Part V: The Official Inquest
into the Accident
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
Part V: The Official Inquest into the Accident
THE CORONER'S INQUEST
On Saturday, September 11th, the Coroner's inquest into the cause of the death of the victims of the disaster began at Shupp's Hall, Plymouth, at 11 o'clock a.m. Present, Acting Coroners R. C. Wadhams and J. W. Rav (or Ray?), of the Jurors who had previously viewed the bodies at Avondale, as follows: W. J. Harvey, Foreman; Samuel Van Loon, Martin McDonald, James George, Charles Hutchinson, Thomas Patton. Quite a number of miners were present. E. L. Merriman, and H. B. Payns, of Wilkes-Barre, assisted by several miners headed by Mr. Henry W. Evans, conducted the examination on the part of the Miner's Union, and T. A. McClintuel, on the part of the Company, and questions, especially as to the ventilation and conduct of mines, were also frequently asked by Mr. Henry J. Phillips and Mr. Benjamin Hughes. Mr. George and Mr. McDonald, of the jury, Mr. George Morgan of Nanticoke, Mr. Jenkin Jones of Mill Creek, and other mining experts, questioned many of the witnesses.
The first witness sworn was Dr. G. H. Wilson, of Plymouth, who testified that the cause of death of the men at Avondale was the inhalation of carbonic acid gas, producing asphyxia.
Christopher Savage sworn. Was fourteen; not at work on the morning of the disaster; worked at Avondale Saturday; fire in the furnace then; the mine started on 3rd September; fire sixty or seventy yards from bottom of shaft; always good air in the mine; fire let go on Saturday nights and lit by wood Monday mornings; no lumber between furnace and bottom of shaft; all brickwork; shaft partly wet; new man tending furnace; began September 2nd; no feeling among men that there was any likelihood of shaft taking fire; did not expect it to take fire from bottom at all; furnace was far enough from bottom of shaft; Steele (stable boss) carried hay down in car; did not know if he had a lamp lighted; been employed at Avondale since the mine started; Union mines are next below Avondale; don't know distance between the two, but am told sound of drills can be heard from one another; thought not too much difficulty driving the gangway connecting the two mines; no other means of ingress or egress of ventilation at Avondale except main shaft; shaft supposed to be 230 feet deep; shaft was through solid rock; brattice must of course be of wood; stable about sixty or seventy feet maybe a little over, from the bottom of the shaft; was a tool house in mine; did not know where fire originated; strong draft through flue from furnace; upper end of fire terminated above stack; knew Mr. Weir, the old mine boss; was over three years mine had been run; Mr. Weir and also Mr. Evan Hughes, careful and experienced men; did not know the man who tended furnace; never heard any talk of another opening being made; if had, another means of escape men would of course been alive; couldn't tall how long it would take to drive another gangway to next mine; thought Mr. Evan Hughes had full control of inside works; he was constantly improving the works and putting in brick work where he thought there was danger; couldn't say whether it was possible for sparks to fly from the furnace to the brattice in the shaft; it was a long way for a spark to go; not been down since fire.
Conrad Lee, Outside Foreman at Avondale, called and sworn. Lyman Miswick, was headman; it was his first day; he was assisted by Philip Alabough and J. M. Wilcox; witness is Outside Foreman at Avondale; not there when fire was discovered; had no definite idea as to how fire originated; there was no fire about the top of the shaft; never knew man who took hay down to have lamp (attached to) his head at the time, but might have some time; very seldom went down shaft; went down to observe arrangements; very good draft; brick work began at bottom of shaft; might have been a wooden door between furnace and bottom of shaft; was door at top of flue; had often looked in; never saw any sparks; draft would have carried fire up from bottom of shaft instantly; fire broke out at a quarter to ten; never looked in flue door when fire was being ignited; have hears Inside Foreman speak of driving gangway to heat mine, but preferred using the Chauncey tunnel, and was driving his works toward it; there was at the time of the fire, no other ventilation but main shaft; know Mr. Weir was considered best inside boss in Hazelton section; heard Wier speak of driving gangway to a tunnel; that was original plan of work; Mr. Evan Hughes told witness that if it had not been for suspension the tunnel would have now been nearly reached; men and mules would have been taken in by that means; Thomas Roney told me he was ordered to drive that way and work as fast as he could; never knew Mr. Hughes to neglect anything; underwater reservoir held 900 tons; not full at the time of suspension; no offer made to his knowledge by men to drive the tunnel during time of suspension; thought it could not have been done without raising coal; heard it said that if gangway was driven to Union Mines water could have come in and drowned them out; heard talk about driving headling from Union mine while the dead men were lying in Avondale; a union miner told him there was no place where headling could be driven through without striking water; Mr. Hughes told him and Mr. Alabough of the Union mines (and) had talked of drilling through; Mr. Hughes discouraged it for fear of water and for fear of inadequate ventilation; object of driving to the tunnel was both convenience and safety; thought every mine should have two openings, but did not see how it would be always possible; did not know if it was possible to drive to Union mines safely; supposed if there had been another shaft ready, with hoisting apparatus, men could have been saved; thought if fire started on surface the tunnel through which the dead men were brought out would have been afforded ventilation sufficient to save the men; Anson Dunn came up about five minutes before the fire; he (Dunn) had passed the furnace twice that morning.
