Fayette County Genealogy Project

A Fatal Coal Mine Fire

The Keystone Courier, Connellsville, PA, Friday, April 22, 1887, Vol. VIII
Contributed by Joyce Post

Three Men Killed by Black-Damp

The Davison Pit Takes Fire and the Deadly Gas Penetrates Other Pits.

The Bodies all Recovered.

The record of mine horrors in the Connellsville coke region received another ghastly addition last Saturday.  About eleven o’clock in the morning the wooden walls of the chimney of the ventilating furnace, just inside of the mouth of the Plumer pit, which supplies coal to the upper end of the Davison coke works, caught fire by some unknown means, during the temporary absence of the employes at the end of the tipple. The flames spread with lightning-like rapidity and defied the efforts of the men to extinquish them. Edward Louden, a trackman, who first discovered the fire, hastily notified William Ganier, the fireboss, who was in the extreme north end of the pit. He hastened to the scene and realizing that the flames were beyond control lost no time in notifying the miners to leave the pit. The main entries of the mine run nearly north and south. There was no draught through the northern workings, but the air current was strong through the south entry, which lies higher and which has two outlets in the Freedom and Buttermore pits, both of which furnish coal to the town for domestic purposes. The Freeman pit opens on the Freeman farm, and the mouth of the Buttermore pit is on the Mt. Pleasant road, just beyond the Freeman farm. Toward these outlets the smoke and deadly gases slowly surged through the many passage-ways of the southern workings. When Ganier reached the scene of the fire, the mouth of the south entry was already impassable. He ran hastily up the main butt heading and out "across lots" through an air passage to the first, second, third and fourth or last headings.

Notifying the men of their danger as he went and telling them to escape through the old Buttermore workings, Paul Nagle, a German miner, was the last man reached. He was working east of the air course in the 4th heading. Ganier told him the pit was on fire. Nagle seemed in no hurry to come, and Ganier again called to him to lose no time. Just then, one of the miners brought word that a driver was down in the south entry overcome by gas. Ganier hurried down the third heading, found the driver, got him on his feet and brought him out to the air course where some of the miners took him in charge. Then it was reported that Nagle had not made his appearance yet. Ganier ran back to his room. He was not there. It then flashed upon the fireboss that Nagle knew no other way out of the pit but out the south entry, and that he had naturally started in that direction. Instead of fleeing from death he was embracing it. On the impulse of the moment, Ganier flew down the fourth heading to the south entry, hoping to overtake Nagle. But the latter was not to be seen, and Ganier realizing that the gases penetrating the third heading would soon shut off his escape, reluctantly retraced his steps, arriving in the Buttermore workings just in time to avoid the slowly rolling clouds of vaporous death pressing up the third entry.

Death In The Freeman Pit

In the meantime two other men met their fate in the Freeman pit. This mine was owned and operated by Cyrus Echard and Americus D. Rader. About one o’clock, David Shauman (Showman), a miner in their employ, went into the pit to dig a load of coal, and an hour later Rader drove in with his two-horse team to load it. Both men must have noticed the indications of smoke and gas from the burning Plumer pit, and it is said that they knew the latter to be on fire. At any rate, ignorant or careless of their danger, they loaded their wagon. They were taking the coal out of a long heading branching off from the main entry in an easterly direction, and while they tarried over their task the deadly black-damp from the burning mine crept through the old workings, down the main entry and out the pit mouth, shutting the unfortunate men in the heading like rats within a trap, and leaving them to perish miserably. On Monday a small fan was rigged up at the mouth of the pit and the main entry and heading sufficiently cleared of gas to enable a rescuing party, headed by Echard, to reach the bodies and bring them out. The victims were evidently on their way out of the pit when death overtook them. Rader was found lying flat on his face ahead of the wagon, his faithful dog close beside him. Shauman (Showman) lay behind the wagon.

Putting Out The Fire

Shortly after the discovery of the fire, vigorous efforts were made to drown it out. A pump at the pit mouth was rigged up to pour water on the flames, and at a late hour in the evening this was reinforced by the Uniontown steam fire engine, which was brought down on a special train accompanied by a number of the fire company in charge of Marshal Wilhelm. All night long they worked hard and faithfully under the direction of Superintendent Davidson, reinforced by General Superintendent Lynch, Engineer Ramsay and Mine Inspector Davis, but the draught was inward from the mouth of the pit and for every foot gained in front two feet were lost behind. The officers still held on however, in the hope that Sunday morning would bring sunny weather and a south wind that would reverse the air current and enable them to attack the fire in the rear. But this hope was doomed to disappointment and a change of tactics adopted. The pumps were withdrawn, the pit mouths sealed up and an air shaft sunk at the end of the main heading. This was completed on Wednesday, a powerful fan placed there and the pit mouths opened. The air current was changed, the gas and fire driven out the mouth of the pit and the mine cleared of foul air.  The body of Nagle was recovered in the south entry late in the evening. The work of extinguishing the fire was vigorously prosecuted yesterday, and the flames are now about subdued.

The Victims

Paul Nagle was a German, aged about 35 years, and leaves a wife and three small children. He was a member of the Frick Benefit Association, and his widow will receive $200 from that source. The body was laid out yesterday in Porter’s undertaking rooms and will be buried here today. Coroner Reagan held an inquest and a verdict of accidental death was rendered. Americus D. Rader was 48 years of age and leaves a grown-up family and a divorced wife. His remains were interred at Masontown on Wednesday. David Shauman (Showman) was 35 years old and, like Nagle, leaves a wife and three small children. His remains were interred at Springfield on Tuesday. Just Richard Campbell held an inquest on the bodies of Rader and Shauman (Showman), on Tuesday, but the jury couldn’t agree upon a verdict and adjourned until next week. Weldon Baker, one of the jurors, exhibited a desire to lay the death of the two unfortunate men at the door of Cyrus Echard, though for what reason he could not clearly explain. The Davison works were not shut down, the shaft furnishing enough coal to keep them going.

Source: The Keystone Courier, Connellsville, PA, Friday, April 22, 1887
Vol. VIII, No. 40, page 1