the face of the mine, and black powder in a storage box added to the impact of the explosion. Rock dust had been applied only to the main haulageway. Water was not used to settle coal dust. Willow Grove was classed as a non-gassy mine, and they didn’t employ a fire boss. The section foremen had flame safety lamps. The company had a creditable safety record with an active safety program, so this type of disaster was not imagined.


Things didn’t always run perfectly in the Hanna Mine. When something went wrong, they called Doctor Drummond who investigated, and phoned the machine shop for parts or assistance. A cutting machine on the C-2 Crew developed a “sore throat,” so in this picture Doctor Drummond is calling the shop to rush him a new part to put the machine back in working order.

Harry L. Drummond didn’t die in the mine disaster. He was born in Neffs on June 5, 1897, and he died in Bellaire June 9, 1977. The entry portal of the WIllow Grove mine has been sealed, and the shower house and office were torn down in the year 2000.

It was told a marker was erected to immortalizing the canaries who died in the rescue attempts of that disaster, but Harry granddaughter, Patty has never found any record proving that a monument was erected. If anyone has information about the canaries please contact me by e-mail at the bottom of the page. The information and picture was supplied by Harry Drummond’s granddaughter,Patty Drummond-Jenkins.

Joseph Chirik, also escaped dying in the explosion. He was scheduled to work the afternoon shift, and the mine blew up at eleven o’clock. When his son, Joe graduated from Bellaire High School his dad told him he’d rather he moved away than work in the mines. He took his advice. In 1983, Joe and his father attended a remembrance that was held for the miners who died.



Cecil Grimes rose early to prepare for work at the Willow Grove Mine. Just before leaving, he quietly slipped into the bedroom to kiss his wife, Clara (Graham) goodbye. He told her it had snowed that night, and to look out her window at the beauty left behind when she got up. He said “I love you,” and walked across the threshold of his home for the last time as he departed for work. He not only left Clara behind, but also their four children, William Cecil age eight, Constance age seven, Ronald age five, and Columbine age three. Clara and Cecil were both twenty-nine years old.

Clara’s twin sister, Sarah was married to Glen Dickerson who escaped death. He worked the midnight shift, and was leaving work as Cecil arrived. Clara’s youngest sister, Marjorie was not so lucky. Her husband, Johnny Sklenica worked day shift on that fateful day when death came knocking. He died along with Cecil and seventy other miner’s when the mine blew at eleven o’clock that morning.

Until her death in 2000, Clara often talked about what a loss Cecil was to the family. She said along with God’s help she picked up the pieces of their lives and did the best should could by their children. His death left an empty hole in their hearts that no one could ever fill.

Submitted by daughter, Constance Grimes McNeal and great-grandaughter, Dana Ann McNeal.


Name Age address
Mike August 40 Lafferty
Robert Bakosh 32 Neffs
Cap Benson 50 Willow Grove
Charles Bobak 47 Neffs
Martin Bobka 28 Neffs
George Bringmann 24 Bellaire
Charles L. Carroll 50 St. Clairsville
John Celuch 46 Fairpoint
David Chini 27 Bannock
Elmer Clark 46 Stewartsville
Emilio Dalpiaz 47 Lafferty
Joseph Dalpiaz 38 Lafferty
Constantino Daroma 53 Neffs
Ray Davis 50 Bridgeport
John Demkowics 37 Neffs
John DeMopolos 54 Neffs
Frank Dopkiss 36 Maynard
Albert Eastham 36 Neffs
Russell Fendon 37 Neffs
Walter France 50 St. Clairsville
George Fulton 29 Warnock
William Gardner 57 St. Clairsville
Andrew Garek 53 Midway
John Gargola 37 Stewartsville
Cecil W. Grimes 29 St. Clairsville
Joe Hess 43 Neffs
Andy Hobart 41 Midway
Lawrence Hrabak 46 Maynard
Wayne Hynes 29 St. Clairsville
Cornelius Jobes 25 St. Clairsville
Mitchell Jobes 44 Midway
Albert Kanopsic 33 St. Clairsville
Paul Kasarda 46 Midway
Garrett Kelley 38 Willow Grove
Harry Klee 38 Neffs
John Knapski 38 Bannock
Joseph W. Kresach 45 Fairpoint
Emmett Krotkay 38 Neffs
Paul Kulevich, Jr. 27 Willow Grove
Charles Lupi 42 Belliare
John Marks 33 Neffs
Ross McFadden 54 Neffs
John McFetridge 37 Stewartsville
John Miketo 45 Belmont
Earl Pack 30 Neffs
Frank Pasco 49 Neffs
Mark Passmore 52 Glencoe
Edwin Patterson 34 Bellaire
Phillip Paytash 30 Lafferty
Steve Petran 54 Neffs
Mike Pokerino 30 Bannock
Joe Prosek 30 Bellaire
John H. Richards 44 St. Clairsville
Joe Riddle 52 St. Clairsville
Pete Rinkes 36 St. Clairsville
Joseph Roque 45 St. Clairsville
Louis Roque 42 St. Clairsville
Andy Rudol 34 Neffs
Howard Sanders 52 St. Clairsville
Mike Serdula 62 Midway
William Schittek/Schiller 38 Neffs
Andy Sklenicka 26 Fairpoint
John Sklenicka 24 Fairpoint
Walter Slater 29 Bannock
Ralph Sutton 40 St. Clairsville
Paul L. Taylor 28 St. Clairsville
Andy Valocik 31 Neffs
Rudolph Vrba 47 Belliare
James Warfield 58 Neffs
Stanley Wasielewski 52 Lafferty
Clarence Wiggans 35 Bellaire
Ed Zaleski 26 Neffs