Charles Wilcox and Philip Alabough called. Did not appear.
John Roberts called and sworn. Saw Palmer Steele at the top of the shaft, with hay, about to go down; this was 15 minutes before the fire. At this point Mr. Henry J. Phillips drew a plan of the shaft so that witnesses could point out the spot where he first saw the fire. He pointed out the upcast.
Dr. Wilson recalled. Men could have only lived a few minutes after the gas reached them.
Charles Wilcox sworn. Was acting as ticket boss at Avondale at the time of the fire; rang the bell for Palmer Steele to go down; a number of cars were hoisted after Steele went down; discovered the fire not more than half an hour after Steele went down; saw first fire at head of flue, for an hour before it came up; there was more smoke coming up the flue than there should have been; witness's position required him to be at head of shaft; been at Avondale for a year; made first cry of the fire himself; ran to get the boys out of the breaker; knew of no particular facilities for extinguishing the fire; buckets were not available, and he did not believe engines would have been; first saw the fire a foot or two above the head of the shaft; his impression was that it came from below; the flame came through the flue, and was nearly the width of the flue; didn't notice any smell of hay in the smoke; thought that if the fire had burned through the brattice below the carriage would have brought up fire; there were two large tanks of water in the breaker; pipes running from the tanks to the boilers; tanks a couple of hundred feet from the head of the shaft; was no hose that he know of; thought smoke was coming up before stable boss went down.
Anson Dunn sworn. Live in Ilanover(?); was in shaft on the day of the fire, looking for work; went down about nine o'clock; stayed three quarters of a hour; saw Edward Jones and several others; said men called it the best place they had worked in; agreed to go to work next morning; then went up; passed furnace; saw nothing unusual; no wood on the fire; saw nothing unusual on the way up; when came up saw Palmer Steele, with bundle of hay, ready to go down; not more than twenty minutes after that witness saw the fire at the top of the breaker; came up at a quarter of ten o'clock, saw the fire from across the river.
Thomas Roney sworn. Furnace located about ninety feet from bottom shaft; had assisted in building fires in the furnace; never heard any fear expressed of danger from the furnace; brattice was on fire at one previous time; saw the fire; Elijah Bryant and Thomas Davis were there; never knew of its being on fire but once; that brattice had no connection with the shaft; caught from a stove and not from the furnace; brick wall had been put in place of the brattice that caught fire; been there since March, 1868; knew of no means provided for putting out the fire; there were two large water tanks; Miner's union never passed resolution that witness should not work to his knowledge; he applied to inside foreman for work, and was told to come on, but did not do so because miners held a meeting against it; they objected because he worked in the Washington mine during suspension; never told any men that "No other damned bugger should work there"; worked in Avondale driving an airway toward a borehole, where Mr. Hughes intended to put in a manway and manway would have worked at same airway if he had gone back; there were barrels of water on the lower end of the breaker to extinguish fire; the tunnel, witness understood, didn't reach the coal until, about twenty feet, but there was a borehole, and when that was struck it was intended to put in a slope; did not know how near Union mine works at Avondale extended; had heard sound of men drilling at a distance of twenty-four yards through solid rock and coal; warning working double shift (shaft?) on the airway up to the time suspension began; Mr. Hughes thought shaft unsafe in its present condition, and wanted airway pushed.
Edward Flynn sworn. Been at Avondale two years; good air in the mine; worked there last Saturday; seventy or eighty feet from Union works to Avondale; never knew of a fire occurring from a ventilating furnace; was not afraid to work in the mine, but thought it would take some time to evacuate if there was no way for the men to come out; never heard of any accident of this kind before; Mr. Weir and Mr. Hughes both careful men; did not know of any neglect on their part; were barrels of water on the roof outside to be used in case of fire; worked on east side; miners on west side told him they were nearly through to the Union mine; did not believe they were within fifty to sixty feet; eighty feet would drive it through; it could be done in a week; could make a yard each shift in it; the sound of drill can be hears eighty feet through solid coal.
