Article from the Dayton Daily News concerning the Athens County Millfield Coalmine Disaster

"used with permission from the Dayton Daily News/Journal Herald, Cox Publishing"

submitted by Susan Leffler, fellow Athens county researcher

ARTICLE, Dayton Daily News, Front Page, 6 Nov 1930: MINER SAVED BY WIFE’S APRON, TIED OVER HIS FACE His wife’s apron saved the life of George Rasp of Jacksonville, one of the trapped workers who escaped death in the Millfield mine disaster. Rasp said he was blown almost 100 feet from the place where he had been standing by the force of the explosion. He heard a roaring noise and then the shouts of his fellow underground prisoners. “In my hand, for some reason, was my wife’s apron, which I had brought from home this morning to tie around my face because the air had been so bad lately,” Rasp related. I dipped the apron in some coffee I found in a lunch bucket and tied it across my face. Then I crawled on my hands and feet—it seemed like a mile I crawled—until I came to an air shaft, where I was able to get up on a wooden stairway.” For awhile he had companions who helped each other across fallen lime and piles of slate, but when he reached the airshaft he was alone. He did not know the fate of the others. John Butsco of Millfield, who was working about a mile from the explosion section with 30 others, told of shouting a warning and of a race against death. He and his crew and about 60 others escaped, he estimated. A story of how he and his “buddy” escaped the death-dealing gases was told by Walter Porter, 40. Porter, the father of seven children, was one of those injured by the explosion. He suffered broken ribs and cuts on the forehead. “It was nearly 12 o’clock when I and my buddy, Emmett Oblers, were called to fix some latches in the No. 10 west entry,” Porter said. “We had just started to work when there was a terrific noise and a wall of flame. The explosion blew our truck, containing our tools, approximately 35(? – hard to read) feet and catapulted it up against the timer. I thought the trolley wire fell off when I saw the burst of flame. After regaining my senses I tried to rise, but something continued to fall about and imprison me. The explosion blew coal high and brattice board in all directions. It came so fast I could hardly recall what happened.” Porter told how he and Oblers, dazed and not knowing whether they were hurt, “lay for quite a time in the dark. The mine turned hot and the warm air rushed through. Other men near us were trapped but managed to get out. Finally I got up and tried to get out to three different grounds (hard to read on original). Bob Obler and myself were acquainted with the workings quite well. First we tried the airshaft of the old workings, but the after-damp blocked our path. We came back where we started and tried to escape to the No. 7 west entry. Our third attempt was made through the old room, which we found was squeezed together. Finally we emerged through a trap door. The black damp was so bad that we saturated our handkerchiefs with water in our pails and covered our faces with them as a precaution against the gas.”

ARTICLE: Dayton Journal Herald, Thursday, November 6, 1930 (this was our morning paper): 20 OF 160 ENTOMBED MINERS FOUND ALIVE IN OHIO SHAFT; Hope Is Revived for Victims of Gas Explosions; President and Vice President of Sunday Creek Company on Inspection Trip in Wrecked Workings; (By-line: Millfield, O., Nov 5. – (AP).

Reports that 20 men had been found alive in the explosion-swept No. 6 mine of the Sunday Creek Coal company, near here, were confirmed late tonight by emergency doctors. The physicians were rushed into the mine to treat the survivors of the blast, which is thought to have taken a toll of more than 100 lives. (NOTE: actually, only 83 men were killed) Between 150-160 men were believed to have been entombed by the explosions. Bed clothing and medical supplies were taken down the shaft to assure the comfort of the men who came from a living tomb. Doctors feared bringing them into the air at once because of the hazard of pneumonia. Most of the rescued were reported in bad condition, suffering from shock and the effects of the deadly gas which swept death through the underground tunnels following an explosion this afternoon.

FREED FROM GAS. As soon as possible, the doctors said, the living men will be brought out and placed in the emergency hospital established in the mine power house near the shaft. While it was not definitely known just how these men escaped death, it was believed they had bratticed themselves into a far part of the workings and had thus escaped the gas. Twenty bodies had been removed from the workings at a late hour tonight. The mine was free of gas and the rescuers able to work without masks. Only five of those known to be alive had been identified. They are John Norton, Millfield; James Connor, of Athens; Harold Phillips of Glouster; Howard Davis, of Athens, and Floyd Crabtree of Millfield.