Three days after the mine disaster, two of the men listed as missing reported to the mine office. Charles Klusky, age 35 of Fairpoint and Clarence Gillespie, age 30 of St. Clairsville. Neither of the men reported for work that fateful day, but their lamps were missing so it was assumed they worked that day.

The Bureau of Mines declared seventy-two men died in the explosion. According to their records sixty-six men died by burns and violence, three by burns and after-damp, two attempting the rescue of the trapped miners, and one man died six days after the accident from the effects of after-damp. However, in my research I found only seventy-one names listed, so I am assuming the man who died later was not listed.

Finally, the last piece of the puzzle was supplied by James G. Boyle from St. Clairsville. He has a laminated program from a Memorial Tribute that was held on March 13, 1983 for those who lost their lives in the mine explosion. The UMWA dedicated a plaque which was to be hung at the District 6 headquarters in Dilles Bottom. It listed all 72 names. Paul L. Taylor was the name of the miner I didn’t have on my list.

Richard L. Trumka, who was International President of the UMWA in 1983 was a speaker at the memorial to remember the victims of Willow Grove. On February 22, 1983, he made this statement before Congress. The United Mine Workers of America insist that every death in coal mining is a tragedy, every injury a calamity, and every occupationally-induced disease a disgrace. Each death, injury, and disease is avoidable. The UMWA will not accept a continuation of the tragedies of the past. We demand a safe and healthful work place.

The heyday of underground mining has almost vanished just like most of the mining towns that once hummed with activity. However, “Black Lung” is still claiming victims. My dad, and my father-in-law both died of complications to that awful disease. There are still some underground mines operating such as the Quecreek Mine at Somerset, PA. In June of 2002 nine miners were trapped inside that mine. They were a mile and a half inside the flooded mine treading water for seventy-seven hours. The Nation rejoiced when all nine were rescued. It was about time for a sucess story.



My brother, George Thomas Fulton was one of 72 miners killed at the Willow Grove mine. He was named for his uncle, George Thomas Fulton, who died at home in the fullness of his years at age 84, on Friday, the day before the coal mine explosion on Saturday, that killed my brother, age 29. He was survived by his wife, Verna, and daughter, Sue Lane, age two.

On the following Monday our family attended Uncle George’s funeral not knowing the fate of my brother. His body was brought out on Wednesday. Identification was difficult, but was done by my father, James M. Fulton, my oldest brother, James H. Fulton, and my mother, Martha Hensley Fulton who insisted on helping with the identification. Mother was a remarkably strong woman who raised ten children.

Sometime in the early 1930’s my father had bought one of the vacant miner’s houses owned by the operator of the Elinor mine in Warnock, Ohio, which closed in the 1920’s. The house was dismantled and moved by horse and wagon to a location on the family farm where it was rebuilt for George and his new bride, Verna Neff Fulton. George quit the mines to run the farm. However, he went back to work at Willow Grove to pay off some furniture that they had bought for their new home. George handed in his notice to quit just two weeks before the explosion. Life does take tragic turns at times.

