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Philadelphia & Reading Coal & Iron Company
Wadesville Colliery Fire

Wadesville, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania
May 9, 1877
No. Killed - 7

1877 Pennsylvania Department of Mines Annual Report  PDF Format
1877 First District Fatalities  PDF Format
Various news articles from the period  (3.4 Mb)  PDF Format
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From the Google News Archives:  External Link
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Successful Rescue

Men working in other parts of the mine knew that something terrible had happened, and rushed to learn the fate of their comrades.  They found seven miners so terribly burned and bruised that one of them died in a short time.  James Libby was brought out alive, but died in a few hours.  He was fearfully burned.

Calamity in a Coal Mine
The New York Times, New York
May 10, 1877

Pottsville, May 9. -- Another of those terrible accidents which darken at frequent intervals the history of coal mining, sent a thrill of horror through this community today.  How it happened nobody knows, nor probably ever will know.  It was all over in a second.  There was a flash, a roar of flame, a rush of air along the galleries and through the chambers of the mine, and a crash of falling rock and coal and timber.

The men working in other parts of the mine knew that something terrible had happened, and rushed to learn the fate of their comrades who had been working a moment before in the chambers whence the fiery whirlwind came.  They found six men dead and seven others so terribly burned and bruised that one of them died in a short time.

Before this dispatch is made public others may be dead also.

The scene of the accident was the deep pit known as the Wadesville Shaft, formerly owned and worked by the Hickory Coal Company, but now by the Philadelphia & Reading Coal & Iron Company.  This shaft is 666 feet deep.

The explosion occurred in a distant gangway, at least a mile from the bottom of the shaft, and only to be reached by half an hour's tedious walking through bewildering passages, including the ascent of two inclined planes cut in the coal.  Here, between 10 and 11 o'clock this morning, the explosion occurred.

Edward Weakram, a young Irishman, gave an account of the catastrophe, which probably comes as near to its origin as will ever be reached.  He was a "buddy" of some of the victims, and was standing on a low platform beside the gangway, shoveling coal into a mine wagon, when there came a rush of burning gas down the air course.  It came like a flash, and like a flash the quick-witted fellow dropped off his platform, and, falling full length on the gangway track, grasped the iron rail and held on to it for dear life.

The explosion of fire-damp sweep through a mine with terrific force.  This one hurled the partly loaded car from the track and dashed it against the wall in such a way as to partly shield him from the flames, and to this he ascribes his escape without a scar, while on either side of him men were roasted alive at their work.  Weakram lay still but a moment, and as soon as the force of the explosion had passed jumped up and ran along the passage to escape the return draft, which he knew would bring with it the deadly "after-damp," in which no man can breathe.  His lamp was out, and he had no time to light it; but he stumbled along in the dark, over fallen timbers and the debris brought down by the explosion, until he heard a comrade's voice and reached a place where he could breathe with comparative freedom.

The explosion destroyed enough of the ventilating appliances to check the air currents and fill all that part of the mine with carbonic acid gas, the "after-damp" or "choke-damp" of the mines.  It was impossible to work longer than 10 minutes in the stifling atmosphere.

As soon as the news spread through the mine the workmen dropped everything else, and hastened to the relief of their unfortunate comrades, working, many of them, until they had to be themselves carried into fresher air to recover.  About 50 men had been at work in this part of the mine, most of whom escaped without injury.

William Kirk, Joseph Milward, Herbert Moore, and Benjamin Moseley were burned to death.

Thomas Connor's head was blown off, and he was otherwise mutilated.

John Durkin was killed by flying timbers.

James Libby was brought out alive, but died in a few hours.  He was fearfully burned.

John Reese, John Gleavy, Patrick Givens, Dennis Brennan, John McAtee, and Abraham Jones were also badly burned.

The mine was thoroughly inspected this morning before the men were permitted to enter, and the working parts found free from fire-damp.  It appears from an inspection since the accident that it was caused by the fall of a mass of rock in the abandoned portion, which carried down with it a quantity of gas hiding in deep cavities in the roof.  Its force was confined to a limited area, and there are no marks of a general explosion.  The damage to the mine is but slight.

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