Grundy, VA Coal Mine Explosion Kills 45, Apr 1938

45 KILLED, THREE INJURED IN EXPLOSION AND FIRE AT MINE NEAR GRUNDY, VA.

ALL BODIES REMOVED FROM TRAGEDY SCENE ON KEEN MOUNTAIN.

FEDERAL, STATE PROBES ORDERED.

MEMBERS OF RESCUE SQUADS WORK IN FURNACE-LIKE ATMOSPHERE TO REACH CHARRED VICTIMS.

EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT IS GIVEN BY LONE MINER -- WAS 50 FEET AWAY -- HEARD ROAR AND SAW FLAME BELCH FROM MOUTH.

Grundy, Va., April 23 -- (AP) -- Forty-five charred bodies were taken from the seared depths of the Keen mountain mine of the Red Jacket Coal company today, victims of the volcano-like explosions which greeted the night shift as it entered the mine yesterday.
The U. S. Bureau of Mines officials said no further bodies were in the "drifts" which extend far under the mountain.
Members of mine rescue squads worked in 30 minute relays in the furnace-like atmosphere until they had explored every avenue of the big mine. Two members were overcome by bad air which had to be blown out before the final group of bodies could be removed.
For many hours the crews worked grimly, without hope of finding life among the victims trapped by the blast, but unwilling to cease their efforts until every miner had been accounted for.
DEATH LIST.
Individual funerals were planned for the victims, who were listed as:
ERNEST BOYD; HAMMOND VARNEY; ORVILLE STREET; COY REED; J. L. BLEVIUS; KILMER PATRICK; ED GILLEY; CLAUD DOLLAR; J. W. COMBS; GLENN RATCLIFF; ORVILLE NORRIS; F. BUCKLER; MARCUS THACKER; O. C. HITCHCOCK; CHARLIE KEEN; W. H. GRANT; WALKER SUTHERLAND; ANCILL OWENS; W. E. WILLIS; LEE MARSHALL; WALKER SOLOMON, KENDRICK SULLIVAN; DREW HOWARD; E. W. ELLEM, and CHARLES MILLER.
E. H. FISK; R. H. GENTRY; CHARLIE KING; GRANVILLE GOINS; HARVEY KING; JOHN ROWE; SMITH HARRINGTON; D. E. COMPTON, and his brother JOHN COMPTON; FRANK RATCLIFF; HARPER LESTER; CECIL GUILD; FLOYD COMPTON and his son, F. S. COMPTON; TOM MAY and his twin, LONNIE MAY; TOM RATCLIFF; ORVILLE COLLINS; ROBERT WATSON; and LUTHER ZIEMORE.
A miner named BILL SMITH, who had been riding with bodies down the four-mile narrow gauge railroad for many hours, paused long enough to tell his eye-witness account of the disaster. He was standing 50 feet from the mouth of the mine when he heard the roar and saw the flame belch from the mountain.
"The blast was away from me, and that's why I didn't get hurt," he said. "I saw coal-carrying cars, motors, slate and timber spouted as if from a cannon."
He didn't finish his story. Another load of bodies was ready to go down the incline to await identification by persons with tear-dimmed eyes.
Autos Clog Highways.
Automobiles filled with people jammed the highways as the rescue work went on and state police erected ropes in front of the tipple so that those carrying food to the tired workers could go and come to the cable car that carried them under the mountain. Automobiles extended for miles on both sides of the highway.
Most of the relatives of the victims remained away, but some weeping widows, fathers and mothers refused to be comforted and stayed close in search of a ray of hope.
The payroll office was beseiged for names of the dead and the missing. Townspeople at Grundy, 12 miles from the scene, gathered with grim faces and bowed heads as the Salvation Army held a prayer service for the victims.
The lone party telephone line to the mine office was busy continuously. Persons from far points made inquiry of relatives.
It was a steep ascent to the mine entrance but many persons went up to offer their services and to encourage workers.
"All the evidence indicates the underground crew died instantly," said C. P. KELLY, chief mine inspector of the state department of labor. He said federal, state and mine officials would make a full investigation after the rescue work. The mine was a new one, opened last November, and was described as up-to-date in every respect.
MINGO KEADLE, vice president of the Red Jacket company, announced early in the day that air had been circulated through all passages but workers found progress slower in the main shaft than in the "B" shaft where 17 bodies were found before it was fully explored. Three of the first 22 bodies came from the mine entrance and two were found badly burned in the "A" or main shaft.
This is the first major disaster to strike the newly developed field in Buchanan county although mine disasters are not new to southwest Virginia. In 10 years 376 miners have been killed.