Isaac Thomas sworn. Worked at Avondale; not worked there since suspension, but was in the mine last Saturday; went there when the shaft was sinking; never heard that the furnace was too near the shaft or that there was any danger from the furnace; thought there was no way to save the men if the cracker took fire; thought that the men in Avondale lived long enough to have saved themselves if there had been any other outlet for them to walk to; helped to take down brattice; thought another air shaft would have saved them; Nottingham shaft is worked same as Avondale; Lance's also the same, and he believed Boston too; never heard of an accident like this; did not believe at all that the fire took from the furnace; it was sixty yards from the shaft; can't say how it did take fire; fire was always let out on Saturday night and started again Monday morning; don't believe the air current could possibly have carried fire so far; shaft was pretty dry altogether; never heard of any fire in the shaft brattice; a little place between the airway and gangway took fire from the stove it was replaced with a brick brattice, which both prevented fire and made better ventilation; brattice was double-boarded; I put it in.
Thomas E. Davies sworn. Worked ten months in Avondale; know the shaft well; furnace one hundred and fifty feet from the shaft; never heard of danger from furnace; talked with Evan Hughes about driving a gangway through; it was being driven with two shifts to make another outlet; had examined the brattice all the way up and down; saw no evidence of heat from the furnace; other mines are worked in the same way as Avondale; did not believe fire took from furnace; had seen men work in flue while furnace was burning, which showed it was not hot; thought fire took somewhere about the mouth of the tunnel; thought it must have been set on fire; another air shaft would have saved the men; heat would not have prevented a man standing between the furnace and the shaft while fire was being blended with wood, but the smoke would; thought current strong enough to carry sparks back to shaft; thought boards too wet to take fire from sparks; furnace burned three cars of coal every forty-eight hours; good deal of water comes down when the pump is going; was not there when shaft was sinking; it was considered a dry shaft; brattice and guides were burned twenty to thirty feet from bottom of shaft.
William Thomas sworn. Worked for months in shaft before suspension; not after; been four years in mines in this country; have seen another mode of ventilation; was in the shaft after the fire; saw the men dead; men could be saved if another way to the mine; don't know if the men did any work before they died; saw brattice built of stone and coal; men had time to escape another way; men could not live two or three days if only airway; never heard they could on (in?) England; never heard of such an occurrence in this country; heard of some shafts on fire, and men only escaped with their lives; is dangerous to go down only one shaft; if explosive gas men could not be saved without another outlet; didn't notice brattice in shaft; .. man found on top of the plane; was acquainted with men killed in the mine; I was not in the car, but saw the inside wall; the fire was from the furnace; men belonging in the gangway found in the west gangway; I know many of the people working at the time of the disaster; did find James Williams, who worked in the east gangway, in the west gangway; think he went on account of disaster to save his life some way.
Alexander Weir sworn. Engineer at Avondale; told boss there was danger of the flue catching on fire in packing and waste about pumps at bottom of shaft; first saw smoke rising the canvas over the pump rod; tried to get signal from below, and to send a man down to investigate; in a minute or two the fire burst out like an explosion of powder through the corner of the engine house where the pump rod comes up; thought it was dangerous because found it so hot in pump shaft that he could not pack the pumps unless door opened; my father built the furnace; he considered it safe; I do not remember ever telling him that it was unsafe; never saw any sparks from the flue; it might have been sulfur more than coal that prevented my staying in the pump shaft; don't know what the Inside Boss said when I told him I considered the flue unsafe; think I could have stood greater heat at the bottom of the shaft if air had been pure.
George Morgan sworn. Been connected with mining since ten years old; believe two openings to a mine better than one; there could have been another opening at Avondale or at any other works; upper part of brattice burned most, say seventy-five feet, and twenty-five feet at bottom; if so, it would have burned all the way up; did not think it started at top, but best part of the way up; went down hoisting shaft; guides show no sign of fire except three or four lengths at top and one length at bottom; thought fire originated at the mouth of the tunnel or a little lower; good many mines like Avondale - too many; Buttonwood burned up like Avondale, but without loss of life; fire did not come from furnace, I firmly believe.
In answer to a question from Mr. H. W. Evans, witness said, "That seems intended to bring out a condemnation of the system of mining with but one outlet; I fully agree in condemning that system."
Mr. Evans said, "That is exactly the intention. We miners intend to prove here who is responsible for that system. We intend to prove that it is wrong - WRONG - to send men to work in such mines, and that we have known it for long years; but we must work or starve; that is where the miners stand on this question, and we mean to use this occasion to prove it."
