Jeffrey L. Thomas
One legacy of the great Avondale Mine Disaster of September 6, 1869, considered by many to be the worst mining disaster of the 19th century, was that the accident caused the adoption of certain mine safety regulations in an attempt to protect the lives of miners. In the wake of Avondale, legislation was enacted that included the mandating of double-shafted mines, and the prohibition against building breakers directly over the mouth of the mine shaft, the two circumstances that had conspired at Avondale to doom 110 souls (108 miners and 2 rescuers). Although there is little doubt that these new regulations made mining somewhat safer, miners continued to die at an alarming rate throughout the 19th and into the early 20th century, in what was certainly one of the nation's most hazardous occupations.
One of the worst disasters in Scranton's long mining history occurred on December 9th, 1914 in the D. L. & W.'s Diamond mine. In that accident, thirteen men died when the cage or carriage carrying the men to the bottom of the shaft broke apart. Thirteen of the fourteen men in the cage fell several hundred feet to their deaths, some of the bodies being so badly mangled that identification proved difficult. There was one survivor who managed to cling to the side of the carriage until rescued.
An investigation ensued, whereby it was demonstrated that a defective carriage caused the accident. Officials from the D.L.&W, however, at first maintained that the accident was caused by a stick of dynamite carried by one of the men exploding unexpectedly. In the end it was shown that the carriage's floor boards were rotten and simply gave way as the carriage began its descent. Although I do not know the final outcome of the investigation, the company's denial of any responsibility in the accident, is indicative of the attitudes of industrial companies of the day. You worked at your own risk, and companies were rarely held liable for the deaths of their workers.
A list of the men killed in the accident is also illustrative of the transformation that took place in Scranton's mining industry, beginning in the late 19th century. By then, most of the sons of Welsh miners had stopped following their fathers into the mines, their numbers being replaced, in large part, by immigrants from eastern Europe. By 1914, the Welsh, who once virtually controlled the mines of Scranton, had become a minority in their former occupation. Of the thirteen men killed in the Diamond Mine accident, only one, Thomas S. Thomas, was of British descent; all the others were of eastern European or Slavic origin. Thomas Thomas was buried in the Washburn Street cemetery in Hyde Park, and I have included a photograph of his grave and a scan of his death certificate.
What follows are several newspaper accounts of the accident and the subsequent investigations taken from Scranton's local newspapers, the Times and the Republican. As always, I welcome any and all comments regarding this topic
Jeffrey L. Thomas
September 10, 1914, Page 1
MINE CARRIAGE COLLAPSE
SENDS THIRTEEN TO DEATH
AT BOTTOM OF SHAFT
Investigation Indicates That Terrible Accident was Not Due to Explosion.
CAGE BOTTOM IS INTACT
Simply Gave Way On One Side Allowing the Occupants to Slide Off.
Thirteen men were dashed to death at the bottom of the Tripp shaft of the Diamond mine of the D. L. & W. company yesterday morning through what appears to have been the collapse of the floor of the carriage in which they were being lowered into the mine.
Whether the weight of the fourteen men on the carriage was too great a strain for it or whether the carriage was defective is something that will have to be determined at the inquest.
That the accident was not due to the explosion of a box of dynamite, as first reported seems to be apparent, every indication pointing to the correctness of other theories.
It was one of those tragedies of the mines that will probably, in a great measure, go unexplained, for there is only one man of the fourteen left to tell the story of the accident, and his nerves were so shattered yesterday by the harrowing experience he had undergone that he was unable to give a connected story.
So badly mangled were some of the bodies that it was not until last night that identification of the final ones was made.
Victims of the Explosion
The dead are:
THOMAS THOMAS, aged sixty, a doortender of the 300 block of North Bromley avenue. Leaves a wife and family.
ANTHONY SHONIS, aged twenty-two years, laborer, of 1117 Blair avenue. Single.
KAST PECKUS, forty-five years, miner, of 610 Court street. Married and leaves a wife and eight small children. (This individual in subsequent reports is identified as Nat Tackau)
JAMES GRYBAS, thirty-eight years, miner, of Blair avenue and Court street. Leaves wife and four children.
