An Awful Explosion in Pennsylvania
Boston Daily Globe, Massachusetts
November 27, 1886
Wilkesbarre, Penn., November 26. -- The Conyngham colliery, situated in North Wilkesbarre and owned and operated by the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company, was the scene of a frightful explosion shortly after 7 o'clock this morning. The terrible catastrophe was due to one man's carelessness. Yesterday being Thanksgiving the mine was not worked, and the enforced idleness caused the waste water to accumulate in large quantities at the bottom of the shaft. It was here where the men were gathered when the explosion took place. Owing to the high water the men were in some doubts about going to work, and were waiting for instructions from the inside superintendent.
All hands were chatting merrily and relating their exploits of Thanksgiving day. Thomas O'Brien, a laborer, who was among the party, said he wished the boss would hurry up and say work or not work, as he wanted to do one thing or the other. He was getting tired of standing around. His miner told him to have patience. O'Brien made no reply, but walked off in the direction of the mule barn, about 200 feet from where the men were standing. No attention was paid to his movements. Ten minutes later a violent flash first and then a terrible explosion was heard. All knew what that meant, but before they had time to put one foot before the other they were hurled about in all directions. Many fell on the bottom of the gangway horribly burned.
There is no injury that a miner so much dreads as to be burned with gas, and the agonizing cry of those who lay prostrated with the flesh hanging to their bones was pitiful in the extreme. Report of the explosion was heard in other parts of the mine, and, in fact, so great was the concussion as to be heard for miles around. Assistance was at hand as quickly as possible, and the dying miners hoisted to the surface. Upon their arrival on top they were wrapped in cotton sheeting and blankets and then conveyed to their homes or the hospital. Some of them presented a horrible sight, the flesh hanging in threads.
O'Brien, who caused the explosion, was unrecognizable.
To add to the scene of terror around the mouth of the shaft the families of the victims had gathered, and as each man was brought to the surface the cry went up: "Oh, that's my poor papa," "Oh my darling husband, is that ?" The confusion became so great that it was found necessary to put a guard around the shaft, and prevent the people from impeding the work of rescue. The physicians of the town have been kept busy all day attending to the injuries of the men. Thomas O'Brien died tonight.
The following are burned so badly that their death is only a matter of time:
Cornelius Boyle, miner, 38 years, married, large family
John Cannon, miner, married, six children
Christ Brundage, laborer, 35, single
Daniel Ferry, miner, 30, married, three children
John Doughter, 30, laborer, single
Dennis McCabe, miner, 40, single
Hugh Sweeny, 25, single
Ed Kerns, 27, laborer, single
Richard Coulter, 26, miner, married, four children
Condy Cannon, 20, miner, married, large family
Michael O'Brien, 30, laborer, single
The names of the seriously injured are:
John K. Boyle
The others are not burned so severely and will recover.
William Evans, one of the five bosses, was seen at his home in Parson. Mr. Evans said:
"I was sitting in the fire boss's shanty when the explosion occurred. The fire caught my face and hands but did not throw me down, and I did my best to keep the men back to the shanty and extinguished the fire that I remembered, there was in the stove."
"How was the accident caused?"
"About 300 feet from the bottom of the shaft is a place called the 'Old West.' This place is used as a mule barn, but when the high water rises in the mine it fills with gas and has to be abandoned. Yesterday the fan had to be stopped for repairs. In consequence of that the pump could not work. The 'Old West' was, therefore, full of gas this morning, and I placed boards, across with the words 'gas' chalked upon them. Into this place went Thomas O'Brien, and he was followed by Cornelius Boyle. They went so far as to open a double door, which was placed there. The result was the explosion. These men had no business in that place, and were 200 feet out of the only way by which they could reach their chambers."
"Was there no way of bratticing the 'old west'?"
"No, the place is used as a return and is necessary to the ventilation of the mine."
"How long did the fire last?"
"It was the work of a few seconds."
At a late hour it was ascertained that five kegs of powder which stood at the foot of the shaft, and which were taken down by the miners for use, exploded. The powder stood nearly in the centre of the body of men, who received the worst injuries, and it is thought by many that the most serious injuries was caused by the powder explosion.
Just one year ago today a similar disaster occurred at this mine, only not so frightful in its results. Mrs. Evans, wife of the fire boss, recalled the fact this morning and insisted on her husband remaining at home, but he refused, saying his duties were urgent.
A visit to the homes of some of the unfortunates tonight found the victims suffering the greatest torture.
Everything is being done to alleviate their pain, but without much success, and in their agony the victims cry out that death may come and relieve them. Kind neighbors are rendering what assistance they can, and gather in groups about the houses to discuss the terrible calamity. It would almost seem that the use of naked lamps in mines should, in view of accidents like this, be as nearly as possible absolutely prohibited in gas-producing mines by the best judges. The frequent explosions in the coal mines, abroad more than ever proves the insecurity and danger attending the use of the old form of "Davy" safety lamps. More than thirty years ago these lamps were demonstrated to be dangerous by experiments conducted by engineering societies.
In some of the coal mines the miners have refused to give up the old lamps, having perfect confidence in them, and not desiring to give the extra attention necessary to keep the late improved lamps in perfect condition. The trust reposed in the "Davy" lamp, and also in Clany & Stephenson is the result of the security which they afforded under the conditions which prevailed when they were introduced. At the date of their invention the speed of the ventilation currents was very moderate and rarely attained five feet per second in the main air ways, while in the working places it was much smaller. But now speeds of twenty to twenty-two feet per second are frequent in main air ways, while the facing of long wall workings are swept by currents of from ten to fifteen feet per second and even in the stalls of pillar working velocities exceeding five feet per second are met with.