Adolph Gunia was brought to the surface still alive after an undisclosed period following the explosion in the Harwick mine in Cheswick, Pennsylvania. He was the lone survivor of the mine blast which took 179 lives.
The Harwick Mine disaster was a mining accident on January 25, 1904 in Cheswick, Pennsylvania, some sixteen miles north of Pittsburgh in the western part of the state. The blast killed an estimated 179 miners, including 2 aid workers. The disaster ranks among the ten worst coal mining disasters in American history. One community especially impacted was the Hungarian community in Homestead, Pennsylvania. Fifty-eight of the members of the First Hungarian Reformed Church of Homestead—a full third of the congregation—died in the explosion.
Coal was mined by compressed-air machine, blasted down with dynamite. Ice accumulation in the air shaft restricted ventilation which caused a buildup of methane gas. At 8:15 a.m., workers blasted down dynamite which ignited the methane. Coal dust suspended in the air assisted the explosion in traveling throughout every region of the mine. In addition to interior devastation, the force was so powerful that it wrecked the exterior of the shaft.
Carnegie Hero Fund Marker
Of mine workers underground at the time, the single survivor was the severely burned 16-year-old, Adolph Gunia. Other casualties included Daniel A. Lyle and the mine engineer, Selwyn M. Taylor, who both gave their lives in rescue attempts after responding to the scene. Greatly touched by Taylor's and Lyle's sacrifice, Andrew Carnegie had medals privately minted for their families, and within two months had established a $5 million Carnegie Hero Fund as a result.
The mine was owned by the Allegheny Coal Company.
From State Inspector's report, 1904, pp. xii, xiv
I had not thought it possible that a catastrope so awful in proportions could occur in a mine like the Harwick,
which was new and reported to be relatively safe.
The explosion was of terrific force, the tipple, built of iron, was wrecked, and a mule was blown out and over the tipple from the bottom of the shaft.
The coal coal is mined by compressed-air machines of the Puncher type, blasted down by dynamite. The shots were prepared and charged by the men
who loaded the coal, and the shots were fired by shotfirers.
Each shot firer carried a Davy lamp; to fire, he inserted a wire through the gauze of the lamp until it was the proper temperature and would then apply
it to the fuse. The shots near the roof required an extremely heavy charge.
Nearly all advanced workings were very dry and dusty. Locked safety lamps were used exclusively in all working places, except at the bottom of the shaft.
The cause of this explosion at about 8:15 a.m. was a blown-out shot in a part of the mine not ventilated as required by law.
Sprinkling and laying of the dust had been neglected; firedamp existed in a large portion of the advanced workings.
The explosion could be transmitted by the coal dust suspended in the atmosphere by the concussion from the initial explosion, the flame exploding
the accumulations of firedamp and dust along the path of the explosion, carry death and destruction into every region of the workings.
The fireboss did examine part of the mine. His last report was made January 23.
Insufficiency of ventilation was partly due to accumulation of ice at the airshaft.
Historical Summary of Mine Disasters in the United States - Volume I
Over 100 Victims Make Up Dead List of the Explosion in Harwick Mine
The Courier, Connellsville, Pennsylvania
January 26, 1904
Cheswick, Pa., Jan. 26. -- By an explosion in the Harwick mine of the Allegheny Coal Company, 16 miles from Pittsburg. Western Pennsylvania promises to add one of the greatest tragedies of years to the already long list of mine fatalities. Even the officials of the Allegheny Coal Company, the owners of the mine, do not know at this time the number of men still entombed in the chambers of the mine 220 feet below the surface, but a conservative estimate places the number at 184.
Even General Manager George Schuetz of the coal company, who is in charge of the mine, gives little hope that many of the men will be brought to the surface. The first ray of hope that any of the men had escaped the tremendous concussion of the explosion came at six o'clock last night when Adolph Gunia was brought to the surface still living.
From all that can be gathered at this hour between 180 and 190 men are lying dead in the headings and passageways of the Harwick mine of the Allegheny Coal Company. Cage after cage has gone down into the mine and come up again but the only miner of all those that went down to work has been brought to the surface. The rescued miner is Adolph Gunia, and is still in a semi-conscious condition at the temporary hospital at the rude schoolhouse on the hillside above the mine.
In addition to the miners who were at work when the explosion occurred, it is now believed by practically all of the men of the rescue party who have come up the 220 foot vertical shaft for a warming and a breathing spell, that Selwyn M. Taylor, the Pittsburg mining engineer who plotted the mine and who was the first to reach the bottom after the explosion, is now among the list of dead.
