|Port Royale, Pennsylvania
Port Royale Mine Explosion
June 10, 1901
ELEVEN MEN ENTOMBED
In the Port Royal Mine of Pittsburg Coal Company.
THREE BODIES RECOVERED
While Two of the Injured Died Since in McKeesport Hospital.
FIRE BOSS GLEASONS STORY.
He Says Mine Officials Took Down His Danger Signs and Explosion Followed Monday.
SIXTEEN MEN were killed by an explosion and attempt to rescue in the Port Royal mine of the Pittsburg Coal Company on Monday evening. The first explosion at about 6:30 caught four men who were working on a night shift in the mine. The others met their death trying to recover the bodies of the four men who were killed first. Three bodies have been recovered and two of the three injured recovered from the mine died since at the McKeesport Hospital. The eleven bodies still in the mine can hardly be recovered until the mine is flooded. That is the opinion of the State Mine Inspectors and other experts who have ventured into the mine.
The names of the dead men are: William McCune, aged 52, General Superintendent of Mines on Baltimore & Ohio division, wife and five children. John Keck, Mine Foreman at Darr mine, wife and family. William F. Allison, Assistant Superintendent of Mines below West Newton, wife and five children. Dennis Wardley, Mine Foreman Nos. 1 and 2 mines, wife and four children. Michael Roy, Mine Foreman Euclid mine, married, one child. Frank Davenport, roadman in No. 2, married, no children. John Stickle, pipeman in No. 2, wife and family. Peter Marchando, boss driver No. 1, wife and child. Bernard Ball, loader in No. 2, of Smithton, wife and family. Taylor Gunsaulus, Sr., loader in No. 1, wife and family. Jerry Daley, Connelsville, roadman, wife and family. John Peeble, assistant roadman in No. 2, married, no children. John Keck, machine boss at Darr mine, married. Samuel Hadley, Assistant Foreman at No. 2, wife and child.
The bodies of Taylor, Gunsaulus, McCune and James were recovered on Tuesday. Harry Beveridge and Fritz Krueger died at the McKeesport Hospital, Krueger on Tuesday and Beveridge on Wednesday. Thomas Smith, another of the seriously injured miners, is at the McKeesport Hospital and is not expected to live. A dozen others, including Mine Inspector Bernard Callaghan of Connelsville, were painfully burned by the fourth explosion in the mine Tuesday morning. In all six explosions had occurred up till Tuesday evening, two of them throwing coal and small debris out the shafts at No. 1 mine on this side of the river.
The story of the explosion was best told before Coroner A. C. Wynne by W. C. Stratton, the civil engineer in charge of Port Royal mine and a member of the rescue party, most of whom were killed. After the first explosion in which the men working in entry 20 where there was a squeeze were killed, Stratton and W. Sweeney started in. Stratton related how he pushed on to the scene of the accident and discovered the three dead bodies and the fall of coal and slate that is believed to cover the fourth. When he had found them dead he turned back together with Chris Howells, Matthew Labin, Dennis Wardley, Mike Roy and W. Sweeney. All had narrow escapes in getting to the bottom, Stratton, Howells and Labin being overcome by afterdamp and carried out. They had advised no further attempt at rescue, but the parties met, headed by McCune, whom Stratton did not in his dazed condition remember meeting, persisted in going after the bodies. Stratton went into the mine with McCune, Allison, Sweeney and Smith, having been summoned from West Newton by telephone. In the afternoon he inspected the squeeze, and, not finding any gas, left at 4 oclock with the understanding that the work was to be continued that night. He had not considered the situation dangerous. McCune, Allison and Smith had arranged to go along, and Sweeney joined the party at the last moment. At the entry leading off the main river runnel to shaft No. 2 they detected the odor of burning wood, and with Allison he went to investigate. Sweeney and Smith were behind, and McCune stopped to wait for them. When they came along the three went on and Stratton followed when they had found all well at the shaft as well as the air shaft. They went along to entry 20, and met Sweeney and Labin coming with canvas to finish several stoppings that had been blown out.
