Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Deadly Disaster At The Chamberlain Colliery in St. Clair, Pa. 1887

A Deadly Disaster At The Chamberlain Mine in St. Clair, Pa. 1887

On April 17, 1887 Easter Monday,, in the town of St. Clair, Pa. A hearse pulled by two black horses led two curtained horse carriages toward the cemetery bearing the body of a young girl.

On Saturday, April 16, 1887 disaster struck the town of St. Clair. The week before Miss Minnie M. Keiter came home from Vassar College to spend her Easter Vacation., bringing with her Miss Verlista Shaul, a college friend.
The two young girls visited with many of Minnie’s friends in town, celebrating the Easter holiday. Miss Shaul like a lot of people who were not from the area desired to see the interior of a coal mine. Minnie knowing many who worked in and around the mines arranged fro her to have a look.
Minnie was well acquainted with the workings of a coal mine having grown up in the area she had been down many times. Living next door to the Keiter family was Mr. Hiatt one of the owners of the Chamberlain Colliery, Minnie asked him if he could take Verlista down for a tour.
Mr. Hiatt Agreed to do give the girls the tour. He introduced Minnie to Harry Short who was always willing to entertain visitiors and went along for the tour into the mine.
Full of frolic and good humor the group started off for the mine. Mrs. Keiter talked to the girls and told them to be careful that no accidents would befall them. Minnie and Verlista talked with Mr. Keiter about the up coming tour and he gave his consent.
The girls arrived at the mine entrance which was about thousand yards below the Borough line; they soon had a mine car placed at their service. The party consisting of Minnie, Verlista and Harry Short descended the slope accompanied by Peter Harrison the engineer of the mine who had just surfaced to retrieve a piece of pipe for the exhaust pipe of the Allison pump he was working on down in the mine. The engineer notified Daniel Thompson who was also working on the pump that some ladies were in the mine for a tour.
After finishing the work he was engaged in Thompson went out to the bottom to receive the visitors, show them so light and escort them to the mouth of the tunnel and entertain them until his brother Edwin would arrive and take over the tour. While waiting for Edwin Thompson the group was engaged in merry banter and laughing like young people would do having no worry of the danger that they were exposed to.
Edwin Thompson arrived and had his safety lamp with him as he had been working in the Little Vein where he knew there was gas. The visit was to be made to the big vein where he was confident that there was no gas. (Fire Damp).
Mr. Thompson started out ahead of the group carrying his safety lamp, Minnie and Harry Short were given regular miner’s lamps. As they started walking Dan Thompson called to his brother Edwin that he should be careful for he was responsible for the safety of the young ladies.
Through the tunnel and into the Big Tracey vein the party tramped until they came close to the turnout. Mr. Thompson in the advance.
What happened next know one can say for sure, Apparently one of the open flame miners’ lamps was raised high enough to reach fire damp that was hovering above them. Quick as lighting the gas ignited and a flash, flame reached the main body of the gas causing an explosion for over a hundred and fifty yards ahead and back of the gangway with the force and velocity of cannon fire.
In this case the fire did little damage, but the blow mad sad havocs of those in the gangway. Edwin Thompson saw none of the lights of his companions, but he saw for a split second a ball of fire through the gangway and then he was unconscious, being hurled by the force of the explosion and dashed to the ground.
In other parts of the mine Daniel Thompson and George Frantz felt the wind from the expulsion and knew something dreadful had happened. They immediately rushed through the tunnel to the Big vein where they feared the explosion had occurred.
Daniel Thompson soon came upon Minnie Keiter who lay bruised and bleeding, who was crying and begging to be taken home for she was dying. Giving her all the attention he could, he ran over to Harry Short who he found lying with his neck across the rail and his low back toward the gutter unconscious. Grabbing a piece of board Mr. Thompson took off his shirt and making a pillow of it placed it on the board and put it under Harry’s head so that he could breathe. Moving forward Mr. Thompson found Miss Shaul about two yards further. She was wearing a gossamer and it had rapped twice around her head from the force of the explosion. She lay unconscious. Mr. Thompson thinking her dead leaned down and listened for signs of life. Finding a faint heart beat, he quickly tore the gossamer away and gave here a chance to breathe.
By this time Edwin had regained conscious ness and crept toward the sound of the voices. Before he reached where Miss Shaul lay, he fell over through weakness caused by an ugly gash in his hip. Leaving Edwin to fend for himself as he was the least injured of the party, Daniel ran back to where Minnie lay and as the other men had reached her they immediately set to work to get the suffering victims out before the poison after damp sets in that always follows a gas explosion.
They carried Minnie to the bottom and retuned with a car for the others and brought them to the bottom also. They worked fast ahead of the dangerous and deadly after damp before more people would die.
The victims were carefully hoisted up the slope. Mr. and Mrs. Hiatt being there to receive them.
Dr. A.P. Carr, a skilled surgeon was on hand to do what he could for the victims. He found all four of them in very bad shape. Harry Short especially being battered and bruised beyond recognition. By this time the colliery whistle had blown and half the town flocked to the scene of the disaster. The ladies were hauled home, Miss Shaul laid perfectly still bearing all the pain and agony she endured with courage. Miss Keiter’s injuries were beyond all endurance and her excruciating pain made her scream so that her screams could be heard a square away. Those terrible screams from the dying girl carried horror to all who heard them and brought back from the hearts of the most earnest sympathy for the poor young sufferer.
Dr. Carr examined the three victims and found that Miss Keiter suffered a compound fracture of the left thigh, a completely crushed ankle with the left foot hanging by a few shreds of skin. Serious burns of the face and several ugly scalp wounds. Miss Shaul, covered with coal dust had a fracture of the left thigh and sever burns. Mr Thompson’s head and hands were burned and a long deep gash on his hip.
Harry Short had four sever gashes of the head and one a dangerous fracture at the base of the brain, his left arm was broken, but no burns were found on his body.
Minnie Keiter, who’s screams guided the rescuers to the party died in the evening. Harry Short suffered for three more days and then passed away.
Verlista Shaul, lame and disfigured returned to her home where it was said she lived by day in the curtained attic, and walked at night in her garden. Verlista would have graduated valedictorian of her class at Vassar.
Mr. Thompson recovered and, except for infrequent bouts with disturbing sleep.

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