The happy life of ten children growing up on the farm with their parents was altered forever by George’s death. Verna died two years ago and their daughter, Sue Fulton Johnson, retired recently as a Nurse from the Ohio Valley Medical Center. She has no recollection of this sad event.

George was a gifted person. He was a very good athlete especially as a baseball player. Often, while playing right field, he would charge the ball on what should have been a clean single to right and would throw out the runner at first base. Once, in a pick-up football game, he got his leg fractured, but went to work for a week before going to the doctor to have it cast. Sadly, the peculiarity of the broken leg aided in his identification after the explosion. George bought a mandolin through the Sears catalogue and taught himself to read music and to play. He became pretty good at it too. I can still visualize him practicing.

George had a sunny disposition, a beautiful smile, and a devilish sense of humor. He was very kind to children (a trait I have always used to judge people) and he taught the young men’s Sunday school class at our local church. When I was four years old, I severely sprained an ankle and could not walk. I really wanted to go to the Belmont County Fair so George carried me on his shoulders all afternoon at the fair.

A favorite memory of him is of him playing on his living room rug with his baby daughter, Sue. He will always be remembered as he was at 29, in the prime of his life. I have often wondered how he would have looked at age 84 (as I watch my own reflection age in the mirror) but that was denied us by his premature death.

Submitted by: brother, Bill Fulton


Source: Information sent to me by Archivist Jane DeMarchi who is employed by the Beckley, WV Mine Safety and Health Administration. Newspapers: The Columbus Citizen, Columbus Evening Dispatch, Columbus Evening Post, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Wheeling Intelligencer, Bellaire Daily Leader, The Wichita Eagle. The US Department of Labor, Bureau of Mines. Kathi Wiley, granddaughter of victim John Demoplis, James G. Boyle who lives in St. Clairsville.Informaiton on Cecil Grimes given by daughter, Constance Grimes McNeal and great-grandaughter, Dana Ann McNeal, Information on George Thomas Fulton by brother, Bill Fulton.

Notes: Methane gas – colorless, odorless, flammable, gaseous alkane present in natural gas and formed by decomposition of vegetable matter in mines. After-damp – An asphyxiating gas which is carbon monoxide that is left in a mine after an explosion of firedamp. Black-damp – Suffocating gas, a mixture of carbon dioxide and nitrogen which occurs in mines.


Related Articles:

Peter Joseph Rinkes, Jr. killed at Willow Grove submitted by his granddaughter Margaret Ruth (Peggy) Gummere.

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44 Responses to Death Comes a Knocking – Willow Grove, Ohio 1940

  1. Ben Jones says:

    Frank Opatrny was my father-in-law. He never spoke of the explosion to me but his wife Eva did. Eva said Frank went back into the mine after the explosion in order to rescue his three brothers and eventually found them along with several other men. Frank was not able to drink any hot beverages because the explosion had burned his throat so badly. I lived in St. Clairsville as a child and my father had a good friend who lived in Neffs (Clarence Warren, who owned Warren’s feed Store in Neffs) where the mine was located so we passed it every time we went there. The state of Ohio has since rerouted the road into town and the mine is no longer visible from the road like it was in the 1950s and 1960s.

  2. Carol Smith says:

    My grandfather was one of the few that made it out of the mine that day. His name was Julian Street. I would like to get a copy of this. Does anyone know how I could get one?

  3. Megan Turner says:

    I just discovered this article and this mine. I drive Willow Grove every day and I am completely amazed that there was a mine there. If anyone is really familiar with Willow Grove as well, would you be able to tell me where the mine was exactly?

    • Greg Padgett says:

      Megan I from Neffs if after you cross the Bridge that is right over the creek a hard right then straight for a few there is a right turn like a turn around lotion the Right Old dumpy Blue house and Trailer it sat to the Left of those in that lot.

  4. Gregory Johnson says:

    My wife’s grandfather Frank Plahuta worked at Willow Grove and luckily wasn’t on the shift when the mine blew up. Herr uncle Virgil Brown was in the mine and dug his way out. The family has all the newspaper clippings and tributes if anyone is interested.