In addition to J. W. ELAM and CLARENCE COMBS, caught at the mine entrance, were in a critical condition in a Richlands hospital, and ED HARRIS was suffering from several broken ribs.
All were natives of the area or from nearby West Virginia and Kentucky -- also the home of the rescue workers.
Grundy, Va., April 23. -- (AP) -- The Red Jacket Coal company's Keen mountain mine, where 20 rescue crews worked today searching for victims of an explosion, has been producing bituminous coal less than a year.
The mine is in a new field, opened only about a year ago, and had the newest modern equipment throughout.
It is situated 1,600 feet above the valley floor, on Keen mountain, and had been producing 40 railroad cars of coal daily. Loading was by automatic equipment.
The cluster of house, 75 of them, where the miners live is regarded as a "model." The buildings are unlike the drab, uniformly box-like dwellings that typify the mining village.
The houses, some of them two stories and some bungalows, have their own central heating plant.
Logan, April 23. -- (AP) -- Dwellers ini this populous mining region, who know too well the terrors of mine blasts, waited anxiously for the list of dead today to learn how many of their friends and relatives died in the explosion wrecked Keen mountain mine near Grundy, Va.
When the Red Jacket Coal company opened its mine high up on Keen mountain last fall, many Logan county miners went over to get work. Employment had been slow around here and the men took advantage of the new operation to get back on the job.
Logan residents said between 30 and 40 of the 300 miners at Keen mountain came from the hills around here. They were certain some of them were caught when a dust explosion shook Keen mountain late yesterday afternoon.
One man said J. L. BLEVINS and COY REED, two of the known dead, came from Logan county.
It has been only a little more than a year since Logan, suffered tragedy of its own.
In March, 1937, there were 18 men killed in a gas explosion at the MacBeth mine eight miles from Logan. Six months before that another blast in the same operation took ten lives.
Leads Rescuers.
Mine Supt. E. R. KIRBY, one of the first to enter the dangerous tunnels, took a lead in the rescue work.
Chief Mine Inspector KELLY expressed the conviction the explosion was caused by dust. It happened only a few minutes after mine cars carrying the night shift had gone into the mine -- not deep, but extending well back under the mountian.
MIKE LILLY was one of the few men in the area who could claim cause for happiness. His miner's lamp refused to burn and he missed death by two minutes when he went back for another. He said he saw two men hurled 60 feet.
"I turned and ran like hell," he said.
Relatives were kept away from the mine entrance during the night by state police. MRS. J. L. BLEVINS was the only wife who definitely knew the fate of her husband before daylight and there was some difficulty in identifying his body, decapitated by a heavy mine motor hurled down the mountain side.
The two funeral homes in the little town of Richlands had to call for assistance from neighboring towns.
State police Sergt. P. J. SPRENGER, an eye-witness who said the whole top of the mountain looked as if it were coming off, told of seeing an automobile containing three boys almost blown off the highway. The youths followed him up the mountain.
Two Blasts Reported.
Some witnesses said there were two separate explosions and others said three. A near-panic was created in the commissary of another coal company a mile away when the second blast threw merchandise off the shelves.
The mine was operating with about 300 men at the time of the disaster -- only about 1/3 of capacity. A potential producer of 7,000 tons of coal per day the average lately has been 2,000 tons.
GEORGE WHITE, an appliance company safety worker in the Virginia-West Virginia coal fields, compared the Red Jacket explosion with others in the area over a period of several years. WHITE, who has missed none in either state for a decade, said the roof, side-walls and slate connections were far above the average and did not crumble like in other mines.
He said, however, he had never seen carbon monoxide so bad in any mine. It was slowness in reestablishing air channels that delayed removal of the bodies.

