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Mine Disasters in the United States


Philadelphia & Reading Coal & Iron Company
Tunnel Colliery Asphyxiations

Ashland, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania
April 27, 1887
No. Killed – 5

News articles from the period  PDF Format
Additional Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Co. Disasters:


(From the “Mining Herald and Colliery Engineer,” May 7, 1887, p.143)

Wednesday afternoon, April 27th, the whistle of Tunnel colliery, at Ashland, Schuylkill county, Pa., sounded an alarm that quickly brought hundreds of people to the hillside southeast of town, where that operation is located.  This colliery has been noted for the great accumulation of gas in its gangways and the many frequent and serious accidents which have there occurred.

In the west gangway, adjoining breasts, numbers 85 and 86, there were two pillars which had been closely worked, and for two or three weeks past a fall of coal had been expected.  Work, however, was not suspended, the bosses believing that sufficient warning would be given for the men to escape without injury when the fall and consequent rush of gas afterward occurred, but it was assuming a great risk which resulted in the sacrifice of five lives.  This gangway runs under the hill on the south side of town for about a mile and in the different breasts there were nearly thirty-five men working on the afternoon of the 27th.

Shortly after ten o’clock a strong current of air, the usual warning of the serious consequence which so often result, rushed through the gangway and was a signal for all the men to hurriedly flee in the direction of the bottom of the slope.  They nearly all succeeded in reaching a point of safety before the terrific crash was heard, which brought down from the pillars into the gangway hundreds of tons of coal and rock.  It was immediately followed by a rush of the deadly gas, which is the horror of all mine workers.  It drove the air before it and succeeded in getting within its fatal grasp nine or ten men, who were working so close to where it started that it was impossible for them to escape it.  For more than an hour after the rush it was almost impossible to approach nearer than 200 yards of the terrible scene in the dark and gloomy death chamber.

Four of the victims were first recovered, and it was feared for a time that their existence on this earth would be very short, but efforts to restore them to consciousness were successful, and it was discovered that they were not seriously injured.  However, upon going farther, the rescuing party found five bodies in which life had become extinct, the gas having done its work effectually by smothering them to death.  It was fortunate that the gas was not ignited or a terrific explosion would have resulted with fatal consequences too horrible to imagine.

One of the rescued states that when passing out of the gangway in his effort to escape, he saw the five men who met their deaths, and thought that they too were trying to get out.  He supposed they were aware of the coming rush.  The point where the victims were smothered is about one and one-fourth miles from the colliery, where the men entered the mines, and is supposed to be midway between Ashland and Locust Dale, underneath the cemetery.

The men used safety lamps and fortunately no explosion resulted.  This part of the mine had been idle for a week and the employees were anxious to go to work when the order was issued on Monday.  The seam of coal at this locality is from 40 to 60 feet thick and these men were engaged in robbing pillars.


Deadly Gas in a Coal Mine
Syracuse Daily Standard, New York
April 28, 1887

Pottsville, Pa., April 27. -- A terrible accident occurred this afternoon at the Tunnel colliery at Ashland, operated by the Philadelphia & Reading Coal & Iron Company, by which five men were killed, leaving four widows and seventeen orphans.

Owing to an anticipated "run" of the pillars, the west gangway had not been working for a couple of weeks.  For the same reason only a few experienced miners were working today or the fatality would have been far greater.

Notwithstanding all possible inspection, the apprehended "run" occurred at about 1 o'clock, bringing down with the coal a volume of deadly gas, by which the five human victims, together with six mules were suffocated.  The accident was not discovered until some two hours later and when the air of the fatal gangway had been sufficiently purified.  When reaching the victims, they were found dead.

The names of the dead are:
  • Fire Boss Henry Gill, married and five children
  • Henry Menou, married, no children
  • Michael Bohonnan, married, two children
  • Daniel Finn, married, ten children, all of the above from Ashland
  • Ebenezer Frances, single, of Girardville



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