Stratton pushed on to the scene of the accident in room 35. Here the three men were found dead. Sweeney, Wardley, Howells, Roy and Labin came up. It was decided to take the men out, and Wardley, Roy and Howells were detailed to go after canvas. Then came the effect of the after-damp and all started out. Stratton took Labin down entry 20 calling for help. Keck and some others came up and they managed to get back to the main entry. Stratton here advised Keck not to go after the bodies, as the men were dead. After that he remembered nothing save that somewhere he heard McCune say: We cannot leave the men here; we must take them out for their families.
The story of Thomas Gleason, fire boss at the mine, was rather startling. He virtually charged that the responsibility for the terrific and deadly mine explosion lays with Mine Foreman Dennis Wardley and Assistant Mine Foreman Samuel Hadley.
Gleasons report shows that as usual he entered the mine at 2.30 oclock on the day of the explosion and made his customary rounds of the mine. He found gas at the butt of No. 20 entry, again at No. 26 entry, in No. 29 entry and in entries 24 and 25, which were fenced off and marked dangerous, as the roof was bad from the squeeze that was working and producing at the same time a considerable gas accumulation. The butt of 20 entry and entries 24 and 25 are on either side of entry 21, where the men were put to work upon the buttress to protect No. 2 parting from a general cavein. It is within the 15 acres of territory over which it was estimated by the engineers that the squeeze was effective. The danger marks left by Gleason when he prepared to leave the mine at 5 oclock were barricades consisting of timbers laid across the track supporting a board upon which were written in chalk the word Danger. These conditions are all carefully noted in Gleasons official report. In his testimony Gleason stated that these signals were removed by Assistant Mine Foreman Samuel Hadley and asserted that Harry Hough and William Carrier had witnessed the action. Hough afterward corroborated this story by an open and positive admission of its truth.
Mine Inspector Bernard Callaghan told a thrilling tale of
his trip of inspection and attempted rescue. He said: Accompanied by
seven men I entered the mine about 9 oclock Tuesday morning. I have
known the mine for years, and went down because of this knowledge and because
Inspector Millison is a new man and could not arrive until 11 oclock.
We went under the river all right, and found no evidences of an explosion
until we had gone some 2,000 feet, when we found Superintendent McCunes
hat and some letters that had been in his pocket. Passing along we found
his mangled body, and then the body of Gunsaulus. A few hundred feet more
we reached a third body. We examined it and none of the party could recognize
it. I took the mans watch, and when we were stooping over the body
and Superintendent Charles McCaffrey of the Soper mines at West Newton was
pinning a piece of paper on his breast, there was a roar. We all ran as fast
as possible. The roaring increased, and we all instinctively fell to the
floor. Then there was a roar and a blinding flash. The flame almost completely
filled the entry. Our lights were put out and after the flash it was a wild
scramble in the dark for the shaft bottom. All of us were singed.
Port Royal No. 2 Mine Explosion
(The following article is from "The Times-Sun," March 4, 1987, Scottdale, PA. Written by the editor, based on extensive research conducted by local historican Lloyd Thompson, of Rostraver Township, Westmoreland Co., PA and includes information gleaned from several sources including courthouse, cemetery and mine records and various newspaper accounts of the time.)
While many families in the Yough Valley still recall with sorrow the December anniversary of one of the country's most tragic mine accidents, the Darr Mine explosion which claimed the lives of 239 men on December 19, 1907, there are also those that recall an earlier night of horror at another nearby mine. Overshadowed by the events at Darr Mine at Van Meter, Westmoreland County, a tragedy six years before, the Port Royal No. 2 Mine explosion of 1901, also deserves special mention in the history of the Yough Valley.
According to local historian Lloyd Thompson, who has spent considerable time researching area mine tragedies, it is now 85 years this past June, 1987 when the workings of the Port Royal Mine No. 2, located in the Cedar Creek area of Rostraver Township, took the lives of some 30 miners, at least one whose body was never recovered.
It was during the afternoon shift on June 10, 1901 that an explosion, followed by a fire, in the old Port Royal Mine No. 2 in Rostraver Township rocked the countryside for miles around. One of two Port Royal Mines, Port Royal No. 2 Mine was located in Rostraver Township on the west side of the Youghiogheny River, according to Thompson's research. Situated on the opposite bank was Port Royal No. 1 Mine, located in South Huntingdon Township, near the B & O Railroad at Fitz Henry. Each of the mines had hoisting shafts and were connected by three tunnels dug under the Youghiogheny River. The main ventilating shaft was located on the Rostraver Township side of the river. Originally part of the old Port Royal Coal & Coke Company, the mines were owned and operated by the Pittsburgh Coal Company at the time of the explosion, ca.1901.
