Newton Coal Company
Twin Shaft Colliery Roof Fall
June 28, 1896
No. Killed: 58
The Twin Shaft Disaster occurred in the Newton Coal Company's Twin Shaft Colliery in Pittston, Pennsylvania on June 28, 1896, when a massive cave-in killed fifty-eight miners.
At 3 o'clock in the morning on Sunday, June 28, 1896, ninety miners were at work in the Red Ash Vein of the Newton Coal Company's Twin Shaft Mine in Pittston when the roof quickly caved in. It was believed at the time that all of the men perished.
The concussion from the explosion was so great that it was heard for miles around. The foundation of nearly every building in Pittston was shaken and windows and doors were rattled as in a tornado. In the houses nearer to the mine, persons were thrown from their beds, thinking an earthquake had occurred. Immediately after the boom, the dreaded colliery whistle and town fire alarms sounded. Families ran to the mine works. Newspapers reported "havoc everywhere," from grief-stricken wives to frantic efforts at impenetrable tunnels of collapsed top rock and crushed timbers.
Two rescue tunnels were attempted, though volunteers sometimes removed only 20 feet a day. Hope faded for the victims of the disaster, most of whom were Irish and Lithuanian immigrants. Their names were compiled later because the list of those working was underground too.
There were 58 men and boys who died during the terrible cave-in, buried 434 feet below ground. In their wake, they left 31 widows and 101 orphans. None of their bodies were ever recovered. It was one of the largest coal mining disasters in Pennsylvania history (even larger than the Knox Mine Disaster many decades later in nearby Port Griffith).
On July 10, 1896, testimony began in a formal investigation ordered by Pennsylvania's Governor Hastings to learn why the disaster happened, whether mining laws had been obeyed, and what might prevent future tragedies. Testimony revealed that there had been an audible "squeezing" of the pillars about two weeks prior to the accident — a sure sign that a wall or shaft was about to crumble. Edward Hughes defied his boss and left his shift early the night of the disaster because "the crackling grew worse." The superintendent ordered extra pillars put up to provide additional support. Apparently, however, these props were not placed strategically and once a section of the wall gave way, the others collapsed like a deck of cards. 200 acres had caved in.
From the investigation the commission suggested that pillars of coal should be left standing for safety and not "robbed" of their coal, especially when two seams are mined at once, and that maps of mine workings and air tunnels be provided to mine inspectors. Rescue operations at Twin Shaft were slowed by the absence of such maps.
The Governor's investigative commission first issued its safety recommendations on September 25, 1896. These recommendations would often be ignored.
The disaster played a major role after 1900 in the stronger unionization of Northeastern Pennsylvania under the leadership of John Mitchell.
Today a marker stands in the area where the tragedy occurred.
From the Grand Valley Times Newspaper, Moab, Utah
July 3, 1896
Roof of a Mine Falls In
Ninety Miners Buried In The Red Ash Vein Of Twin Shaft
No Warning of the Great Damage - Over Two-Thirds of the Victims Married Men - Concussion so Great That Nearly Every Building For Miles Around Was Shaken
Wilkes Barre, Pa. June 29 - While ninety miners were at work in the Red Ash Vein of the Twin Shaft, at Pittston, about 3 o’clock Saturday afternoon, the roof caved in and it is believed all of the men perished. About forty of the imprisoned men were English-speaking miners. The others foreign. The names are:
M. J. LANIGAN, inside superintendent, married, 49
M. J. LYNOTT, inside foreman, married, 43
ALEXANDER McCORMICK, 42
THOMAS MURPHY, driver boss, 36
JAMES COSTELLO, married, 24
MICHAEL CAUGHAN, single, 24
JOHN HART, single, age unknown
JAMES DAILEY, single, 20
MICHAEL CORNELL, single, 34
DANIEL WARDE, single, 39
FRANK KEHOE, single, 16
JOHN MEHOE, married, 40
JAMES McDONALD, married, 38
ED DELANEY, married, 38
CORNELLUS McGUIRE, married, 44
JAMES GOLDEN, married 34
MICHAEL O’BRIEN, married 45
MICHAEL HUGHES, married 35
ED KILDAY, married, 36
JAMES BURKE, single, 35
PATRICK RUANE, married, 40
THOMAS TENPENNY, fire boss, married, 24
THOMAS GAFFNEY, age unknown
JOHN GAFFNEY, married, 26
THOMAS DOING, single,30
ANTHONY KANE, single, 34
J. W. MURPHY, single, 28
JAMES WALL, married, 45
OWEN LEE, single, 22
ANTHONY GORDON, married, 28
THOMAS WALL, single, 18
DOMINICH O’MALLEY, single, 30
PETER MARTIN, married, 35
MICHAEL FORD, married, 30
TIMOTHY DURBRICH, single, 26
THOMAS CARLIN, married, 28
PATRICK GIBBONS, age unknown
JOHN OBERLE, married, 32
PETER JOYCE, married, 32
DANIEL GAVIN, single, age unknown
JOHN GILL, single, 35
PATRICK BOLAND, age unknown
ANTOLINY JORDAN, married, age unknown
JOHN HOLSTEN, married, Hungarian laborer, age unknown
JOSEGH [sic] DURENDA, married, Hungarian, age unknown
TONY TOLLASKI, married, Hungarian, age unknown
PETER SAVOSKI, married, Hungarian, age unknown
ANDREW SLOVINSKI, married, Hungarian, age unknown
LUNANLAN MASKOVITE, married, Hungarian, age unknown
JOHN CADAMISKI, single, Hungarian, age unknown
Aside from these there may be other English-speaking miners among the unfortunates. Thirty Polanders and Huns were entombed and it is thought the total number of bodies in the mine will reach 100.
The men were at work propping up the roof when the fall occurred. The alarm was immediately given by the ringing of the fire bells, and rescuers were put to work without delay. At 3 o’clock this afternoon the first bodies were found in the slope some distance from the place in which the men had been working.
More than two-thirds of the victims were married men. Among them were Acting Mayor LANIGAN, who was inside superintendent of the mine, and J.H. LYNETT, a ward councilman. About two weeks ago the surveyors reported to GENERAL SUPERINTENDENT LOW that the mine was “squeezing” and that unless steps were immediately taken to timber it in a cave-in or fall might be looked fo (sic).
SUPERINTENDENT LOW lost no time, but at once put a number of men at work to brace the falling roof. The “squeeze” continued, however, and Saturday the situation became alarming.
The roof fell in without any warning. It is supposed, however, that the men were not all together, but some were near the slope, and these probably ran up the incline when the fall occurred. This is the only way the finding of Mayor LANIGAN’s body can be accounted for. If the men received any warning they had time to run up the slope, but not to any great distance. The falling rock and coal filled up the slope and the adjoining gangways, completely shutting off all avenues of escape.
One mother cried out that she had two sons below. Another was the wife or widow of some unfortunate one and had nine helpless children at home. Many knelt on the ground and in voices broken in sobs, implored the divine providence to restore their lost ones alive.
The concussion was so great that it was heard for miles around. The foundation of nearly every building in Pittston were shaken and windows and doors rattled as in a tornado. In the houses nearer to the mine, persons were thrown from their beds, thinking an earthquake had occurred.
The superintendent says that the mine is now a tomb and that it will be some days before the rescuers reach the bodies.