Mr. Evans spoke with intense excitement and feeling, and his words drew a burst of applause from the miners in the audience.
Coroner Waldham reminded the audience that this was a court room; and that order and decorum must be preserved. The repetition of such remarks or demonstrations would make it necessary to clear the court room at once and exclude all spectators thereafter.
Thomas L. Thomas sworn. Been miner thirty-five years, and in this country six years; had spoken with Evan Hughes about Avondale being dangerous; a couple of days after beginning work there, Hughes asked him if he had seen the furnace; Hughes showed it to him; never saw better ventilation than there was there; Hughes never answered much about danger; Mr. Hughes allowed, and everybody must allow, that there is danger in mines with one shaft, especially with a wooden building above; thought no danger from furnace, but he believed, and other old hands believed, that if the breaker burned not a man would come out alive; can't believe that fire came from furnace; timber inside and away from the outside air does not take fire readily; with another air hole good management would probably have saved the men's lives; had heard talk about it being easy to drive a gangway through to the Union mines; can hear a drill for fifty feet at least through a wall of coal.
Benjamin Jenkins was called, but not answering, at 4:30 p.m., the inquest was adjourned until Tuesday morning, September 14th, at 9 o'clock.
The Coroner's Jury re-assembled at Shupp's Hall, Plymouth, Tuesday morning. Present, the jury and Acting Coroners Wadhams and Eno. About fifty persons were in the hall. After the usual preliminaries of calling the jury, the evidence was resumed.
Acting for the miners, E. L. Morrison, and for the defense, A. T. Metillineck.
G. W. McKee sworn. Men in mine died from inhalation of carbonic acid gas; can form no opinion as to how long they lived after fire began; probably not more then four hours.
Daniel W. Evans sworn. Am miner and familiar with mines; been in Avondale shaft since fire; believe fire originated from flue; caused by spark coming from furnace; another opening would have saved the men.
Cross-examination. Never worked in Avondale; believe fire was from furnace; boards not far enough from furnace; more than one hundred and thirty-nine feet by measurement; think fire originated from near bottom of shaft; within fifty feet or less; not a piece of brattice unburned; but it is burned in part all the way from bottom to top; reason that more burned at bottom, because falling debris made greater fire there; some buntings not burned at all, all through brattice the thickness (inside one) burned completely out; examined shaft particularly on Saturday, in company with T. M. Williams and others; never saw shaft before; never was in Avondale mine before the fire.
Dr. Chas F. Ingram sworn. Have been an engineer thirty-five years; been connected with mining engineering some years; have put up several breakers in this valley; know of one case (Buttonwood mine) where there was fire originating from furnace and not at bottom of shaft, fire so originating would not necessarily ignite brattice at bottom; would be likely to ignite at top, but would consider it rather matter of chance; no theory can be established on the point; in case of Avondale mine there was sufficient oxygen to feed fire at bottom; water in small stream conveys air to the fire and feeds it; in case of separate air shaft entering mine, men could escape, even if the main shaft was choked by fire, ventilation in parts of mine would probably be better than ordinary; mining with one shaft not safe or justified.
Cross-examined. Never examined Buttonwood shaft after fire; all I know of this is conjecture and hearsay; planned a shaft designing continuous brick within fifty feet of surface; other materials put in wood; don't know of more than half a dozen ventilation fans in Wyoming and Susquehanna valleys; except for Andouried, Pine Ridge, Sugar, Nesen, Empire; there are twenty-two or twenty-three shafts in the region; all but those mentioned are ventilated by furnaces so far as I know; always heard Avondale as a first class work; know of many mines like that, with breaker over the mouth of the shaft and but one opening; if in Avondale mine there had been separate air shaft there would have probably been a furnace of some kind at the bottom, or small apparatus called "lightning bug," fire would be so small as not to interfere with escape of men, but if there had been a regular furnace there would still have been danger with two openings that the men would not escape in case of accident.