JOHN PUBNATIS, miner, of North Bromley avenue. Married, leaves wife and several children. (This individual in subsequent reports is identified as John Bulnatis)
CHARLES TANKUS, thirty years, miner, of 1118 Scranton avenue. Leaves wife and two children. (This individual in subsequent reports is identified as Charles Tamkus)
PETER TANKUS, twenty-five years, laborer, of 1118 Scranton avenue, brother of Charles Tankus. Single. (This individual in subsequent reports is identified as Peter Tamkus)
ANTHONY HRABLUNAS, aged thirty-five years, of 1516 Thackery street. Married and leaves wife and four children. (This individual in subsequent reports is identified as Tony Grabluians)
WILLIAM ZALUKONTS, miner, of Albright avenue and Court street. Married. (This individual in subsequent reports is identified as William Dalukonis, Albright avenue and Grove street)
JOSEPH ZUNIERRITIS, miner, aged thirty-eight years, of Providence road. Leaves wife and several children. (This individual in subsequent reports is identified as Joseph Sulgis)
JOHN PASLEY, miner, aged twenty-nine years, of 911 Mt. Vernon street. Single. (This individual in subsequent reports is identified as John Pulsey)
JOHN TERASAVAGE, laborer, aged forty years, of Dickson avenue. Leaves wife and five children.
JOHN WALKA, 182 Cameron avenue, aged twenty-nine years. Leaves a bride of two months.
Note: Subsequent reports also list as victims Tony Gully, aged forty-two years, Thackery street, and Andrew Pepper, aged twenty-nine of Mt. Vernon street.
At first it was a settled conviction that there was an explosion of dynamite on the carriage and that because of this the bottom was knocked out and all the men precipitated to their death in the sump 300 feet below. But investigation seems to dissipate this idea to some extent as Martin Boloskie, of 1029 North Sumner avenue, who was the fourteenth man on the cage, clung to the rigging and was saved. He was not injured, suffering only a few bruises occasioned by his efforts to climb to safety after the cage was stopped.
Next we have newspaper excerpts reporting on the investigation into the accident, which basically pitted the miners against the mine owners. Again, the mine owners contended that it was an exploding stick of dynamite carried by one of the miners that caused the accident, while the miners claimed that rotted floor boards on one side of the carriage simply gave way. Although I do not know the final outcome of the investigation, it appears that the owners had little evidence to support their claims, and future references to the accident make no mention of an explosion; only that the floor of the carriage gave way.
Scranton Tribune-Republican, Saturday, December 12, 1914
CORONER OPENS INQUEST INTO MINE HORROR
Jury Is Sworn and Adjourns to View the Place of Recent Accident
Acting under the advice of Mine Inspector S. J. Phillips in whose district the accident occurred Wednesday morning at the Tripp shaft of the Diamond mines that sent thirteen men to (their) death. Coroner W. M. Lynch yesterday empanelled a jury and held the first session of the inquest at No. 2 court room at the court house last night. The law requires the coroner to wait until instructed to hold an inquest, and this Inspector Phillips ordered immediately after the accident.
After the jurors were sworn and a consultation of all the attorneys in the case was held last night, it was agreed that there would be an adjournment to allow the jurors to visit the scene of the accident and examine the broken carriage and all other places which might have anything to so with the causing of the death of the men in question. The case was stated to the jurors as being an inquiry into the death of Thomas Thomas and others.
Mining Officials Present
When the jurors took their seats in the jury box the court room was filled with mining company officials, mine inspectors, attorneys, members of the United Mine Workers and others. Seated at one end of the tables were Col. R. A. Phillips, general manager of the D. L. & W. Coal company and C. E. Tobey, general superintendent for the same company. Close at hand were District Superintendent Walter Reese, Assistant District Superintendent Harry Harris, Assistant District Superintendent Davis Lloyd, of District No. 2, and Assistant Superintendent William Watkins. Foreman Sydney Baker, of the Tripp Shaft, Foreman John H. Powell, of the Diamond Shaft; Headman James Gallagher and Joseph Merret and Engineer Frank Gilroy, who handled the engine when the accident occurred, were inside the bar enclosure.