    • rose kennelly says:

      My father was in that explosion. He survived but I know of others who did not. I would love copies of the clippings so if we figure out how to get them, I will be most grateful. Rose (Maroney) Kennelly

  5. Robin Kluskey Brinkley says:

    This was both interesting and sad to read. My grandfather was Charles Kluskey; however the story told in my family is that he really was missing (buried in an air pocket) for three days before being found. Luckily he survived.

    • Judith McClintock says:

      Yes, Uncle Charlie was blessed, I remember him coming to our house to visit his brother Edward Klouskey, at Midway many times growing up.

  6. Virginia Johnson says:

    I have no connection to this story. I just wanted to say this was an excellent article.

  7. Dana A McNeal says:

    Just some information, the plaque that was dedicated in the 1980’s for the Willow Grove Mine explosion is, or was as of 2 years ago, hanging on a wall in the St. Clairsville library. I took my grandmother there to see it, as she lost her father in the explosion.

  8. rose kennelly says:

    My father was in this mine explosion. I will always remember hearing him talking about it.

  9. Mic Becerra says:

    My great-grandfather, Chester Workman, lived and worked in the mines near Neffs/Wheeling. The family rumor is that he was killed in a cave-in in Sept. 1941 not in the Willow Grove mine, but may have worked there. I can’t find any information. He is buried in Linwood Cemetery in Blaine, Ohio. Any information would be appreciated.

    • Bob Piros says:

      Mic, FindAGrave shows a photo
      of grave. Says Chester was a Pvt.
      in WWI. You can also search for
      his records at

      • Mic Becerra says:

        Hi Bob, I was aware that my great-grandfather was buried in Linwood, but your suggestion of FamilySearch has produced many useful documents including the death certificate of my great-grandfather. It was proof that he died of internal injuries from a coal mine cave-in, which happened in Bellaire in September 1941. Thank you so much for your suggestion.

  10. Bob Saad says:

    March 16, 1940. My uncle, Bob (Robert Bakosh), was one of the 72 that died in the tragedy of Willow Grove Mine #10. His wife, Josephine (aka Suzy), was pregnant with their only child, Roberta, at the time. My cousin, Roberta, and I are very close friends to this day.

    Several years ago, I took my dad (Joe Saad) to visit his home town of Neffs (a town of only a few hundred people), which is basically where the tragedy occurred. As many have indicated, Willow Grove mine #10 was in the St. Clairsville / Neffs area. I just wanted to point out as well, though, that it was not in modern-day Willow Grove, OH as one article may have inferred. My dad and I visited a few ominous sites of the boarded up mine entrances. The creeks still ran with copper color, a testament of that mineral rich mountainous area. Neffs lost a significant portion of its small population that day. Very sobering.

    Our family owned a small establishment in Neffs at the time, but not long after the tragedy, the family moved north to start a new life in the then bustling Detroit area. They exchanged a relatively poor city of hundreds that lived off of coal mining in the mountains of the Ohio Valley for a thriving metropolis of millions that lived off of the lucrative automotive industry on the Detroit River. It really was a new life for them.

  11. Rayeann Helms says:

    My grandfather, Charles Bobak, was killed in this mine. His name is misspelled in the list (it is spelled Bobka). There is also a picture missing from this article that is in the original. A picture of women sitting at a table waiting for news. My mother was 13 years old and sitting on the far right in the picture waiting with her mother (who is not shown).

    Corrections made. Thank you! — Admin

    • Rayeann Helms says:

      Thank you for making the correction to my grandfathers name. My mother was his youngest child, only 13 at the time. Charles and Anna had 4 children Anna, John, Paul and Irene. Irene is the one in the picture.

  12. Barbara Drozier says:

    I didn’t know much about the explosion, except that my grandfather James Warfield lost his life.