Thomas Broderick sworn. Carry on coal works; interested in Union mine; Mr. Robert's partner; it adjoins Avondale; never talked with Avondale proprietors about driving through to Avondale; talked with my partner, and Hughes, Inside Boss, was to be seen about it; at Buttonwood fire originated from furnace; was about fifty feet from bottom of shaft; shaft five hundred and fourteen feet deep; fifty or sixty feet brick two hundred feet of wooden brattice with water introduced inside and out to keep wet and make secure; rest of way wooden brattice; did not burn down from top; brattice would burn same if burned from bottom, as by fire from above; another opening would save men; operated Union about year; capping the old McFarlane would drawn out Avondale; would endanger lives of men; if Avondale, lower increase danger; thought powder-smoke from Union would not go to Avondale if an opening; think distance too great; never been in Avondale; first class work; all new works, put up in four or five years; are using fans; fan at Nottingham and Fullers; not sure about Lance's; Nottingham about two years old; until lately mines have been ventilated by furnaces generally; was fan at buttonwood; have worked furnaces closer than one at Avondale without accident; Empire had one within fifty feet; if nothing but coal on fire would not be apt to burn bottom of brattice; thought it did not follow that brattice would burn all way up the same; thought the great draft would make fire jump, or skip past parts of the brattice; he only guessed at it; would depend on condition of brattice; if the Avondale works were driven up to old tunnel, it would make a good opening for escape of men and for ventilation; if in charge of that mine would have been more apt to make second opening through tunnel than to open another mine.
Cross-examined. Think it possible for brattice to ignite from a furnace one hundred and fifty feet from the bottom.
Direct resumed. Don't know of any first-class work in operation two years where a second opening has been made; think Avondale the first shaft ever burned in any coal region in this country.
D. W. Evans recalled. Williams, Smith and I went down shaft Saturday to furnace; measure all about; found several big pieces of wood in furnace (presented a specimen of oak); no fire in furnace.
John Mitchell sworn. Been a miner; operator; Buttonwood was burst by furnace firing brattice; consider no mine secure with but one opening; with wood burning in furnace one hundred and twenty-five feet or less, know brattice could be fired from it; more apt to fire at top than bottom; chimney also fired; sparks would do it.
Cross-examined. Don't think furnace safe with brattice anywhere within the draft; think sparks could be carried five hundred feet; most shafts in Wyoming valley ventilated from furnace like Avondale; twin shafts like Bowker's at Pittston, are perfectly safe; if one burned the men could easily get out the other; know Martin Weir who laid out Avondale; was one of the most experienced men in these parts.
Question by B. Hughes. Fire and sulfur would go down the burning shaft and up the other; but think men could be gotten out; it would take time for this air to pass all around; men might be gotten out before it got around.
By Mr. Phelps. Three-fourths of all brattice in valley built over shaft.
By Mr. Merriman. Don't think that mine with one opening is safe.
Lewis Merrifield sworn. Miner; been four times in Avondale since fire; fire originated from furnace, in brattice.
Cross-examination. Caught burned fifteen to twenty feet; burned up from bottom eighteen feet; don't think burned up from pipe and examined brattice thoroughly; pipe don't leak enough to keep brattice wet; if leaked, boards would be wet; furnace one hundred twenty-nine feet, two inches from brick work to edge of rock in shaft; extension of furnace thirteen feet six inches; never was in mine before.
Direct resumed. No mine was safe without two openings.
Benjamin Jones Sworn. Miner; been in Avondale since fire; think fire took from furnace; think no mine with one opening safe.
Cross-examined. Mr. Weir was a careful experienced miner; never was in Avondale before fire; work in Jersey slope for D. L. & W.; think fire caught in air shaft; sixteen buntings burned, from there up all burned; think originated fifty or sixty feet from bottom; think men could be going up and down half an hour and not see the fire; it might have caught inside; Mr. Hughes was regarded an experienced miner; think men could have been saved if another opening; believe if hole out from Union, men could have been saved.
Mr. Merriman here announced, the evidence on his side probably finished, although he said a few more witnesses might be called.
July adjourned until two p.m.
Two p.m. - Dr. Ingram recalled by Prosecution, and examined as to practicability of removing the fire in the furnace in case of accident; thought it was practicable.
John Albrighton sworn. Am one of the owners of the Union mine; talked with Mr. Hughes about driving through from Union mine; Mr. Roberts told him how important to have hole driven; witness said to Mr. Hughes, every soul must parish in that mine in case of fire; witness made no reply; was probably two months ago; we could hear the blasts in Avondale; think that men's lives would have been saved if gangway had been driven to Union.
Cross-examined. Conversation took place during suspension; would not have driven into McFarland according to survey we made; we thought they were lighter, though not higher than the old workings; if Avondale lower than McFarland, would flood Avondale; as I understand the coal is left below us, we have five of coal between us and Avondale; never mentioned it to anybody but Hughes, and to him only once; judged it with great distance; three hundred feet; presume would have taken a month with all hands (that) could be put there; do not know if they were driving for an additional opening into tunnel; never in Avondale; understood that Avondale was a well arranged mine to work in; men left us to work in Avondale who had worked there before suspension.