At another table was District President John T. Dempsey of the United Mine Workers and Board members Yannis, Fowler and Steve Reap, attorney Roger Devers of Wilkes-Barre, representing the United Mine Workers, as chief of their legal department, was at the same table. District Attorney Maxey was also in consultation with other lawyers, and seated about were Attorneys M. J. Martin, M. A. McGinley, F. M. Walsh, James Bell, William Fitzgerald, Daniel Reese, and J. H. Oliver, the latter two representing the D. L. & W. Coal company in whose mine the accident occurred. The other attorneys represented different families of the deceased, and Mr. Maxey, the commonwealth in the event that there was anything of a criminal nature revealed in the inquest.
Daniel Davis representing the United States Mining Bureau and attached to the rescue car station of Edwardsville was an interested spectator, and Ludwig Garscia, secretary to the Austria-Hungarian consul at Wilkes-Barre, represented the Austrian government because of the death of John Paslai, a native of Galicia, Austria-Hungary, and a subject of Emperor Francis Joseph.
Dynamite says Officials
Mine Inspector S. J. Phillips occupied a seat beside the coroner on the judge's platform. All the lawyers interested in the proceedings who had announced their presence were called to the front and a line of procedure agreed upon. It was decided to have the jury visit the scene of the accident. The mine officials agreed to show them everything that they might want to see, and conduct them to all parts of the place having any bearing on the death of the thirteen men. The witnesses were told that there would be an adjournment until Tuesday night at 8 o'clock. At that time the taking of testimony will be commenced. Special care is being evidenced on all sides and two stenographers were present, Messrs. Hamiln and Keegan
When asked if the investigation of the mine officials had revealed anything further that would give them a definite idea of what caused the accident, Superintendent Walter Reese said: "We are now satisfied that it was due to an explosion of dynamite on the carriage. All of our investigations tend to establish that fact. It is not true that the carriage was rotten as some of the miners are alleged to have said, and as they were quoted in the newspapers. We have the carriage there for the benefit of the coroner's jury or any other person who may have an interest in the matter. The carriage was in good shape and had been used hoisting coal right along and would not have broken with the weight of the men if there had not been an explosion. I wish the newspapers would tell the truth when they get publishing stories about this matter."
Considerable discussion was carried on about the court room which revealed a series of investigations that had been made since the accident by persons interested in the United Mine Workers and the families of the dead men. Those who made these inquiries are firmly convinced that there was no explosion on the carriage and point to the uninjured condition of Martin Boloskie, the sole survivor, as proof positive of the fact that there could not have been an explosion or it would have killed or at least injured him.
Explanation of Miners
Boloski was not injured in any manner, although on the fatal carriage an as close to any possible explosion as any of the men. The mutilated condition of the men when found is accounted for in the fact that when the bottom of the carriage fell out on the end and allowed the floor to tip at a sharp angle and precipitated the men out, that they fell as if from a chute and were shot against the side of the shaft, bounced back against the other side in the descent and repeated this until after a series of violent smashes against the sides and rigging of the shaft, they were huddled together in a heap at the sump.
It is alleged that John Pasley(?) carried on the carriage a box of dynamite and unexploded sticks were found at the bottom of the shaft. This is not considered reasonable by the miners as they contend that of any of the sticks had exploded all would have exploded and the havoc in the shaft would have been great. The carriage was not injured in any manner save the loss of the bottom and when the hanging bottom was pried off and removed by Foreman Baker after the accident at the bottom of the shaft, the carriage worked smoothly through the shaft and was in use when the newspapermen were lowered on the other carriage. The carriage that had a floor intact in the other half of the shaft was occupied by the observers, and when the other carriage met it half way in the shaft it was examined and there was nothing deranged about it whatever, and as Superintendent Reese said shortly after the accident the shaft was not injured at all, and they could have hoisted coal five minutes after the accident if the carriage was not without a bottom. There is nothing about the hood or the top of the carriage that betrays any evidence of an explosion, the miners say, and they scout the idea of any explosion of dynamite occurring on the carriage, and say that the bottom dropped out because of its defective character.
Jeff's Note: The next time I visit the Albright Library in Scranton, I will investigate this story further in an effort to determine the outcome of the proceedings.
Death certificate of Thomas Thomas
Washburn Street cemetery marker for Thomas Thomas
Other Washburn Street burials
Learn more about the great Avondale Disaster of September 9, 1869
Read more about the history of Hyde Park/Scranton with an emphasis on mining
Return to the main page at the Thomas family web site
Web site copyright © 2005 by Jeffrey L. Thomas, with all rights reserved