  13. Nancy Sutton Jordan says:

    Does anyone know where I can get a copy of the book, “Seven Rooms”. ? I understand that a gentleman wrote this book which is about the Willow Grove Mine. Any help would be appreciated. My grand dad Ralph Edward Sutton was killed on his wedding anniversary and the last body removed from the mine. He was married to Elizabeth (/reber) Sutton and they lived in St. C. with my boys; Ralph Emerson and Irwin Reber. Ralph Emerson was my dad. Sadly I never knew my grandfather…..This was the year Dad graduated from St C. High School in May.Thanks you for any info on this book. Nancy Sutton Jordan

  14. Darlene Schiller Chambliss Ray says:

    My daddy, William Schiller, was killed. Six days later on Good Friday, I was born in Bellaire City Hospital to Freda Schiller. There was an article and a picture in the Bellaire Newspaper on Easter Sunday saying “Her First Easter is Sad”. Later there was also a picture of Trudy and Irene sitting and waiting for their daddy at the mines. The day mommy brought me home from the hospital, my daddy was brought home in a casket. I had five siblings: Eric (Dutch) Bertsch, Helene Schiller Lamp, Elten Schiller, Gertrude (Trudy) Schiller McMillen, Irene Schiller Zych. I was a bright spot in a tradegy.

    • Rick McMillen says:

      Aunt Darlene, thank you for these words which I’ve never heard spoken and details that I never knew. Marna and Rick

  15. Maureen Carroll Neely says:

    My maternal grandfather, Charles Luke Carroll died in this explosion. I believe he was a foreman, or superintendent. It really doesn’t matter… My mother, Doris Carroll, was 18 at the time. She was his eldest daughter; she loved her “Daddy” more than anything, and she never got over his loss. I have original newspaper articles from this disaster. Mom told me that the press made him out to be a hero, as they reported that he initially escaped the explosion, and unselfishly returned to rescue his fellow miners. According to my mother, that was not the case. That really struck me, but who really knows? The fact remains that he left his three daughters, and his wife, Ann, alone. I can’t imagine the angst that they were left to live with I do know that Mom never,ever, wanted to drive past that mine portal. I couldn’t blame her…. She did not allow his loss to define her, but it certainly colored her life. My heart still goes out to the family members who suffered a loss in this mine. Many lives were altered on this day.
    Maureen Carroll Neely

  16. Shelby Burgess says:

    Thanks for the pic of Mrs. Roosevelt in the mine car.
    Some other info on her is : She established housing camps for the the destitute miners in the 1930s. One was at Daisy, Logan Co.WV.
    Another was at Tamcliff, in Mingo Co WV. this act of kindness kept families together during the great depression. There may have been other camps in WV I have no knowledge of

  17. Peggy Gummere says:

    Dear Patty Drummond-Jenkins, My name is Peggy Gummere and I am a granddaughter to the late Peter J. Rinkes who died in the Willow Grove mine explosion in March 1940. I would very much like to know if it is too late to add an article and possible pictures to this website about my grandfather and his family? I did not know that “DEATH COMES A KNOCKING” existed until a cousin gave me this website because I started working on my family tree. I look forward to hearing from you concerning this matter. Respectfully, Peggy

    You are perfectly welcome to add an article about your grandfather on this website. Just email your article and photos to me at

    — Admin

    • Patty Drummond Jenkins says:

      Just wanted to point out that I had nothing to do with creating this page, I just added some material that I had, because I grew up in the area and am collecting images of the local coal mines. It also should be noted that I talk an awful lot, so that is probably the confusion about my actual involvement in this page. I sincerely apologize for any confusion otherwise. I will agree that it’s a very nicely done webpage.


  18. Patty Drummond Jenkins says:

    Dear Ms. Riggs-Davis,

    I corresponded with you quite a few years ago about the Willow Grove Mine accident (and my grandfather, Harry, who, although the article I provided said he was a Dr., he was a coal mine machinery mechanic per se “doctor” as it was stated in the article.)

    Anyway, the reason that I am writing, is that I have another photo (one taken from yet another Hanna Coal Company newsletter.) It was taken a few months before the accident. I can send it to you in e-mail if you’d like.

    Also, of interest, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt had visited and toured the mine a few months before the accident. There is an unfortunate superstition (whether it was before the accident, I can not say.) that a woman in the underground mine is bad luck.
    I don’t subscribe to that superstition myself, but it is what it is. lol

    I also wanted to tell you of a “newish” monument made memoralizing (is that a word?) the coal mine accident at the NW corner of the Bellaire (village) Park on the Belmont Street. I can send you photos of it as well. I don’t know the exact date the monument was installed (as I had not been back to Bellaire in awhile.) Bellaire is fairly close to the site of the mine, (within 5 miles or so.) Several of the miners were from Bellaire.

