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Handford Brothers
Sullivan Mine Explosion

Sullivan, Indiana
November 21, 1878
No. Killed 8

A Correct Account of the Coal Mine Explosion at Sullivan, Ind.
Davenport Daily Gazette, Iowa
November 23, 1878

Terre Haute, Ind., Nov. 22. -- The following is a correct account of the explosion in the coal mine of Handford Brothers at Sullivan, 25 miles south of this city, at 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon.  It was the gas only which exploded.

A dozen kegs of powder had been stored in the magazine in the upper vein, but it was not ignited.  The depth to the upper vein is 201 feet, and the other vein is 65 feet lower.  Two entries or rooms were being excavated towards each other.

The gas had accumulated in the roof of one.  The miners in the other had been warned that they were nearly through, and that any more blasting might go through and fire the gas in the other entry.  They were directed to fan the gas out of it before connecting the two openings.  One of the men however took the risks and fired one more blast.  It broke through the thin wall of coal, and the accumulated gas exploded with a tremendous concussion.

Ten men were killed by the shock or soon died of suffocation.  There were at the time 27 miners at work, of whom 15 were in the lower vein.  Seven of these were saved after a lapse of over an hour, but how they managed to survive in the dense fumes and damp is a mystery.  The 12 men on the upper vein were badly stunned but unhurt.

The eight killed are:
  • Tom Handford
  • Sam Handford
  • Jack Leeden
  • Albert Smith
  • John Bulger
  • William Vales
  • Patrick Dunn
There were but four or five men courageous enough to go into the lower vein after the explosion, but after they saved the seven who were living they worked on till 3 o'clock this morning, recovering the bodies of the dead.  Then work was resumed after a rest of three hours, and by 12 o'clock today the last corpse was taken out.  Ingress to the vein was obtained through a very small hole in the debris.

The first two in the list above were among the proprietors, of whom there were four.  Four of the bodies are shockingly burned and bruised.  Harper and Crowich, two young men who were among the seven saved from the lower vein, are badly burned, and the former has a leg broken and an arm burned to a crisp, besides other injuries which may prove fatal.

The bodies were taken to the homes of the men, and will be buried tomorrow without inquest.  The timbers of the mine are badly shattered and one of the surviving proprietors estimates the damage at $20,000.

The citizens of Sullivan are subscribing liberally toward the relief the bereft families.  Joseph Handford, Tom Irwin and Jack Smith distinguished themselves for their bravery in perilling their lives to save the living and the recovery of the dead.  The last named especially won the commendation of the whole community.

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