OFFICIALS MISSING. It was feared that W.E. Tytus, president of the Sunday Creek company and the members of the official party who were on an inspection tour of the mine when the explosion came, were among the dead. The disaster, which miners said was the worst in the history of mining in the Hocking valley, came this afternoon with an explosion that sent smoke and flame shooting from the shaft and the airways. Among the dead were five officials of the mine, including the president and vice president, who were on an inspection tour of the workings with several guests when the blast took its toll of life. At least seven of a party of officials of the company and their guests, in the mine at the time of the explosion, are said to be dead, officials said.

REPORTED DEAD. Those reported dead are: W.E. Tytus, Columbus, President of the Sunday Creek Coal Company; P.A. Coen, Columbus, vice president of the company; H.H. Upson, mine superintendent; H.E. Lancaster, Athens, chief engineer of the mine; Walter Hayden, Athens, mine superintendent; Joseph Bergen Zanesville, superintendent of the Ohio Power Company at Philo, O.; Robert Parsons, Zanesville, superintendent of the Columbia Cement company, division of the Pittsburgh Glass company; Thomas Trainer, official of the glass company; Emerson LeFevre, Floyd Crabtree (listed as being alive in previous paragraph of this story), Andy Kish, and a man named Cunningham, employees of the mine.

MINE BOSS MISSING. Officials said bodies of the known dead had been identified within the mine. John Bean, a mine boss, also was a member of the party, officials said. Rescue work was proceeding in an orderly manner tonight with troops of the Ohio National Guard doing patrol duty. Frantic relatives of the trapped miners who gathered about the mine mouth soon after the first explosion were quieted, and those needing medical attention were treated at an impromptu first aid station set up in an engine room of the mine. Tonight mothers, daughters, wives and sons milled about behind soldier picket lines, anxiously peering toward the mineshaft where rescue parties went back and forth into the works. Some moaned softly, others were silent. As each relay of relief workers came out, anxious eyes strained hoping against hope.

HOPE IS ABANDONED. George Maurer, member of the rescue force who also explored the shaft, told an Associated Press reporter that all of the men in the mine were apparently dead. He said he counted 65 bodies. Four ponies were taken down into the workings to haul bodies out, as the explosion had wrecked the rails upon which the mine cars traversed the tunnels. Most of the bodies were about one and one-half mile from the elevator in the main shaft, Maurer said. Positions of some of the bodies seen by Maurer showed that the victims had made desperate attempts to flee the terrible gases and reach fresh air. Ten men succumbed in the entrance of a ventilating shaft not far from the apparent center of the explosion, which six others had fallen lifeless just outside the airshaft. Many others lay scattered about the floor of the tunnel, some seemingly having dropped as they dashed for safety, others apparently killed or rendered helpless by the force of the explosions, Maurer said.

HOSPITALS ESTABLISHED. Most of the dead were far back in the mine where the explosion and fire were most terrific. Even though some of the men escaped the first blast, they mush certainly have met death when a second explosion, which endangered rescue workers, occurred. Temporary hospitals established near the mine entrance in the hope that some of the trapped men would be brought out alive, were immediately prepared to serve as temporary morgues. A corps of embalmers was on hand and ambulances stood by for immediate service. Red Cross workers from several cities in Ohio arrived at the mine tonight and established headquarters to minister to need of bereaved families. State agencies were represented and Colonel Wade C Christy, assistant adjutant general of Ohio, with several assistants, was present, commissioned by Governor Myers Y. Cooper to determine to what extent the state could aid in the work. The governor sent assurances that money would be made available immediately from emergency state funds to care for the needs of the miners’ families.

WORK IN RELAYS. Rescue crews worked in relays, each detachment remaining in the mine so long as the gas, smoke, and fire would permit. As each group was forced to leave the shaft, a fresh crew entered. Several theories were advanced as to the cause of the original blast. Some said that the first blast was from gas and that it ad it’s origin near a new airshaft in which a fan was being installed. Others expressed the opinion the explosion was caused by a “squeeze’ which they explained was the collapse of the roof and walls in an old section of the workings. This section had been bratticed off from the main mine to keep out gases. When the squeeze occurred the deadly gases were released into the mine proper, and in some undetermined manner, exploded. The mine had been registered as non-gaseous. The mine is located in a typical coal mining crater(?), a short distance from this village, and about nine miles northeast of Athens. Colonel Christy visited the region only last week on an inspection tour, and he reported to the state’s chief executives that much poverty existed in the region and that relief in the form of food and clothing would be needed this winter.