    You (or anyone) can contact me at my e-mail:

    Thank you,
    Patty Jenkins

    • Shelby Burgess says:

      The “Dr.” name you mentioned is a nicname by miners. The mechanic was dubbed: “Iron Doctor, as he worked on various mining machines.
      Its true about the male miners supersticians. If a female even looked inside a mine, bad luck will happen to that mine.
      Also; mIners would never harm a rat. Rats scurried about when a major rooffall was active- giving the miners notice of impending danger.

      • Patty Drummond Jenkins says:

        I remember my dad saying that he fed the rats some of his food from his dinner pail.

        As far as the women in the mine superstition, whenever there were opportunity to have the families visit and tour the mine, we were never allowed. I never asked why, I always assumed that he might be ashamed of me, but now I believe that he was superstitious, but never said.

        In the Cadiz, Ohio public library (I think it is called the Puskarich Memorial library or something like that. It is about a hour or so’s drive from the mine) there is a coal mining museum attached to the library. In one of the display cases, they have a map of Willow Grove mine and it is marked with an “X” of where some of the miners were found. I don’t think all the miners were recovered, but I could be wrong.

    • This is the one photo I have from the Hanna Coal Newsletter

      August 1939 issue

      The caption reads as follows:

      Back in the spring of 1917, twenty-two years ago, Henry Geeke, Pete Valocik, Ed Filicky and Harry Crymble had their pictures taken when the Willow Grove mine was opened.

      Last week the same four – because they are still working at Willow Grove – had their pictures taken again, standing beside the same opening. The scene above shows the difference twenty-two years will make to the mine and the men. With the exception of the mustaches, friends of the quartet clain they are much better looking now than a quarter of a century ago, and there seems to be no question about the mine opening being improved.

      As a side note, I add that the coal mine accident that closed this mine happened only 7 months later in March 1940. In it, a a Andy Valocik was killed in the mine accident (I don’t know if he is one and the same or may be related to the Pete Valocik in this photo.)

      Also as a side note,

      Notice the two small fellows in the upper right corner, who undoubtedly were child laborers in 1917 for the mine)

  19. donald cassidy says:

    I always wondered are the miners still in the mine after it exploded thank you for your information donald

  20. I appreciate all the response’s. However, If you wish me to answer a question please leave your e-mail. Otherwise, I have no way of reaching out to you. Thanks

    Dolores Davis

    • Linda K Metz says:

      Dear Ms. Riggs-Davis, I stumbled upon your page looking for information and in particular a photo taken outside the Willow Grove Mine sometime after the explosion and during the rescue efforts. My grandfather, Floyd L. Davis is supposedly in a photo standing with the waiting dog of one of the trapped miners. My grandfather was a miner himself and was there participating in the rescue efforts. As I see your last name, I can’t help but wonder if we may be somehow related. I am looking for this information, in part , as it came up in a writing exercise in my Short Story class, and also family history. My mother, who passed away from Alzheimer’s a year ago January was a Davis, of course, and little is known about that side of the family. My Aunt and Uncle also have Alzheimer’s and my grandmother died from it. I have one surviving uncle who so far hasn’t been diagnosed with it , but is in poor health. I’m also unsure how to contact him. If you could help me locate this photo or know anything about our possible family connection, please let me know. Sincerely, Linda K Metz My email is :

  21. Paul L. "Pete" Taylor says:

    Really enjoyed reading “Death Comes a knockin’. It is with a heavy heart that I read about Willow Grove. My grandfather, Dr. C.H. Cale was the mine doctor there and as I recall, had an office next to the mine. I have learned a lot about my dad, even though I never got to meet him. My mother and dad were married for only a month before the explosion. My mom passed in a car accident in Florida in 1968 and I reside in Conneaut, Ohio. Feel free to contact me at 440/593-4827 as I enjoy hearing about the father that I never got to know……..RIP, DAD & ALL………Thanks cousin Sue for your input… ya’…….PETE

    • Robert Purtiman says:

      Robert Purtiman:

      Hello Pete. I was researching on the Internet about the Willow Grove Mine explosion when I saw this anecdote by Pete Taylor. Pete and I were classmates at Bellaire High School and we lived very close to one another. His grandfather, Dr. Cale removed my tonsils in his office when I was 4 years old. Pete and I were/are good friends.

