NC mine disaster claimed 53 lives in 1925

Posted by Teresa Leonard on May 15, 2014 

Volunteers worked to recover bodies from the mine

BEN DIXON MACNEILL — Ben Dixon MacNeill Photographic Collection, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of

On the morning of May 27, 1925, three successive explosions were reported at the Carolina Coal Mine in the Deep River Coal Field near Sanford. For the next few days, The News & Observer listed the names of the men killed in the disaster and those still trapped in the mine. By the time rescue work was completed, 53 men were counted as lost. Ben Dixon MacNeill’s report from the scene recounted the tireless heroism of volunteers and the curiosity of onlookers.

Nobody has determined how it happened, what caused it, or aught else but that it did happen. Rescue work has been left to the uncommon and very splendid judgment of Claude Scott, superintendent of the Erskine-Ramsey Mine across the river. The latter has shut down and its crews are here helping with the rescue work.

Weeks will be required to remove the tangled debris in the mine and permit the resumption of operation. Thousands of tons of stone have been dislodged from the walls and roofs of the labyrinth; timbers have been smashed. It is terribly unsafe for anything but the necessary work of removing the dead from the depths.

Today the crowds were much smaller. At no time has there been the slightest evidence of disorder anywhere. There has been a solemn hush over the throng since the first hysterical relatives of the entombed men were quieted and carried away to their homes. Thousands have come, but they have come as quietly as men and women could come. There have been no scenes and no disturbances.

Patrol organization was made effective after the blast by Sheriff Blair, of Chatham. Sheriff Rosser of Lee came over with his deputies, and together they have done a magnificent piece of work. They have handled the crowd quietly, as men would try to be with those upon whom has come a monstrous sorrow. Once or twice they have had to be stern and they have been, but not often. They have been firm and quiet and considerate.

This morning there was a brief flurry when a fat, excitable moving picture man from Chicago, blathering about his experience in handling such scenes, undertook to tell some of the officers where to head in. They quietly told him where to head out, and he headed, bleating as he went. His bleating ceased at a firm word from the sheriff, trekking off across the dusty waste of the roads, dragging his equipment after him.

But that is about all. The crowd is a North Carolina crowd. It has been fine, save for an indecent exposition of the picnic spirit by a truck-load of heedless students who came over from the University Wednesday afternoon. They came as for a holiday, elbowing their way in among the drawn-faced mothers who watched for the coming up of their sons. They were quieted by the spectacle.

Old timers among the miners who are here, who have seen disasters in the great coal fields of West Virginia and Pennsylvania, declare that they have never seen any thing to equal the self-control of the tar heels who are stricken here, or anything that can surpass the heroism of the gangs who have gone down in the face of death, battled with it, snatched its battered victims from it, and come up smiling quietly.

The Sanford women have been magnificent. Within an hour they were on the ground and they have never left it. They go out into the village and help bury the dead, to comfort the stricken, to help them get together the few things they have in the world, to do all that human help can do to lighten the load of sorrow that wastes them. They maintained a 24 hour dining room service that is open to all who are in any way connected with the gruesome business. –The N&O, 5/30/1925

By May 31, the rescue mission was winding down. MacNeill said of the work: “It was magnificent, and it was heroic.”

Regular rescue crews fell exhausted in their tracks today, many of them after 100 hours of continuous battle with death in the depths of the mine.

Today the mine was the mecca of thousands of sight-seers. Every road that leads to the mine was choked with traffic. They came from everywhere, grudgingly parking their cars a mile away from the mouth of the slope in obedience to orders and walking in. They stared at the black mouth of the slope, asking questions of everybody who came in sight, and went away into the pall of dust that literally covers the landscape.

Exhaustion and the end of the definite task of removing bodies from the mine claimed the rescue workers today. Other hands carried the pipe and pumps down the slope up which they have brought the bodies of their comrades. They slept where ever sleep overcame them, tumbling down into a huddled heap and sleeping hour after hour, oblivious to the throngs that swirled about them. They are utterly exhausted.

With their task ended the relief workers from Fort Bragg and from Sanford broke their camp today after 96 hours of continuous work, and went home.Before they left the scene of the disaster they placed a week’s supply of rations in every home in the village over which is written the legend of death and sorrow. The field kitchens from Fort Bragg and the men who manned them, the women from Sanford who had charge of the relief work, have gone, and with them they have taken the mute but undying gratitude of the men whom they have served.…

It would be difficult to estimate the value of the work that these women have done. They were on the ground within an hour after the disaster happened, knowing well that the big task was to care for he men who did the rescue work. They established a field service and were ready with coffee and sandwiches when the first of the rescue crews came to the surface. The N&O 6/1/1925

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