John Grant - miners' responses to accidents
Andrea Hammer: How did other miners, or how did the mining community, in general, respond to accidents? Would they similarly stay away from that mine?
John Grant: It's an interesting thing. Yes, they sometimes would stay away from that mine, although in recent years, I've known fellows who have been in accidents and gone back into the same mine again. But I have to face it because I felt the same thing — a sort of superstition. “They almost got you there. Don't give them a second chance.” A lot of miners would just pick up and move somewhere else if they'd been involved in some kind of an accident in a particular mine.
Now, to give an example of sometimes how this goes about, in 1950, the middle of the fifties, I was on a tour of a mine over in West Virginia called Jamison Number 9, and the main thing I wanted to see on that tour was how they dusted for mine gas. Now the dusting is simply using a form of lime dust. The idea being that this lime dust will mix with coal dust, and you don't get an explosive mixture. Coal dust is one of those things that will explode, and if there's gas in the mine that will trigger a gas explosion … coal and gas both burning. I was in Jamison Number 9 and the fellow asked us, "Do you smoke, or having anything on you that would cause a spark?" And we said, "No." Then we got down into the mine and dusted for coal dust and so forth.
About two months later, they had 14 men killed in that mine. They couldn't recover their bodies for about a year.
To tell you how a community acts, they were stunned by it. I mentioned about Pentecostal Church groups. Pentecostals are very prominent in most mining communities, surprisingly enough. Very simply, you found that the Pentecostal ministers were crying with their parishioners and the other miners about the men sealed in the mine. They knew they were dead. And yet there's something about finality, just covering over a pitmouth. You don't allow any air to go in or out of there until the whole thing dies down after an explosion like that.
I’ve heard stories about a mining disaster they had over in an area called Shinnston, which is over near Clarksburg. There were so many men killed that somebody took a photograph of the extra caskets they had to bring in stacked on the station platform. The station platform was piled up with caskets. Now, those men were removed shortly after the explosion. So miners are reluctant to go back into a mine where there's been an accident of some kind. Of course, other miners will come along, and they've worked somewhere else, and they say, "Well, it can't happen to me here." And they go in that mine. And that's the way they keep mining.
John Grant and Andrea Hammer
The illustration is of the 1907 Fairmont Coal Company Mining Disaster at Monongah, West Virginia. It is from the Mine Safety and Health Adminstration website on Mining Disasters.
Garrett College, McHenry.
Coal miners--Maryland--History; Coal miners--West Virginia--History; Garrett County (Md.)--History; Allegany County (Md.)--History.
Western Maryland, 1930-1980