      Like Pete’s Dad, my Dad, John Purtiman, also worked at Willow Grove. Also like Pete, I wasn’t born until a couple of months after the explosion, so all I know is what my Dad told me. My Dad’s working area was in the same area where the explosion happened. The day of the explosion was my Dad’s day off! He had worked in the area the day before. He went to the mine to help with the rescue. He was overcome by the fumes and woke up in Martins Ferry Hospital. Dad never talked much about the explosion because most of his friends had died and he just couldn’t talk about it.

      As I looked through the names on the list of the miners who died, I see a lot of names who’s children were classmates of mine in school.

      My Dad took me into the Willow Grove mine probably about 10 years later. It was a scary experience. At that time my Dad was a fire boss, whose job was to walk alone all over that mine looking for pockets methane gas. As we left the mine my Dad said that he would not allow any of his kids work in a coal mine. As I look back, Dad seemed to always be hurt. He had broken ankles, smashed this or that, lost a finger, and had a mangled hand, and black lung disease. This is what he had to show for all his years in the mine. I can’t recall him complaining.

      I think about Willow Grove every time I hear about another mining disaster.

  22. Carol Saunders says:

    My dad was in the machine shop inside the mine when the explosion occurred. He was supposed to take something to the miners; but another man wanted to talk to someone and he took it. He was in the worst part of the explosion and I believe he did not survive. Dad and the other men in the machine shop crawled on their hands and knees using the rail track to guide them toward a mine fan. The gases etc., were blown behind them as the fan continued to work. He and the other men were rescued at the fan site. My mother carried my 11 month old sister as she and other people walked up the tracks from our home in “the company row” of houses in the area called Echo. They waited by the mine as word came out with news of who was trapped and who had not survived. She described it as a horribly morose experience. As a side note, the “company row” is the basis of the children’s book In Coal Country by Judy Hendershot whose grandparents lived in one of the houses.

    • rose kennelly says:

      This is a question for Carol Saunders. Was your sister named Dorothy? If so, I remember her from grade school and we also lived in Echo. I was looking for information on Echo when I found this website.

  23. Frances Krzak says:

    My father, Joseph Krzak died in that mine on May 20, 1944 along with another miner from debris falling on them. I would like to know details about the incident.
    Frances Krzak

  24. David Allan Humphreys says:

    There is a portal building still standing on my property along Rt 9 South of St. Clairsville. The shaft is only capped and on a rainy day you can hear the air coming out of the mine through the cracks in the concrete

  25. Shelley Parrish says:

    I have a huge scrapbook of this tragedy that my grandparents made while it unfolded. It is a day by day account. Please let me know if you would be interested in any of the info in it.

    • Sue Taylor says:

      Shelly – I would be incredible if you were able to scan the articles in that scrapbook so they could become a permanent part of this site. I know it takes time to do, though. If there is anyway I could help, let me know. I live in Columbus.


    • Shelly I need to speak with you about your album. I would very much like to scan the pictures and information about the Willow Grove incident. Without a e-mail or phone number I have no idea how to reach you. My cell is 440 667-2710. Dolores Davis

  26. Sue Taylor says:

    Some background information for what it is worth.

    I lost my uncle Paul Taylor in the Willow Grove mine accident. I never knew him as I was not born until 1950. Paul had just gotten married and never had the chance to meet his son who was born after he died. That son Pete lives in northeastern Ohio.

    It was my late father Bill Taylor (who also was a surface coal miner) who gave many pieces of mining memorabilia to Jim Boyle who then passed along the information about Uncle Paul to you. Dad was always upset that Uncle Paul was rarely recognized as one of the victims so he did what he could. Uncle Paul was a mining engineer who was helping to rescue miners and succumbed several days after the disaster from an illness he developed from the mine debris. May he, my Dad and all of the other miners who did this difficult job – rest in peace.

    PS – Uncle Paul, like my Dad, was an excellent singer, and at one time, Paul participated in a talent competition in Pittsburg and came in second to ….Dean Martin. Who knows how his life might have changed had he won 🙁