Cross-examined resumed. Can hear drill through solid coal from four hundred to six hundred feet; there is difference in veins; think men could not have come out through tunnel when shaft on fire; we were not particularly interested in tunneling from Union, but it would have made ours better; would have taken some of our smoke; believe no mine operated (in as safe a) way as Avondale; miners went back to Avondale because we had no homes; one man (now dead) lamented this; one man had taken out bottom coal; at Avondale; and had the privilege of taking out top coal - that was another reason for him leaving - that was another reason for him leaving; Lewis Davis, Edward Quinn, and one who worked with Quinn went back; those certain; would have driven east from our mine to reach Avondale, starting at lowest chamber next water for fuse they are not high enough.
Cross-examination resumed. Consider no mine safe with one opening.
Jenkin B. Jones was the first witness for the Company. Am inside foreman at Mill Creek; I have been engaged in mining all my lifetime; in Avondale after fire; but three bodies were found in east gangway, near the face; two of them in cars and one near the face; the two were lying on their tools, the other's tools by him; smoke and sulfur must have gone through the mine rapidly, as they tried to build ganglegs; did not finish them, but were driven; examined middle brattice going down, and up-cast coming up; noticed the guides were burned more in middle way than in upcast; brattice between upcast and other burned; thirty or forty feet down, and then sixty or seventy feet not burned; from bottom ten to twenty feet were burned out; think fire originated up above, because from all appearance the current of air continued some time; last bodies caught by smoke and sulfur; falling by their tools showed that they were caught suddenly; don't believe fire originated between shaft and furnace; if it had, men would have had more time to shut themselves in; knew Mr. Hughes eight years; competent and careful as foreman of mine; think if gangway driven to tunnel, men would have been saved.
Cross-examined. Not positive fire did not take from furnace; think it must have come from tunnel above; could have been set on fire; do not say it was set on fire; believe some could have been saved if there had been another opening (if they conducted the ventilation right); don't think one opening is sufficient.
Direct examination resumed. Takes (in opening new colliery) long time to make two openings; considerable mining must be done first; Avondale was equally well built, better than many mines I have seen; I think it could not have been better with same kind of ventilation; first breaker known to have been burned; with better connections between tunnel and shaft the former is better than any shaft; No. 10, Pa. Coal Co., has air shaft down to vein.
Benjamin Hughes sworn. Am General Inside Foreman D. L. & W. R.R.; placed my brother Evan Hughes at Avondale; he was competent and careful, he consulted with me; saw mine supplied with everything necessary; consider Avondale as safe as a mine could be with one opening; ventilation as good as any in this vicinity; (described by map how he was driving towards the tunnel to make another opening, which is now within twenty feet of the coal); length of gangway is longer in that direction than in any other; if no suspension, would have taken eight months from now; think that then it would be a mine perfectly safe; brother never spoke to me about driving to Union; nearest distance to Union is six hundred feet; pretty hard coal at Avondale; in some veins above, about two hundred feet per month could be driven; we are one hundred and twenty feet lower in Avondale than were they (Union) are working now; if driven to McFarlane's would been drowned out at Avondale; it is filled with water; not used since 1864; two hundred and thirty two feet to line of McFarlane's; afraid to drive nearer for fear they might have driven over our line; being full of water, can't make a survey; always been proposed to drive to old tunnel to make another opening; Mr. Weir was a good practical miner.
Cross-examined. Could not have driven tunnel faster; had two shifts driving towards tunnel ever since mine commenced working; think men could have been saved through that tunnel had the shaft been on fire; am positive the fresh air would rush through the tunnel and up the shaft; consulted with Mr. Storre about this tunnel more than once; depends of circumstances whether a mine is safe with one opening; he considered there was ordinary care in mining even with one opening; would rather have two; had run mines here eleven years without an accident from burning of breaker.
James Archibold sworn. Am Civil Engineer; have been a consulting engineer in relation to D. L. & W. mines; was consulted about Avondale; Mr. Phelps then in charge; afterward Mr. Weir because well recommended; I thought him a good practical miner; discussed with him the two modes of ventilation, "fan" and "furnace"; he objected to fan, as it was liable to get out of order; he preferred furnace; we thought (his suggestion) good; coal made in furnace; it is now the prevailing mode; never knew a shaft burned from the mode of ventilation before Avondale; coal was being mined when he came into the valley forty years ago; and there were more furnaces than fans, and still a variety of opinion as to which is better; Mr. Phelps and I talked about the tunnel; not as much for safety (as that was then called in question); no one thought of danger; more for convenience and to save time.
Cross-examined. Am Chief Engineer of D. L. & W. R.R.; am a stockholder.
Question. Do you consider it safe to have a mine with only one opening?
Answer. Consider it relative no more danger getting on a railway train and riding one hundred miles than working in that mine.
