Saturday, September 10th, 2005,
All photographs copyright © 2004/2005
by Jeffrey L. Thomas
Follow this link for a detailed report of the Avondale Disaster
Note: The majority of the report below was written for and posted on the Brynmawr Scene web site. Brynmawr is a former south Wales industrial community that lost (at least) three native sons in the Avondale Disaster.
On Saturday, September 10, 2005, a memorial service to commemorate the 136th anniversary of the Avondale Mine Disaster of September 6, 1869, was held at the site of the Avondale Mine in Plymouth, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. The ceremonies were part of a two day program, which continued the following day at the Washburn Street cemetery in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where approximately half of the disaster's 110 victims are buried.
The two day ceremonies were organized by the Anthracite Living History Group (ALHG), with support from the Plymouth Historical Society, the newly formed Avondale Mine Disaster Site Preservation Committee, and many other local and national organizations. The ALHG is headed by Joe Keating (co-Chairman) and Robert Hughes (co-Chairman). Georgetta Potoski, President of the Plymouth Historical Society, and ALHG Treasurer, served as Mistress of Ceremonies for the day's events, and was assisted by other ALHG members, including Christine Pagoda, Secretary, and Bill Best and Patty Matthews, Administrative and Technical Webmasters for the ALHG web site.
The Avondale Disaster occurred 6 September 1869, when the coal breaker above the Avondale mineshaft in Plymouth caught fire and suffocated 108 men and boys and two would-be rescuers. Of the disaster's 110 victims, most were of Welsh extraction. The disaster represents a landmark in U.S. mining history because shortly thereafter certain safety laws were enacted to protect miners, the most important being the mandating of double-shafted mines. (The mine at Avondale had only one shaft.)
The Avondale disaster had terrible consequences for miner's families in both Pennsylvania and Wales, as many of the miners were recent immigrants with wives and children, mothers and fathers back home in the old country. Most of the accident victims came from south Wales. Until recently, the site of the Avondale mine was though to be lost or completely destroyed , however it was recently rediscovered by Mr. Joe Keating of Pennsylvania's recently formed Anthracite Living History Group, and cleared of the brush and other debris that had been obscuring the site. Today the original tunnel entrance to the mine, through which those 110 men and boys were brought out, along with the stone foundations of the breaker, have been uncovered and cleared.
The ceremonies on September 10th took place at the site of the mine, and were opened by a Civil War era color guard, drum and rifle corps, an appropriate beginning considering that several Avondale victims and their fellow Welshmen served in the American Civil War (1861-1865). An invocation was given by the local minister which was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance and the Welsh National Anthem. Next was the recognition of the ceremony's special guests and descendants of Avondale victims in attendance. This was followed by speeches and letters of recognition from various local and state officials.
One of the day's more engaging speakers was Dr. Philip Davies, President of the National Welsh-American Foundation (NWAF), a native of Carmarthenshire. Among other things, Dr. Davies spoke about the importance of recognizing and honoring the sacrifices made by our Welsh ancestors and the necessity of establishing new and stronger ties between the Welsh-American community and the homeland.
The day's principal speaker was Diana Rooney, Coal Region Historian and Preservationist, from San Francisco, California. Ms. Rooney echoed the sentiments of the other day's speakers, emphasizing the need to preserve the country's mining heritage. The day's final speakers were members of the Anthracite Living History Group, who gave out several awards to members in recognition of their work on behalf of the group. A special award was presented to Joe Keating for his work in founding the organization and rediscovering the Avondale mine. This was followed by the playing of a recording of the mournful "Avondale Ballad," composed shortly after the accident, and the signing of Welsh songs by those in attendance, led by members of the St. David's Society of the Wyoming Valley, the highlight of which was the group's rendition of "Cwm Rhondda." The day's ceremonies were concluded by the Civil War honor guard firing a multi-gun salute in honor of the Avondale victims, followed by the playing of taps.
Below you will find a series of photographs taken during the ceremonies, accompanied by brief descriptions. Simply click on the smaller thumbnail photo to view the full size digital photograph.
|The Avondale Mine site is located in Plymouth Township beside the old Delaware, Lackawanna & Western (D.L.& W.) railroad line, and people began gathering early in anticipation of the day's ceremonies.|
|Site of the Avondale Mine. After the mine was re-discovered it was cleared to reveal an entrance into the main mine tunnel, along with the 19th century stone and concrete foundations of the Avondale colliery and other associated buildings.|
|Close-up of the Avondale mine entrance, now blocked off for safety reasons.|
|ALHG co-Chairman Joe Keating stops to talk to a local TV station about the day's ceremonies, with "breaker boys" in the foreground.|
|A flavor of authenticity to the day's events was provided by the presence of several "breaker boys" dressed in authentic period costume.|
|This was one of the many visual aids on display to help people understand more about the Avondale mine.|
|A Civil War era color guard and rifle corps helped add a touch of authenticity to the day's opening ceremonies. The group was from the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Lt. Ezra S. Griffin Camp #8.|
|The Mistress of Ceremonies for the day was Georgetta Potoski President of the Plymouth Historical Society. ALHG co-Chairman Robert Hughes stands to the left.|
|The Welsh National Anthem was sung by the Horwatt Daughters who were dressed in traditional Welsh costume.|
|Dr. Philip Davies, President of the National Welsh-American Foundation (NWAF) was in attendance, and delivered an engaging address on the importance of the day's ceremonies and the mission of the NWAF.|
|At the end of the ceremonies, the Civil War color guard fired a multi-gun salute in memory of the Avondale Disaster victims, followed by the playing of Taps.|
|This historical marker stands in Plymouth Township commemorating the Avondale Disaster.|
|A final look at the tunnel entrance to the Avondale mine.|
Learn about the Avondale Mine Disaster victims buried at Washburn Street
Follow this link for a detailed report of the Avondale Disaster
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