The Avondale Mine Disaster
September 6, 1869

Part III: Recovery of the Miner's Bodies

Below you will find a transcription of a research paper written by James M. Corrigary regarding the Avondale Mine Disaster (Plymouth, Luzerne Co., Pa.) of 6 Sept 1869, an accident that claimed the lives of 110 men and boys, miners and mine laborers. The report is found at the Mine Safety and Health Administration Library in Denver, Colorado, and provides fascinating eyewitness accounts of the accident and its aftermath, along with testimony from the official inquest. At times the eyewitness accounts are heart-wrenching and gruesome, particularly when the corner describes the condition of the bodies as they were recovered from the mine. The testimony at the official inquest into the accident makes for compelling reading as well, as witness made varying statements regarding the safety of the mine, and the precautions taken to prevent just such a disaster. Due to its length, I have broken the paper into five parts contained on five separate pages. There is a sixth page featuring illustrations of the Avondale Disaster and it's aftermath, from the September 24, 1869 issue of Harper's Weekly. I have also used these drawings throughout the other five pages to better illustrate the story of the disaster.

  • Part I:
  • Physical description of the mine and details of the accident
  • Part II:
  • Initial recovery efforts
  • Part III:
  • Recovery of the miner's bodies
  • Part IV:
  • The funerals, widows and orphaned children
  • Part V:
  • The official inquest into the accident
  • Part VI:
  • Harper's Weekly illustrations of the Avondale Disaster

    In the days when miners had few rights, and mine owners were rarely held accountable for injuries suffered by their workers, it is probable that most contemporary commentators assigned little blame for the disaster to the mining company itself. Nevertheless, the Avondale Disaster caused new mining regulations to be enacted, including the mandating of double-shaft mines, and the prohibition against collieries being built directly over the mine shaft. It is unfortunate, however, that such measures were taken only after a disaster of this magnitude.

    Jeffrey L. Thomas
    jltbalt1@verizon.net


    Part III: Recovery of the Miner's Bodies

    ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHT BODIES RECOVERED

    Wednesday, at two o'clock a.m., matters were at a stand still, except as regards to the water going in upon the furnace and the rising of the black damp. No one had been down since the gang last reported, although an effort was made to get another gang to go. Three who had not been down were ready, but those in authority were afraid to have them run the risk, unless someone who had been down would go along. Observations convinced all present that the men in the mine were beyond all hope of recovery alive. The volunteers at this time were about worked out, and the prospect of the air being pure enough to allow any more men entering for a long time was not good. Just before three o'clock, however, a party went down and penetrated as far as the stable of the mine, where two dead bodies were found in a horrible condition (bloated and with blood oozing from their mouths). At first they were not recognized, but being brought up they were found to be those of Palmer Steele, stable boss, and a young man aged about eighteen years, named Deasison Slocum. The latter was a mule driver. Mr. Steele leaves a wife and family of five girls, the oldest not over ten years of age.

    At half past six o'clock, R. Williams. D. W. Evans, John Williams, and William Thomas went down and made the most extended exploration hitherto attempted. They were gone half an hour, when they returned and reported that they ascended the self - seting plane leading to the east gangway, and traversed it until they reached a closed brattice which the men had built to shut themselves if possible from the foul air. This they broke through, and their gaze was not by a view which appalled the stoutest heart among them. Grouped together, in every possible position, laid the dead bodies of sixty - seventy men and boys, some appearing as if they had quietly dropped asleep, while others seem to have struggled with their impending fate. Some of them, latter laid with their faces buried in coal dust in the floor, in the vain attempt to find a current of fresh air. Others hands were clasped to their throats, while not a few had their faces wrapped in their shirts. One father, Mr. William P. Evans, was stretched out, with a son closely clasped by each arm, while a third was lying between his legs with his head resting on his father's breast. Another father, Mr. Hutton (Hatton), lovingly embraced a young son, and all appeared as if sweetly sleeping. Mr. Evan Hughes, the Inside Boss, was sitting down with his head bent forward upon his breast, and with his hands clasped in front of him, while another body was reclining a few feet distant with face turned to Mr. Hughes, as though he had been engaged in a conversation with him, but a moment previous drawing his last breath. What had been the conversation of these two men will only be revealed at the last great day. Had they been considering the chances of success, or was each leaving with the other a parting message to dear ones at home, to be delivered in case either survived?

