Courtney, PA Cincinnati Mine Explosion, Apr 1913


Rescuers Tag Bodies Found in Operation Near Pittsburgh---Frantic Throng Listens to Tappings.

Number of Victims May Be Greatly Increased---Fire Follows Disaster---Superintendent's Son Stumbles Over Brother.

PITTSBURGH, Pa., April 23.---There are 120 known dead and 100 are believed to be entombed tonight in the Cincinnati mine of the Pittsburgh Coal Company at Courtney, three miles from Monongahela, where an explosion of gas occurred shortly after 1 o'clock this afternoon. Faint tappings against pipes and debris in the mine are plainly heard by a frantic crowd on men, women and children outside the mine.

Seventy miners staggered over bodies and debris and into the fading sunlight shortly after 5 o'clock. Some managed to get out unassisted; others were carried out. The rescue work is in charge of the superintendent of the mine, William Carter. His son is dead in one of the headings.

As far as can be ascertained, the miners who died were not killed by the explosion, but by gas, or afterdamp. An accumulation of gas in the mine is common at this time of the year because of seasonal changes in the weather, and this is believed to have been the primary cause of the explosion.

No attempt is being made as yet to bring the bodies out of the mine. Rescue hands are being brought from every available source. The government workers are under the direction of the corps from Bruceton, near Courtney.

Special details of police surround the three entrances to the mine, called the Courtney, Finleyville and Mingo entrances. Wives and children and other relatives of the dead and entombed miners have to be pushed back to prevent them from entering the burning mine. Their cries are heard for distances around the little mining community.

Scene of Former Explosion

The scene of today's horror is about ten miles from Marianna, where five years ago 25 miners were killed in an explosion.

A special train was run from Pittsburgh to Courtney by the Pittsburgh Coal Company, bearing physicians, clergymen, undertakers and supplies of all kinds for rescue work. All rescue facilities from a radius of 50 miles were summoned and rushed to the mine.

The explosion was so powerful that windows within several hundred yards of the mine were shattered. The mine is a slope digging, and has no shaft. The explosion deranged the fan house and destroyed all ventilation facilities.

English Speakers Employed

Many English speaking and American miners were employed in the Cincinnati. The remainder of about 350 employes[sic] were Slavs of various nations and negroes.

Every possible effort was made tonight to reach those who are entombed. The Courtney entrance is clogged up with debris, and behind this it is believed that there are scores of men who will die unless help reaches them within a few hours. At present there is no way of sending them water or of giving them air. The tapping is continued, and is evidently being made by many men. The crying and shouting is growing fainter.

Unless fortune is with the rescuers, who are doing noble work, the death list is practically certain to run over 200 and perhaps 250. It is one of the worst disasters of its kind this part of the country has known. It is not the first time the Cincinnati mine has exploded and been afire. The worst accident to it occurred thirty years ago, when the fire extended for distances around and under the Monongahela River to the other side of the stream.

The part of the mine where the explosion occurred is nearest the Courtney entrance and is burning fiercely. It is believed that most of the miners got away from this section, for those who perished were found by the rescuers several hundred yards away from the scene of the explosion.

It is said by the officials of the company tonight that the mine was equipped according to the latest and best ideas of safety. Safety lamps were used by the miners. The cause is believed to have been natural and unavoidable, due entirely to atmospheric conditions.

One of the first men to stagger out of the mine was Joseph Carter, son of Superintendent Carter. As soon as he could talk he gasped out the information to his father that he had crossed over the dead body of his brother, Thomas. Joseph is aged 22 and Thomas 25.

Superintendent a Rescuer

Superintendent Carter, the busiest of the rescuers, heard his son's story, then went immediately back to the work of rescuing others.

S. T. Holmes, a negro, aged 55, was another of the first to reach safety. He was near the chamber in which the explosion occurred and was driving a train of mining cars. His two sons were working nearby. All three were hurled to the ground by the force of the concussion. One of the sons was killed. The remaining son and the father arose and tore and crawled their was more than 600 yards to a passage which led them to safety.

Joseph Green, another miner, who reached the surface at 5 o'clock, reported that he had stepped over the dead body of his brother John, when he rushed away from the burning chamber.

Forty bodies were found in one section of the mine by the rescuing parties. All of those who escaped or were rescued came out of the Mingo and Finleyville entrances. The Courtney entry was impossible.

The body of Emile Leroy, a Frenchman, was the first to be identified, and is the only one so far. Most of those who were rescued were badly burned and were rushed off to hospitals.

Many of the rescued men, who were only slightly burned, as soon as they were revived went back into the mine with the rescuers to guide them to where their unfortunate companions were lying. Three sections of the mine were found to be literally strewn with dead bodies, most of them so badly burned they could not be recognized.

Robert Carter, a track layer, who escaped, tonight told the following story:

"I had been working at the head of No. 16 entry. After eating lunch I resumed work at 12:30 and had driven only two spikes when the explosion occurred. The concussion knocked me down and I was unconscious for 15 minutes.

"After recovering I met Assistant Foreman Brown, who told me to get out of the mine as quickly as possible. Other men quickly arrived where I was. Followed by about 15 men, I started down No. 8 motor road, one of the main roads of the mine. We had not gone far before we found there was so much smoke we could go no further. We tried number seven motor road and found this also choked with smoke and debris.

"I then told Assistant Foreman Brown I was going to try No. 16 entry. He told me I could not make it. Followed by the rest, I tried. Less than 100 feet in No. 16 entry we found our way blocked with debris.

"We turned back and I had penetrated No. 15 entry some distance when we were again blocked by debris.

"After investigating I found a hole at the top of the debris. I crawled through this on my stomach for a distance of 200 feet and the others followed. I held a small safety lamp as high as I could so that the light would fall behind me to guide the others. Finally I reached No. 4 motor road which was clear. I stopped and a colored man was beside me. We listened for the others, but could not hear them. After a time accompanied by the colored man, we started for the surface. Before reaching there we met Tom Thompson, the night boss, whom we told about what had happened.

"Thompson started back into the mine to lead the others out and we continued on down the slope to the open air, 3000 feet from our starting point."

Later the other men reached the open. All were ill and dazed on account of the fumes in the mine.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia, PA 24 Apr 1913


The majority of the dead are foreigners. Among the Americans known to have lost their lives are the following:

THOMAS CARTER, son of William Carter, superintendent of the mine; ROBERT ANDERSON, machine boss;
JOHN LAKE, motorman;
WILLIAM McNEIL, mine foreman;
ELMER BOYLE, fire boss;
GEORGE VICKERS, fire boss;
HARRY PARKER, fire boss;
PETER MERCER, fire boss.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia, PA 25 Apr 1913



Coroner's Jury Fixes Responsibility of 96 Deaths in Pennsylvania Explosion.

Pittsburg, Pa., May 13.----Placing the legal responsibility on the mine foreman and moral responsibility on the mining laws of the State, the Coroner's jury which investigated the deaths of ninety-six men in the recent explosion at the Cincinnati mines at Finleyville returned its verdict and defective laws for the disaster. It blames the foreman in allowing men to enter the mine with open lamps.

Dallas Morning News, Dallas, TX 14 May 1913