The explosion occurred at 8:20 in the forenoon and the first warning was the sudden rumble underground, then a sheet of flame followed up the deep shaft. Both mine cages were hurled through the tipple, 20 feet above the landing stage and the three men on the tipple were thrown to the ground. A mule was hurled high above the shaft and fell dead on the ground. The injured men were taken at once to Pittsburg.
The rumble of the explosion and the crash at the pit mouth startled the little village and the wives and children of the men below rushed to the scene of the disaster. There was no way to get into the deep workings. The cages that let the men into the mines and brought them out again when the days work was done were both demolished.
All day long there was a jam of about the mouth of the pit and there were calls for assistance and for surgical aid from the men in charge of the mine, but it was not until 4 o'clock in the afternoon that the first attempt at rescue was made. This was a failure, as the two men who volunteered were driven back by the foul air.
Shortly after 5 o'clock, Selwyn M. Taylor and one of his assistants signaled for the engineer to lower them into the shaft. Taylor is still down there. Three times efforts have been made to reach him, but so far without avail. Thomas Wood, one of the first of the rescue party hauled to the surface, told his story of his trip through the mine. He said:
"I was with Taylor and we clambered over three or four falls. Taylor laid out the mine and seemed to know the way. There was one man alive at the foot of the shaft. He was sent up and then we took the mule path into the south level. We saw two men who were alive and notified those back of us and then went on. We passed the third, fourth and fifth headings and then through an overdrift into the air shaft. I began to feel dizzy and sick and then I saw Taylor stagger and fall. His lantern fell. We tried to lift him up, but could not carry him, and I made my own way to safety."
F. W. Cunningham, the mine inspector of the Fourteenth district, reached Harwick at 7:30 p.m. He said:
"I went to Greensburg to inspect a mine and when I reached home I found a bunch of telegrams telling me of this disaster. The mine was inspected, I think, about the 1st of December. There was some gas in it then, but I never considered the mine dangerous."
The last inspection plank hanging on the nail in the mine company's office is dated July 17, 1903, but it is evident that a later report has been torn off. Among the rescue party now in the mine, in addition to Inspector Cunningham, and Jack McCann, Bob North, Robert Carney, Henry Becker, Robert Gibson and William Walkenerst. An additional party of 20 has just gone down.
Three of the rescuers, Becker, Smith and Walkenerst, when they returned to the surface declared that all in the mine outside of the rescue party are dead, including Taylor, the engineer.
Manager Schuetz has telegraphed to Chief Mine Inspector Roderick at Harrisburg as follows: "Two outside men dead of injuries. But one brought out of shaft who is still living. Rescuing party in mine, including Mine Inspector Cunningham, who will advise later."
H. F. Hutchinson, who gave out the lamps to the miners before they went to work in the pit, said:
"At 7:15 o'clock, the time when everyone is supposed to be at work at the mine, I had given out between 180 and 190 lamps. That was one lamp to a man."
"Did any of these lamps come back?"
There is a light in every cottage in the little hamlet above the pit mouth. There is still a crowd about the mouth of the shaft but it will probably be hours before the full extent of the catastrophe is known.
The first attempt at rescue was made at 1 o'clock by Robert North and Jack McCann, one of the engineers employed by the company, who tried to get into the mine by way of the stairs through the air shaft. They managed to grope their way some distance but were finally driven back by the foul air.
The main shaft into the mine, 220 feet deep, was made by a loss by the explosion, which hurled both cages, one of which was within 30 feet of the bottom of the shaft, through the tipple, 30 feet above the surface.
Shortly after 5 o'clock a temporary rigging had been put in place over the mouth of the main shaft and a small bucket capable of carrying three men fastened to the tackle. The first try with the new rig was made by Selwyn M. Taylor, the mining engineer, who had been summoned from Pittsburg, and an assistant J. M. Rayburn.
A crowd of anxious men and women were gathered at the pit mouth as the two men were lowered into the black shaft on the work of rescue. Slowly the rope on the big drums of the engine began to unroll and the two engineers disappeared.
Still there was no sound from the depths below except the occasional shout from the men in the bucket to stop while they tested the air. Then the cage reached the bottom. There was a silence of full 40 minutes and then came the summons to haul up slowly. When the cage reached the top Rayburn was there and with him was Adolph Gunia, still alive, but gasping for breath and evidently seriously injured.
Again the cage went down into the darkness, and this time it carried with it E. Taylor, an assistant of Selwyn M. Taylor, and also Robert North and J. McCann, who had made the first attempt.
There was also a call for volunteers to aid in the work of rescue and a call for hammers, nails and brattice cloths to enable the rescuers to brattice up the headings so that they can grope their way back to where the men were at work.
1 - NIOSH lists 179 as the official number killed in this disaster.