    This party secured the watch of Mr. Hughes, and also that of Mr. Evans. That of the former was stopped at fifteen minutes past five o'clock, and that of the latter at eight minutes to six.

    Preparations were now made to send down the relief of miners which had been organized to carry to the surface the dead men. These reliefs were than composed:

    A JURY IMPANELED AND BODIES VIEWED

    In the meantime in the presence of a Coroner, B. O. Wadhams and J. W. .. of Plymouth, Justice of the Peace, had been summoned to act as .. They impaneled the following jury to view the remains as they were brought out of the mine, vis: W. J. Harvey, Foreman, Samuel Van Loon, Martha McDonald, James George, Charles Hutchinson, and Thomas Patton.

    The first relief corps which went down brought back with it the body of Mr. John Bowen, of Plymouth, formerly of Providence. He was thirty one years of age, and left a wife and one child. One eye was open, but otherwise his countenance seemed at rest and as though he had died without a struggle. They body was brought out of the tunnel on a bier, which was deposited on the ground before the jury, who then and their viewed the remains - those who brought them out being sworn as to the fact of bringing them from the mine, and as to their identity. When the latter was ascertained, his name and residence were announced to the assembled thousands by Mr. James George, of Plymouth, President of the Miner's Union, and the body was conveyed to the dead-house to be cleaned and claimed by the relatives or friends. This name course was pursued with each body recovered. The jury now repaired to the residence of Palmer Steele and Dennison Slocum (who were brought out during the night), and viewed the remains.

    The rest of the bodies were brought our in the order and condition printed below:

    At this time Mr. William Halliday, of Pine Ridge, was brought from the mine greatly overcome by the foul air, and required the attendance of several physicians some time before he was restored.

    At this time, half-past three p.m., it was found necessary to call on Sheriff Rhodes to appoint a posse of Deputy Sheriffs to preserve order, the crown having become so great that it was found very difficult to control them. A force of special policemen was also ordered from Scranton.

    When coming up the shaft with Mr. Daly's body, Mr. Edward Connell fell back exhausted upon it, and was with difficulty prevented from falling back down the pit. It was five hours before he was fully restored. Another member of the relief was also slightly overcome.

    From ten o'clock until shortly after midnight, no more bodies were recovered. The increasing foulness of the air, and the necessity of which persisted for another exploration of the mine, created the delay which was much increased from the fact that the reliefs refused to explore until a physician could be summoned. That night there was hideously dark-thunder, lightning and rain prevailing, and most of the crowd returned to their homes, though some remained, waiting anxiously for further developments. The burning coal, sending up blue curling flames, the scores of miners with lamps in their hats; as many men with lanterns flying about; the group of men about the tunnel with lights; the reliefs bringing out the biers with their fearful loads of dead humanity; the thick darkness; all combined to make a scene seldom witnessed in the mining community. Add to all this the shrieks of women and the crying of men as victims were brought up (the relief party carrying) the men from the pit of death; the puffing of the donkey engine as it forces air into the shaft, and some idea of the terrible carnage can be gained.

    An exploring party shortly before eleven o'clock reported seven found. Shortly afterward another party reported the finding of two men, also two mules on the west side.

    At half-past twelve o'clock thirteen more bodies were reported found in groups, the largest numbering six.

    More men reported to be at the bottom of the plane, on the west side, where (there was) evidence that a brattice was commenced but not finished, the men perishing no doubt before it was done.

    Another exploring party having been down about forty-five minutes, found nine more bodies in one place not far from the last found.

    Mr. J. was the last man found at this time, six o'clock a.m., Thursday. Half an hour afterward, a party of six men reported no more men on the east side. Half an hour later eight men were found on the west side of the mine.

    Another crowd of people began to arrive about eight o'clock. At this time a new rope was placed upon the hoisting apparatus, the old one having become worn.

    At half past nine o'clock, Benjamin Hughes, Thomas Carpon, Thomas D. Davies, George Morgan, and J(???) Williams went down to the east gangway, to endeavor to discover what caused a defect which had become apparent in circulation. Mr. Davies returned forty minutes afterwards and reported that a canvas brattice was to be placed across the east gangway to make a shorter draft.

