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Mine Disasters in
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Old Town Mining Company
Old Town Mine Explosion

McAlester, Oklahoma
December 17, 1929
No. Killed – 61



From the Google News Archives:  External Link
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Successful Rescue

Two miners found their exit blocked after the explosion.  At this point, one of these men, Frank Gonzales, saw a third miner, Arnold Kissinger, collapse.  Mr. Gonzales and the second miner, Joe Ponsella, next dragged Mr. Kissinger into a room where there wasn't much smoke and worked with him for about three hours, "After awhile, said Gonzales, when no one came to help us, we believed we would die.  I said my prayers but I was not scared." Rescue workers reached the three men five hours after the explosion.


Mine Disaster Claims Heavy Toll of Lives
Ada Evening News, Oklahoma
December 18, 1929

McAlester, OK., Dec. 18. -- (AP) -- Fifty-seven bodies had been recovered at noon today from the Old Town Coal Company’s mine at North McAlester, in which 62 miners were imprisoned yesterday by an explosion.  Search continued for additional bodies.

Miller D. Hay, state mine inspector, emerged from the mine today after working 13 hours with the rescue crews.  He said he and officials of the mining company had reached the conclusion that the explosion occurred in the ninth west entry at the foot of the slope and that its force centered near the seventh west entry.

Bodies taken from the west part of the mine were bruised and burned while those recovered from the east part showed evidence of suffocation by the after-damp which consumed oxygen in the mine immediately after the blast.

One hundred and twenty-five men were used in the rescue work yesterday and last night.  A fresh crew of 16 men descended into the mine at 7:30 a.m. today and eight more men went down at 9 a.m.
"The interior of the mine was a pitiful sight," said Hay.  "Bodies were found in all postures.  None of them showed signs of any death struggle.  Their expressions revealed they had gasped but once, then died.  Some of the bodies were wrapped around the upright props.  One was practically naked with a cable used in connection with his cap lamp wrapped five times about his arm."
The inspector said condition of the bodies found in the west entries showed there had been intense heat and flame in that side of the mine.  The bodies had been burned severely.  No two bodies were in like positions.  Hay said, some being sprawled about, some face downward, some face upward and others in sitting postures.  Expressions on their faces according to Hay, indicated they had met death instantly and before they could realize what had happened.

Fall of rock and the subsequent necessity of restoring ventilation, delayed entrance of rescue workers into the sixth and seventh west entries, Hay said.

Arnold Kissinger and Joe Ponsella two of three men who were taken from the mine late yesterday after being trapped five hours in their gas-filled prison, owe their lives, according to Hay, to a first aid team of the United States Bureau of Mines, which administered artificial respiration.  All three were much improved today and able to sit in chairs at their homes.  Frank Gonzales, the third man rescued alive, helped save Kissinger.

Gonzales, today, related his story of the disaster:
"I was working in the fifth east entry," he said, "when suddenly I saw smoke and felt a concussion.  The jar of the blast slightly dazed me but did not knock me down.  I tried to run up the slope when I met Kissinger.  He was coming back and said he had not been able to get through.

I went on, found I could not get out and came back, when I saw Joe Ponsella.  Kissinger was walking into smoke and dropped.  Joe and I picked him up and dragged him to room 9 where we saw there wasn't much smoke.

We began fanning him with a shirt and worked with him for about three hours.  Then I began to find myself slipping.  I was getting weak in the legs and there was a pain in my chest and a swelling in my tongue.  I thought someone would come to our rescue sooner or later.

Joe and I didn't talk.  We didn't feel like talking.  After awhile, when no one came to help us, we believed we would die.  I said my prayers but I was not scared."
Rescue workers reached the three men five hours after the explosion.

The bodies wrapped in sheets lay row on row on tables in two McAlester morgues.  Nine remained unidentified.  Some of the identifications were considered in doubt by undertakers because of conditions of the bodies and resulting confusion.

Funeral plans were held in abeyance, pending the completion of identifications.  They were in charge of the local American Legion and Red Cross organizations.

Only friends and relatives of miners not yet accounted for were permitted to view the bodies.  Undertakers said there were several cases of bodies of Mexicans and Negroes being identified as those of different persons.  In such cases residents of neighborhoods where the miners lived were summoned in an effort to clear up the identification.

The morgues were scenes of hysteria as widows and children sought the bodies of their husbands and fathers.  Two women made widows by the disaster became hysterical as they entered one morgue and had to be led out without finding the bodies of their husbands.

Mrs. C. V. Shuman, of St. Louis, field representative for the American Red Cross, arrived today to take charge of the relief work among the dead men's families.  The work had been started by the American Legion's emergency relief committee and the local Red Cross chapter.  A fund of $20,000 was being asked for relief purposes.

Mrs. Shuman said the present question was not one of food and shelter, most of the families being supplied for the time being.  The need, she said, is for money to care for subsequent requirements.  She is making investigations of the financial conditions of each family.


McAlester, Ok., Dec. 18. -- (AP) -- A total of 47 bodies had been recovered at 7 o'clock this morning from the Old Town Coal Company mine in North McAlester where yesterday 62 miners were trapped by an explosion in one of the lower levels.

Six of these bodies were unidentified.  The bodies of the 47 men were in two McAlester Morgues.  Twenty-six identified and two unidentified were in one undertaking parlor and 15 identified and four unidentified were in another.

The bodies of the two men were recovered just before daylight from the seventh west entry of the mine by rescue workers who had toiled ceaselessly since 10 o'clock yesterday morning.  The two bodies were bruised and burned to such an extent that identification was difficult.

These two bodies, those of Henry Skaggs, Negro and Walter Murdock, white, showed that the terrific blast which snuffed out the lives of three score men almost instantly apparently centered about the seventh west entry.

The bodies of Manuel Luna and S. L. Mata were recovered during the night.  They were Mexicans and arrived here recently from Texas.  They went to work in the mine for the first time yesterday morning.


List of Dead
Ada Evening News, Oklahoma
December 18, 1929

McAlester, Dec. 18. -- (AP) -- The list of identified bodies taken from the Old Town Coal Company’s mine is as follows:
  • Frank Parker
  • Manuel Huerta
  • Ray Welch
  • Pete Tilford
  • Green Brown
  • Robert Cross
  • M. J. Stewart
  • Ervin Groves
  • W. Cunningham
  • George Walker
  • Raphael Salazar
  • Leonard Davis
  • Harry Kidd
  • Tony Costino
  • Nick Chinneous
  • Henrique Banda
  • Ira Bross
  • Tony Torres
  • Pete Minnerious
  • Ray Barnes
  • O. M. Mackey
  • John Arch
  • C. Gallardo
  • E. Merdina
  • Glenn Duvall, son of the mine foreman
  • Frank Medina
  • A. Chavis
  • Juan Villareal
  • Amos Kemp
  • Lincoln McKanney
  • Frank Moreno
  • John Charvez
  • Y. Castillo
  • H. C. Davidson
  • Claude Dotson
  • N. Parez
  • Rustilo Hayela
  • Walter Murdock
  • Henry Skaggs
  • Manuel Luna
  • S. L. Mata
  • G. Chauvis
  • S. Perez
  • Samuel Phillips
  • Joe Bass
  • Willis James
  • Tino Cinnerois



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