An accumulation of gas was ignited by open light. Doors to an old room were left open and gas accumulated. One man was rescued from the affected area 10 hours after the explosion had occurred.
100 Caught by Gas Explosion in Coal Mine
Waterloo Evening Courier, Iowa
October 27, 1914
Royalton, Ill., Oct. 27. -- One hundred or more miners probably were burned to death in the Mitchell coal mine near here today when a terrific explosion occurred in the lower level of the mine soon after 300 men had begun work.
Of those who entered the mine about 100 escaped, but 30 bodies soon were brought to the surface and more than 100 other men were known to be imprisoned in a lower level, cut off from the rescue by fire.
Because of the fire, attempts of rescuers to enter the shaft were impossible, and it was thought all of those shut off by the wall of flames in the interior were burned to death.
Royalton, a mining village, 86 miles southeast of St. Louis on the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern railroad, was deserted save for a woman telephone operator soon after the report of the explosion came from the mine, about a mile away. The villagers all had gone to help the men out of the burning mine. But the telephone operator helped. She sent out distress calls to surrounding towns and help was soon on the way from Duquoin, Murphysboro and Benton. A rescue car was sent from Benton.
The 100 miners who escaped were in parts of the mine not touched by the flames. Warned by the explosion of accumulated gas, they scurried to the surface and told of the spreading flames, which had entombed more than one-third of their number in a lower level.
Rescuers who penetrated as far as smoke and heat would permit soon reported that the plight of the men was hopeless, as the lower level was on fire.
Rescuers and relatives of the miners stood about the mine shaft helpless. Mining officials said that probably all the men caught by the fire were dead.
All the dead taken from the upper level had been overcome by gas and none had been burned.
The explosion occurred in the northwest corner of the mine, where from 150 to 200 men were working. Men in the southern part of the mine heard the explosion and hurried to the cages that took them to the surface. This part of the mine was separated from that section where the explosion occurred by thick walls of coal.
Three hundred and seventy-two men were employed in the mine, but as the disaster occurred about five minutes before work was to begin, about 50 had not entered the shaft.
Rescue Car Arrives
Up to 11 o'clock rescue parties were unable to penetrate more than 1,500 feet in the workings, but at that hour the rescue car came from Benton, Ill., with four hours supply of oxygen. This made possible a further penetration of the mine by the rescue parties. General Superintendent Mitchell said he could not account for the explosion as the mine had been in continuous operation and no gases had been detected. Lines of hose were carried down two shafts and attempt was made to direct streams of water thru cross shafts to the burning level. The bases made it dangerous for the fire fighters to approach close enough to do effective work. Experts said the fire could be controlled only by sealing both entrance shafts and pumping water into the mine until all the chambers were flooded. This, however, will not be done until all hope of rescuing the imprisoned miners is abandoned.
Twenty physicians accompanied the rescue car from Benton and when they arrived they had their hands full looking after the wives and daughters of the imprisoned miners, who had become hysterical or had fainted.
The mine belongs to the Franklin County Coal company.