    At ten minutes to six o'clock, the names of Daniel Edwards, Madison Alabough, John Powell, of Avondale, and Rowland Jones of Plymouth, were reported as those men whose bodies had not been recovered.

    At noon a committee headed by Mr. Benjamin Hughes, General Inside Foreman of the D. L. & W. RR. Co's mines, returned from an extensive exploration of the entire western portion of the mine, and reported no more bodies found.

    A train of twenty cars loaded with people from Scranton and along the line arrived on the ground at a quarter past twelve o'clock.

    The foregoing list of names is complied from a report taken as the bodies were one by one brought from the homes at Avondale, and recognized by relatives or friends. It is probably as accurate as it can be made without much more labor and time than the writer has available. In many names there was great difficulty finding persons who were able to recognize those brought out, and it (is) possible that in (certain situations) one or two may have been given wrong names. A Committee of the Board of Trustees of the Relief Fund report finding one Edward Bowen (whose name also appears among the list of burials in Hyde Park), his name not in the foregoing list, but the names of Edward Owen and Edward Bowen may have been switched by the committee. The committee found a James Jones, which name does not appear. In this case, James Jones and James Jasion may stand for the same individual. In any event, there should be one hundred and eight bodies recorded as brought from the mine, which is the number given in the proceeding pages.

    MORE EXPLORATIONS AND THE REPORTS

    At twenty minutes past two o'clock, p.m., Mssrs. Thom Carson of the Hampton mine, and George Morgan of Nanticoke, with twenty men, returned from the mine, and reported that they had explored every part of the workings, and were satisfied that all the bodies had been recovered.

    At fifteen minutes past three o'clock, p.m., Mr. Lewis S. Jones, foreman of the "reliefs" in the tunnel, made the following statement to the jury:

    Have been foreman at the head of the shaft from half past five p.m., Wednesday, until the present time. Have had three gangs of men, each of whom thoroughly explored the mine, the last gang numbered twenty men. I am satisfied that there is not a breast cross-cut airway, or car in the mine that has not been thoroughly examined, and I believe that not a man remains in the mine.

    Shortly afterward, Mr. Benjamin Hughes made a report to the jury: "He had returned with four men from an exploration of the entire eastern portion of the mine. His particular errand was to find the coat which his brother, the Inside Foreman, hoping that a diary would be found which would give some information as to the operations of the men after they were shut in the mine. The coat, containing the two time books, a compass, and two pocket rules. Was found some five hundred or six hundred feet distant from the locality to which the body was sitting when discovered in the fatal gangway, showing that he had laid it down while engaged with the men in building the barricades behind which they eventually retreated."

    From this fact it is possible that when Mr. Evan Hughes gave up all hope, he had no means of making a record from which the outside world could ascertain the length of time the miners lived, and what were their thoughts and occupations before they succumbed to the enemy which stole away their breath. From the appearance of the mine, it's evident that every minute of time was spent devising methods of shutting themselves out from the heat, smoke, and foul air generated by the mine and fire.

    When the various reports were made, there was no longer room for doubt of the fact that every man who went into the mine on the morning of the fatal 6th day of September had been recovered. The jury, as well as the experienced miners predict, were fully satisfied that such was the case, and when the announcement was made to the assembled thousands, they departed to their homes. The jury also adjourned to meet on Saturday morning at Plymouth, there to take evidence in relation to the disaster, and to agree upon their verdict.


    Continue with Part IV: The funerals, widows and orphaned children
    Return to Part II: Initial recovery efforts
    Harper's Weekly illustrations of the Avondale Disaster
    Learn more about the Avondale Disaster victims buried in the Washburn Street cemetery.
    View a survey of the Washburn Street cemetery, Hyde Park/Scranton
    Read more about the history of Hyde Park with an emphasis on mining
    Read more about Benjamin Hughes, brother of Avondale Mine Boss Evan Hughes
    Return to the main page at the Thomas family web site

    Web site copyright 2005 by Jeffrey L. Thomas, with all rights reserved
    e-mail: jltbalt1@verizon.net