Port Royal No. 2 Mine was not as high in coal production as the Port Royal No. 1 Mine. While Port Royal No. 2 Mine delivered nearly 44,000 tons of coal annually and employed about 112 men with the production for 88 working days. Port Royal No. 1 Mine, which provided the steam power for both mines, had a total production run of 70,000 tons of coal with 129 men and about 161 working days. Each of the mines utilized eight horses or mules. While some of the coal was shipped to other points by rail, much of it was used to supply the Port Royal Coke Works with 61 bee-hive coke ovens near by in South Huntingdon township.
THE FIRST BLAST
RESCUE PARTY DISPATCHED
Attempting to remove the bodies and take them back to the shaft, some of the rescuers were overcome by the black damp and themselves had to return to the air shaft. On the way, they met others comming to help. The new rescue party pushed on toward butt face 25 to assist the remainder of the original group of rescuers.
No more news came from inside the mine until 10:15 when a second explosion was heard at the Port Royal No. 2 Mine shaft. According to Thompson, it is believed that with the exception of the two miners who had been over come by the black damp and were returning to the surface, all the men in the mine were killed at the time of the second blast.
By the next morning, June 11, ropes and chains were erected to keep the crowds away from the mine entrances and people were told the mine was on fire and there was danger of the entire mine exploding.
The morning after the explosion, an exploring party was formed and some had the grim task of removing the bodies found in the main haulage way. Around 10:30 a.m. on the 11th, a third explosion shook the mine site and flame from the blast reached over some of the rescuers, burning some slightly and forcing the entire party to retreat to the shaft.
First reports of the extant of the disaster were sketchy. The mine inspectors' report listed only 19 deaths. Newspaper accounts revealed many more details and added to the growing list of those killed or injured. Many of the injured were transported to McKeesport Hospital and at least two died there later.
From newspaper stories, courthouse death books and cemetery tombstones, Thompson has compiled a listing of those miners killed, injured or missing. The body of one man, a West Newton resident, was never recovered.
PORT ROYAL NO. 2 MINE ABANDONED
After the closing of Port Royal No. 2 Mine on July 17, 1901, permission was granted by mine inspectors to allow the company to operate Port Royal No. 1 Mine, as long as all precautionary measures were taken and the seal between the two mines was examined at least twice a day. On July 25, 1901, operations were resumed in Port Royal No. 1 Mine.
|PORT ROYAL NO. 2 MINE
Operations at Port Royal No. 1 Mine were suspended again on Sept. 7, 1901 and two days later the seal to No. 2 was removed to ventilate the abandoned mine in order to work on the entrance. On Sept. 10, an exploration party began a search for bodies. Seven were removed the next day, then three more on Sept. 13 and two others on Sept. 17. By the 23rd of the month, coal company officials and mine inspectors conferred as to whether or not it was practical, under the prevailing conditions, to make further attempts to recover the last remaining body, the miners body was never found. The decision was made, and by Oct. 9, 1901 a notice as issued to seal the workings of Port Royal No. 2 Mine forever and to discontinue operations of Port Royal No. 1 Mine until the two mines were completely sealed off from one another.
LITTLE EVIDENCE REMAINS
The research into the mine tragedy unveiled many interesting bits of historical information, says Thompson, including notice that the coroner at the time, C.A. Wynn, held an inquest into at least one miner's death in Smithton on Oct.7. Also apparently related to the mine tragedy, Lloyd Thompson notes, that there is a granite monument in the West Newton cemetery which bears the words, "Greater love have'th no man than he who gave his life for a friend," possibly referring to one of the killed miners who may have taken the place of one of the rescuers overcome by the black damp, thereby sparing another's life.
While those involved with the mine at the time of the tragedy are no longer around to tell he story, relatives and succeeding miners continue to relate tales of one of the area's biggest disasters.
(Article courtesy of "The Times-Sun", Scottdale, PA & the coal mining collections of the Westmoreland County Historical Society, Greensburg, PA)
|(From the Reports of the Pennsylvania Dept.
REPORT of the Pennsylvania Mine Inspector on the
Port Royal Nos. 1 and 2 Shaft openings, Pittsburg coal high seam.