Charleston Gazette West Virginia 1938-04-23

Comments

Information on my grandfather.

Hello,
Interested in getting information on my grandfather, Marcus Thacker Thank you

Lonnie May

Hello, my grandfather was Lonnie May, My father was Billy R. May one of the sons of Lonnie. Lonnie as far as I know had five kids, Bud, Lenard, My dad, Irene and June.
Billy passed away in 2005 and his ashes are with his mother per his wish. Billy had four kids. John R. May, my self, David may and Patty May.

Floyd Thurman Little

My grandfather Floyd Thurman "Boots" Little was killed in amine accident in Buchanan County about 1939. I am told he and another man died together as they exited a mine with dynamite. Is there any information available regarding this accident? My mother was 18 months old at the time of his death. Thank you for anything you can share regarding his death.

My great-grandfather's

My great-grandfather's half-brothers were Lonnie and Tom May and I remember my grandmother telling me about them. She remembered meeting them a few times and described them as being handsome and easy-going. She would always break down when she would tell me the stories.

mining accident

I am searching for information on a mine accident from late 1938. My mother was about 18 months old so October or so... My grandfather Floyd Thurman "Boots" Little, along with another man, was killed in a mine accident while removing dynamite from the mine. He was working in Rosanne at the time.

Does anyone have any information on this event? Thank you so much for posting this information.

Tom and Lonnie May were my

Tom and Lonnie May were my grandmother brothers. I remember seeing pictures of her twin brother who died in the mine. She married a Cook my grandfathers name was Joseph Cook. My father his son lives in South Carolina now. I have pictue of the twins.

List of injured miners

Does anyone know of a source for a list of injured miners from any of the mining disasters around Grundy, Va? I'm searching for documentation that my grandfather, Vada Atlas Allen (Raleigh, NC) was injured, per a family story.

I don't have the specifics, such as dates, but I'm told he went to the Grundy area searching for work and was injured in a mine blast. He remained hospitalized in the Grundy area for nearly a year before returning home to NC.

Thanks!

CarlaInNC

Paul Stanford smith need info please???

Can someone please tell me the chapter number of this mine, and the exact location of the mine . How can I get a roster of all people working here between 1950-1955

Please help?

My boy friends father worked at the red jacket mine in wv
I interested in knowing what the uniforms looked like. I am looking for any information of Paul.stanford smith born in 1923 murdered in 1955 please help want time card or pay stub uniform picture any any pictures of Paul .S. Smith and any family contacts thank you

Marcus Thacker

Michael,

I may have corresponded with you before. I know I have talked with your dad, Joe. I'm wanting to let you know of and upcoming event we are having. Please email me at [email protected].

Red Jacket 75 Anniversary Memorial

The Buchanan County Historical Society will be hosting a memorial service for the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Red Jacket mine explosion on April 27.

In April of 1938, the Keen Mountain Mine of the Red Jacket Coal Corporation exploded, killing 45 miners and injuring others. This April 27, these miners will be honored in a memorial service at the Appalachian College of Pharmacy at Oakwood, Virginia. Festivities will begin at 7 PM in the pharmacy school parking lot.

Buchanan General Hospital will sponsor live entertainment, provided by Jeff Brown and Still Lonesome Band, followed by a special dedication to each of the 45 men who lost their life.

Friends and family members are urged to attend. Guest speakers will be in attendance.

There is no admission charge. Please bring a folding chair and come out and join in the evening of festivities. Everyone is invited.

Rodney