Thomas McFarlane sworn. Worked McFarlane shaft adjoining Union; it was last worked in 1864; seventy five feet higher than Avondale; would not be safe to drive to Avondale unless latter high enough up the hill to be above water.
Cross-examined. No mine with one opening safe; believe if double opening men would have been saved.
Direct resumed. Had tunnel been driven through, men would have been safe.
Henry J. Phillips sworn. Mining engineer for D. L. & W. R.R.; been in Avondale; made a survey of it two or three weeks before suspension; also of Union yesterday; distance between mines six hundred and ten feet to third chamber at Avondale; to point spoken of by Mr. Albrighton, seven hundred feet; Avondale one hundred twenty to one hundred thirty feet lower than Union; not safe to drive into McFarlane because eight or ten acres of coal are out and space full of water; talked with Evan Hughes two weeks ago; he sent for me to come down here on the 6th of the month (the day of the fire) to make survey in regard to the tunnel; something prevented me, or I would probably have been with the unfortunate men; if the tunnel were opened it would be safe to run past the mouth of the shaft to the mouth of the tunnel, which is forty or forty-five feet; tunnel runs along side of shaft, and if fire there occurred, the draft would have gone in and up shaft; men could go that forty-five feet with perfect safety, and would have done it; have known men to run through black damp and sulfur sixty, seventy, and even one hundred fifty feet; same force would have driven them to the tunnel as soon as to Union; to No. 10, Pennsylvania Company's mine, there is a second shaft to first vein only, to the best of my recollection; I would rather have two rather than one opening; no company in the country has taken more pains than the D. L. & W. RR. Co. When engaged on an essay on ventilation of mines, examined all mines in Valley and found D. L. & W. better than all others; conclusion arrived at in essay was that two openings better than one.
Question. Should not any company be held responsible for sending men into mines with only one opening?
Answer. Not a question for me to answer; that is for the Courts; I am here for no Company; I am here for myself; I think if there was a tunnel opened the men would have been safe.
Question. Have you any idea where the fire originated?
Answer. I thought first from the furnace; afterward that it was set on fire from the furnace, because one turns at right angle into the shaft, and there would have been greatest amount of heat; other opinion made from the evidence and appearance above; I think it was set on fire.
Robert Anderson called by prosecution. Am a miner; sunk No. 10 shaft, Penn. Coal Co.; sank winding shaft and air too; both extended to bottom of mine; sank winding shaft first, about five months doing it; drove also slope; five months driving big shaft; two hundred and sixty four feet between the two; ventilated by the furnace; breaker ever winding shaft; case of fire men could go up the air shaft; believe one could be made in an hour; their workings are old, and they have an advantage of opening from one to another; been in the country five years; this is the first breaker burned to my knowledge.
Here both parties rested and the answer went to the jury without argument. About four and a half o'clock p.m. the hall was cleared and the jury commenced their deliberation. About six o'clock the adjourned for supper, after which they agreed to the following verdict:
THE VERDICT OF THE JURY
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA AT LUZERNE COUNTY.
An inquisition at Plymouth, in the County of Luzerne, the eighth, ninth, eleventh, and fourteenth days of September, in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-nine, before is, K. C. Wadhams and Josiah W. Kno, Justices of the Peace, acting as coroners of the County aforesaid, upon the view of the bodies of Palmer Steele, Denulson Slocum, John Broker, William Powell, George Williams, Jr., Willie Phillips, Mathuesalem Evans, Edward Humphrey, Jacob Monier, Peter Conlan, John Clark, William J. Evans, George Stackhouse, Edwin D. Jones, Morgan Watkins, Andrew Frothingham, William X. Allen, Thomas D. Jones, Peter Johnson, Evan Hughes, William Bowen, James Feare, Thomas Hughes, William Reese, William Pharfit, William N. Williams, William Lewis, John Hughes, Thomas Morris, Elijah S. Bryant, Thomas Roberts, William Sink, Daniel Jones, Daniel Givens, Evan Rees, Edward W. Edwards, Henry Morris, William S. Williams, David S. Reese, Richard Woolley, John R. Davis, David James, Lewis Evans, William Williams, Richard Owen, William Hatton, William Evans, James Powell, Thomas Hatton, Edward Owen, John Burch, John Burch, Jr., John Jenkins, William Evans, Daniel Woods, William H. Nauss, David Reese, Jr., Griffith Roberts, Charles F. Ruth, Joseph Morris, Patrick McGurck, Harry Smith, Sham Howell, Thomas Davies, William Dowdle, John Roberts of Gregory Thomas Ryan, Hugh Gilroy, John Maher, Patrick Burke, William T. Morgan, James Murray, Michael Daly, David P. Pryer, James