These two mines are located as follows:
Port Royal No. 2 Mine hoisting shaft, and also the ventilating shaft for both mines are located on the west side of the river, and they are directly connected by three tunnel entries passing under the river, also by several openings in the abandoned parts of the mines. In Port Royal No. 2 Mine some time prior to June 10, a creep or squeeze had developed between Nos. 21 and 25 butt entries, and adjacent to No. 5 face heading side track.
On the morning of June 10, the mine was examined by Wm. Gleason, the regular fire boss, and no danger was reported, but a small quantity of explosive gas in two or three headings, at the faces, also the progress of the creep was reported, and danger boards placed at the entrances of Nos. 24 and 25 entries, in which places the creep prevailed, to prevent persons from entering the same. After an examination by mine foreman, Dennis Wardley, and assistant Samuel Hadley, the danger boards were removed and the mine was operated during the day as usual with open lights in all portions. Four persons namely, John Peebles, Anton Stickle, Frank Davenport and Jerry Daley, were set to work erecting cribs in No.35 room off No.21 butt entry, and adjacent to No.5 face side track, to arrest the progress of the creep in that section, the material was taken in by way of a crosscut between the side track and the room, which had been made at some previous time, perhaps for ventilation. The mine was operated throughout the day, the shift closing at 4 P. M. Between 5 and 6 P. M., the same four persons reentered the mine for the purpose of continuing the erection of the cribs, also two other persons, machine runners, entered and went into the straight main headings to cut coal. At 6.15 P. M., an explosion occurred which alarmed those in charge of the machinery at the shaft top; the mine foreman, and other officials were notified and a rescuing party was formed and entered the mine [(Fritz) Fred Kreuter entered with this rescue party], other persons arriving later also entered, until they numbered about twenty. When they reached the entrance of No.20 butt entry they observed two lights approaching from the straight main headings, which proved to be the two machine runners, who said that they had felt a concussion, but thought it to be the result of a fall, and they continued to work until the air pressure was shut off, and upon coming to the crosscut they observed smoke and dust and concluded to come out. This proved to the exploring party, that beyond all doubt, the explosion occurred in the No.25 face section, so pushing on in that direction they reached the cribs, and there they found the bodies of Anton Stickle, Frank Davenport and Jerry Daley, but on account of the density of the after damp, they were unable to remove them, and as three of their number became stupid from the effects of the damp, they were compelled to again retreat to the entrance of No.20 entry, and those who were overcome by the damp were taken out by others of the party. When on their way out they were passed by some other persons who proceeded to join the party inside. Nothing further is known of what occurred inside until 10.15 P. M. when a second explosion occurred which resulted in the death of all who were in the mine except two, who were only a short distance from the bottom of No.1 shaft, and three others who were rescued by a party a short time after, and removed to the McKeesport Hospital on the following morning, where two died on that date [(Fritz) Fred Kreuter was one of the men that died] and the other one on June 15, thus increasing the death rate to nineteen. No further attempt was made to explore the mine on that night.
Inspector Callaghan, of the Ninth District, having received notice, arrived at the scene about 9 A. M., June 11, and forming an exploring party entered the mine, some of the party engaged in removing the bodies which were found on the main tunnel, and had removed that of Taylor Gunsallus, Sr., and were bearing that of Wm. McCune, when a third explosion occurred, about 10.30 A. M., the flame of which reached over and beyond some of the party, burning them slightly, the entire party retreated, leaving the body of McCune behind.
A short time after a party entered the mine and recovered the body of McCune. I had not received notice of the disaster, but seeing the account of it in a morning paper, I proceeded to the scene. A party was formed consisting of George Santmyer, superintendent of Washington Run mines; Charlton Dixon, Inspector of Mines, Pittsburg Coal Company; John W. Hindmarsh, now superintendent Port Royal Division; Matthew Labon, formerly assistant mine foreman Port Royal No.1 mine, and myself. We entered the mine and made an examination of the return air way and from the indications and realizing that two after explosions had occurred, we were satisfied that there was fire in the mine, and that beyond doubt the victims were all dead; we returned to the outside, and a conference was held at which it was decided to make no further attempt to explore the mine, but to place a watch to report any changes, but as it was known that there was still one body on the main tunnel, about 10 P. M., a party was formed which entered the mine and recovered it, which proved to be that of David James.
