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Philadelphia & Reading Coal & Iron Company
East Brookside Mine Explosions

Tower City, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania
August 2, 1913
No. Killed - 20

1913 PA Annual Report Description  PDF Format
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Rescuer Deaths

Five miners met their death when they entered the East Brookside Anthracite Mine following an explosion there.  While attempting to rescue victims of the first blast, a second methane explosion occurred, sealing their fate.  The first explosion, believed to be caused by dynamite, killed 15 miners.  One of the rescuers managed to escape, but died a few hours later.

18 Killed in a Mine
The Washington Post, District of Columbia
August 3, 1913

Tower City, Pa., Aug 2 -- Eighteen men were killed and two seriously injured today in the East Brookside mine of the Philadelphia & Reading Coal & Iron Company, near here, by a double explosion of what is believed to have been dynamite and gas.

Thirteen men died in the first explosion and five went to their death in the second blast after a heroic attempt to rescue the first victims.  One of the rescuers escaped.  The dead are:

The Dead:
  • Thomas Behney, 29, miner
  • Cannine Decampion, 27, laborer
  • Nicola DiPollo, 30, laborer
  • Nick Fandoupe, 26, laborer
  • Daniel Farley, 42, fire boss
  • John Farrell, 48, foreman
  • Ricardo Feduizzi, 31, laborer
  • John Fessler, 43, fire boss
  • Joseph Grazinas, 26, laborer
  • Howard Hand, 20, laborer
  • Harry Hand, Sr., 24, driver
  • Jacob Koppenhover, 27, bottom man
  • Alex Lesnoc, 37, repairman
  • John Lorenz, 60, superintendent
  • Daniel McGinley, 46, fire boss
  • Henry Murphy, 51, fire boss
  • Antonices Oposici, 21, laborer
  • Harry Schoffsall, 26, night boss
  • Egidis Tucchi, 22, helper
  • Victor Zanoni, 31, blacksmith
Source: Pennsylvania Anthracite Mine Accidents, 1899-1913  PDF Format
Dynamite and Gas Blamed

It is not known exactly what caused the explosions, but the miners at the colliery are inclined to the belief that the first explosion was that of dynamite and the second was caused by gas which had been liberated by the dynamite explosion.  The dead were scattered about for a distance of about a quarter of a mile.  Only three men were taken out alive, and one of these died on the way to the hospital.

Supt. John Lorenz, 60 years old, was in the mine when the first explosion occurred.  He was rescued several hours later.  Harry Schoffstall was another taken out alive.  Both were burned and bruised, but are expected to recover.  Supt. Lorenz was found crawling along the ground trying to make his way through the debris to safety.

It is possible that the real story of the explosion may never be known, as all who were in a position to know were killed.

Unable to Tell of Blast

While Supt. Lorenz was in the mine at the time of the first explosion, he was about 600 feet from it and it is not thought that he knows the cause.  He was not in a condition to talk tonight.

While the impression seems to be that the first explosion was that of dynamite, it is also possible that it might have been due to gas.  The men were killed in three different ways.  Some of them were violently hurled against the side of the tunnel in which they were working and crushed; some were burned to death by the explosion of gas, and others were suffocated by the afterdamp which always follows an explosion in the mines.

The East Brookside colliery employs about 500 hands.  It is situated on top of the mountain, within about 2 miles west of Tower City, and within the same distance of a half dozen other little mining towns in the Williams valley.

Contractor's Force Working

The colliery closed down Thursday evening for the week, but Charles Portland, a mining contractor, who has a contract with the Reading company to drive a tunnel, kept some of his men at work.  There were a half dozen muckers at work, whose duty is to load the debris blown by the blasts, which are fired at night.  There was also a mucker boss and a blacksmith and his helper.  All were at work in the tunnel, which is about a quarter of a mile from the slope entrance to the mines.

Supt. Lorenz and Mine Boss Farrell were in the mine making an inspection of some new work which was to be done, and were about 600 feet from the tunnel in which Italian workmen were engaged.  It was shortly before noon when the men on the surface heard a rumbling noise, and from the mouth of the slope and from the air passageway at the fan-house there came clouds of dust.  The outside men knew in an instant that there had been a bad explosion, and a rescue party was quickly organized.

Rescuers Go to Death

The party was composed of Ginley, Murphy, Schoffstall, Behny, Kopenhaver, and Howard Hand.  Frank Unger also was in the party, but he was recalled to the lamphouse to get the lamps ready for other rescuers who were to follow.

The six rescuers were lowered in the slope, a depth of 1,200 feet at a pitch of 80 degrees down to the fifth lift, next to the bottom of the mine.

It is judged that the second explosion occurred about twenty minutes after the first.  The rescuers had time to walk about 600 feet from the mouth of the slope, where they were found dead.

Five of the foreign workmen were found dead in one pile in the tunnel.  A number of men were at work on the lift above the one where the tunnel was being driven and the concussion blew out the lights on their caps.

As soon as the nature of the accident became known word was sent to the officials of the Philadelphia & Reading Coal & Iron Company, at Pottsville, and they responded promptly, and sent the mine rescue car to the scene.  In the party were General Manager W. J. Richards, Division Superintendent E. E. Kaecher, Mining Superintendent P. E. Brennan, Chief Engineer Michael Doyle, Mine Inspector Price, and Outside Superintendent Joseph Lee.  The rescue work was conducted under the direction of these men.

Oxygen Helmets Used

At the colliery were two oxygen helmets, and others were quickly obtained from collieries in this vicinity, and when the mine rescue car arrived there were plenty of them to carry on the rescue work.

Fortunately the mine was not set on fire, but the rescuers were retarded for a while by the blocked passageways, due to the timbers being torn down and the roof and sides caving in.  They made their way with the greatest difficulty.  The first rescued were the members of the rescuing force who had gone to the relief of the victims of the first explosion.

Doctors from all parts of the region were summoned, and two of them descended into the mine to give relief at the bottom of the slope.  The first-aid corps, which had also been summoned from the nearby collieries, were on hand to take care of the injured, but only three were found to be cared for, and one of them died in less than a half hour after being taken out.  The ambulances which had been summoned to care for the injured were used to take the dead to undertaking establishments.

Supt. Lorenz and Foreman Farrell were together when the explosions occurred, and Farrell was killed instantly, dropping dead at the side of Lorenz.

Had 175 Pounds of Dynamite

When the contractor's force went into the tunnel this morning they took with them 175 pounds of dynamite.  At 9 o'clock rescuing parties came out after a futile search and give it as their opinion that both Farley and Fessler were dead.  They encountered a wall of rock, which they believed to be about 50 feet long, and they think that the two men were caught and buried underneath this.  A report came to the surface that rapping had been heard inside, but the officials gave no credence to this, as they do not believe the men can be alive.

Hillary Zimmerman was the only man in the affected mine at the time who escaped with practically no injury.  He was standing near the slope when the first explosion occurred, and he was hurled a distance of 10 feet by its force, but was not rendered unconscious.

Injured Man Refuses Aid

When the rescuing force came up on Supt. Lorenz, after a walk in a circuitous route of about a mile, they found him barely able to crawl.  Asked how he was he replied:
Oh, I am pretty sore and tired, but never mind me: go and help Jack Farrell: he needs your help.  Leave me alone, and take care of those who need help more than I do.
When the rescuing force explored the affected section of the mine they found most of the mules alive, although they were in close proximity to the explosion.  They did not appear to be injured in the least beyond a singeing of the hair.

One theory of the explosion is that when the muckers were cleaning up the debris their shovels struck a piece of unexploded dynamite, and set off the 175 pounds which the men had taken in with them.

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