Phillips, James Williams, John D. Evans, William Harding, Samuel R. Morgan, William R. Evans, William L. Wildrich, Reese Lumley, Thomas Llewellyn, Reese Llewellyn, William Davies, John Thomas, John Davies, William T. Williams, William D. Johns, Dennis Guyton, William R. Reese, William Speight, John Harris, Thomas L. Jones, Thomas Phillips, Lewis Davies, Charles Feare, John Thomas, David Johnson, James Mallon, James Harkfish, William D. Jones, Edward Taylor, Rowland Jones, Madison Alabaugh, Daniel Edwards, and John Powell and there lying dead, upon the oaths of William J. Harvey, (Chip) Hutchinson, Samuel Vanloda, James George, Martia McDonald, and Thomas Patton of the County who being sworn to inquire on the role of the Commonwealth when, where, how and after what manner Palmer Steele and other people came to their deaths, do say upon their oaths that Palmer Steele and other people came to their deaths in the Avondale mine in Plymouth ... County and State afterwards, between the eighth days of September last year. The cause of death of Palmer Steele and other people sustained was the exhaustion of atmospheric air and the presence of the abundance of carbonic acid gasses in the said Avondale mines, caused by the burning of the Head House and Breaker at said mine, on the sixth day of September 1869, destroying the air courses leading from the mine through the shaft.
That the fire originated from the furnace in the mine, taking effect on the wood brattice to the up-cast air course leading from the bottom of the shaft to the Head House.
The jury regards the present system of mining in a large number of cases now working by shaft as insecure and unsafe to the miner, and would strongly recommend, in all cases where practicable, two places for ingress and egress and a more practical means of ventilation, thereby rendering greater security to the life of the miner under any similar accident.
In witness whereof, as well as the appointed Justice of the Peace, noting as Coroners as the Jurors aforesaid, have to their inquisition put their hands and souls(seals?) on this fourteenth (14th) day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-nine at Plymouth.
E. C. Wadhams, Justice of the Peace, noting as Coroner
Josiah W. Eno, Justice of the Peace, noting as Coroner
Wm J. Harvey,
INCEPTION AND PROGRESS OF THE RELIEF FUND
On Tuesday, Sept 17th, Rev T. P. Hunt, of Wilkes-Barre, appeared at Avondale and made a few remarks to those assembled in relation to the propriety of raising money to be applied to the relief of the facilities of those men who were in the mine, closing with proposing that E. C. Wadhams, James McAlarney, J. Faller, H. J. Yaple, Harry Hakes, Sam Shafer, B. J. Woodward, Robert Boston, John F. Wren, Nathan Vanhorn, Frank Tarser, H. H. Harvey, Richard Sulwell, and John B. Smith be appointed to a committee to receive subscribers. Bruall books previously prepared were handed to all the committee present, and a commotion of the immense multitude commenced. The amount which was then raised was the nucleus for the large sum that was subsequently contributed by the benevolent all over the county.
On Thursday, Sept 9th, Rev. Mr. Hunt again visited Avondale, and after consultation with ??? ???, one of the acting coroners, and others, the following committee was appointed to take charge of the funds raised and to be raised; W. L. William, Cashier of the First National Bank of Plymouth ... Strong, President of the First National Bank of ...; W. W. Waiton, President of the ... National Bank of ... Rev. T. P. Hunt and Col. H. B. Wright, of Wilkes-Barre, and Geo Coray, esq., of ...
The Committee, headed by W. L. Wilson, esq., Cashier of the First National Bank of Plymouth, met at that place on the 10th of September, and organized permanently by electing E. C. Wadhams, esq. President; Henderson Gaylord (President of the First National Bank of Plymouth); Treasurer, and W. L. Wildon, Secretary. A committee of ... was appointed to look after ... supply the immediate ... of the ... to ... ... ... ... ... at least one week; to take a ... of the families of the unfortunate ... report their action at a meeting to be held on the 18th ...; and the ... system for the equitable contribution of funds and other...
On the 11th of September a meeting of the Relief Fund was held at Plymouth when the following persons were elected Board of Managers, or ...
The fund in the meantime had been rapidly accumulating. Each days' subscriptions as they were reported in various newspapers throughout the country and by telegraph, were daily ... in the ... Morning Republican, and from that source the list herewith printed had been complied. For the sake of convenience and brevity, each day's contributions from the different have been grouped together, the grand total up to the time of issuing this pamphlet being given at the close. The amount raised at Avondale by the original committee reached about $700.00
Return to Part IV: The funerals, widows and orphaned children
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
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