On the following date June 12, the coroner of Westmoreland county, held an inquest on the body of William McCune, and the jury rendered the following verdict: "We find that William McCune, came to his death by an explosion of gas in Port Royal Mine No.2, of the Pittsburg Coal Company, on June 10, while attempting to recover the bodies of four men who had been killed by a former explosion occurring about 6 P. M., of the same date, the second explosion was likely caused by the ignition of some inflammable material from the first explosion."
On the same date a consultation was held by the officials of the company, Inspector James Blick, of the Seventh District and my self, when the question of flooding the mine was considered, but it was decided to await further developments. June 17, a conference was held by the officials of the coal company, and Inspectors Blick, Iouttit, Callaghan and myself, at which it was decided to seal up all that part of the mine, in which it seemed probable that fire existed. This work was placed in charge of Charlton Dixon, Inspector, and Benjamin Ferredy, division superintendent of the Pittstburg Coal Company, until the bodies had all been recovered on September 17, except that of John Peebles, which thus far has not been recovered.
As the sealing up of the fire district in No.2 mine had been completed and the company was desirous of reparing No.1., mine preparatory to operating it, I summoned Inspector Callaghan, and on July 17, we inspected all stoppings in No.2 mine which enclosed the fire district, also the general workings of No.1 mine, after which we issued the following letter:
Connellsvilie, Pa., July 17.
But I requested that when the mine was repaired, that I should receive notice so that I could again inspect it before the miners commenced work.
Having received notice I again inspected No.1 mine on July 24, and found the conditions such that I issued the following notice:
Scottdale, Pa., July 24, 1901.
..July 25, operations were resumed in No. 1 mine. August 23, by request accompanied by Superintendent Hindmarsh, and Mine Foreman Charles McKay, we made an examination of the conditions at the different stoppings enclosing the fire district of No.2 mine, to decide upon the practicability of opening the same for the purpose of making an attempt to recover the bodies that were entombed, and after a consultation we decided that it would be reasonably safe, realizing that there would be a certain amount of risk to be taken regardless of the length of time it had remained closed, and on September 7 operations were suspended in No.1 mine. September .9, the stoppings were removed and the vetilation permitted to work on the entrance, and on September 10, the exploring party began their search for the bodies. September 11 the party reached the inner end of No.20 butt entry and at the junction where the same intersects No.5 face heading and near the end of the hauling side track, at which seven bodies were recovered, being those of Dennis Wardley, John Keck, Michael Roy, William Allison, Peter Marchando, John Conto, and Taylor Gunsallus, Jr. Upon receipt of notice I visited the mine on September 13, on which date three other bodies were recovered, being those of Frank Davenport, Anton Stickle and Jerry Daley, victims of the first explosion.
September 17, two other miners bodies were recovered, being those of Samuel Hadley and Barney Bald, thus completing the entire list, except the body of John Peebles, which thus far has not been recovered.
September 23, a conference was held by the officials of the coal company, Inspector Blick and myself, to determine whether or not it was practicable under the prevailing conditions to make further attempt to recover the body of John Peebles, and after hearing the statements of those in charge of the searching party, and considerable discussion, it was again decided to seal up that part of the mine, and endeavor to recover the body at some future time when the prospects might be more encouraging; soon after the work of sealing began.
October 9, I issued the following notice:
At Smithton, Pa., October 7,
"Coroner." Jurors: Alex. Watkins, Jacob S. Morrow, Eli S. Sager, Thomas T. Frances. Joseph A. Smith, Lorenza H. Young
|The following is copied from table IV Report
of the Bureau of Mines Off. Doc. No 10, 11th Bituminous District.
June 10, 1901 Port Royal No. 2, Westmoreland County all were
killed by an explosion of fire damp.
Further description of accident (pg. 809)
Port Royal Mine No. 2, June 10, 1901, list of fatalities resulting from gas explosions of the above date:
John Peebles, roadman, Port Royal mine, body has not been
|"History of the
Port Royal Mines,
Fitzhenry, South Huntingdon & Rostraver Townships, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania"
Memorial, Port Royal Mines,
Fitzhenry, South Huntingdon & Rostraver Townships, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania"
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