Hazel Kirk Mine Second Explosion

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The Washington Penna, Reporter
Monday, October 30, 1905

Officials Hurled to Doom by
A Terrible Accident in
Hazel Kirk Mine.
     MONONGAHELA, Pa. Oct. 30,—Because the output of coal was not large 
enough From Hazelkirk mine No. 2, near the village of Van Voohis, 
six miles from Monongahela, six experienced men went into the pit Saturday 
night to open up a bricked entry. An explosion of fire damp killed five 
of them instantly and injured one so severely that he may not recover.
     This is the second explosion within three weeks, the other on October 
10, causing the death of two miners.
John Hornickel, aged 45, superintendent of the Hazelkirk mines, married and had two children; lived on Chess street, Monongahela, and owned property there. Daniel Griffith, aged 32, pit boss leaves a widow and three children; moved a week ago from Monongahela to Van Voorhis. Joseph Hunter, aged 40, fire boss, leaves a wife and two babies, aged 10 days and 18 months, respectively, lives in Van Voorhis. John Lavery, fire boss, aged 60, widower, leaves 11 children, living in Fayette City and Monongahela. Henry Claybourne, a negro fire boss; aged 40, leaves a widow and children; lived on Geary street, Monongahela.
Andrew Roader, aged 38, machine boss, wife and three children; burned and one arm broken; has some chances of recovery; is at his home in Van Voorhis. Hazelkirk mine No. 2 belonged to the Hazelkirk Coal company, and six weeks ago was taken into the Westmoreland coal combine. Two Slavish miners, brothers, John and “Mike” Kusko, while firing a shot in one of the entries on No. 2, were killed and the entry took fire on the night of October 10, nearly, three weeks ago. To confine the fire to this portion of the mine, bulkheads or brattices were erected in the entries, six in number. Believing that the fire had burned itself out back of the bulkheads Superintendent Hornickel summoned his foremen and they volunteered to enter the mine and tear down the bulkheads. In building the brattices a pipe with a valve had been placed in the wall. Each day the valve has been opened, permitting the air to pass through. As no fire or hot air escaped through the outlet, it was decided the fire had burned itself out and although Mine Inspector Henry Louttit had warned the men not to enter, they decided it would be safe. The party decided to make the investigation Saturday at midnight as all work for the week had been completed. Superintendent of Mines Hornickel ordered every man withdrawn from the mine when the investigation was being made as only the officials who were killed and wounded were in the mine at the time. All the mine machinery with the exception of the fan was stopped and the cage drawn to the top of the shaft. The party entered the mine by the fan or airshaft, by means of a stairway, taking nothing but their tools and electric lights with storage batteries with them. The men had been at work some time and had succeeded in opening one of the brattices. The first one had been opened and it was when the second was broken, that the gas confined behind the brattices exploded with such disastrous results. Only two men were left above ground in charge of the engine houses, both foreigners. The first knowledge they had of the explosion was when the signal whistle in the engine emitted tow or three meaningless toots. The surface men were fearful that something was wrong in the bowels of the mine and ran to the fan house and their fears were intensified as the doors of the fan house were blown open. After midnight with no one within a quarter of a mile the two men above ground were at a loss what to do, as they feared the mine was filled with deadly gases. It was while they were debating the question that Machine Boss Andrew Roeder staggered from the airshaft entrance, blackened, ragged, covered with blood and with the flesh of his hands torn to shreds. Although frightfully burned and otherwise injured he was able to warn the men not to enter the mine as his comrades were dead and the mine filled with deadly gasses. Monongahela was at once communicated with and through Chief of Police Logan, Mine Inspector Louttit was notified. A party was organized which started at once to the scene of the disaster. Inspector Louttit gave orders that no one should enter the mine until he made an investigation and with one or two others entered the mine, but found the entries filled with sulphurous gasses. They returned knowing that it was impossible to then rescue the men, although Mr. Louttit had been able to see the body of Superintendent Hornickel. Mr. Louttit returned and after an intermission of several hours called for volunteers and again entered the mine. Although there was imminent danger, as another explosion might occur at any minute, the rescuers entered the death trap in search of the bodies of their comrades. The rescue party was composed of John McVicker, John Hitchcock, John Wright, Patrick Meehan, and was led by Inspector Louttit. The body of Hornickel was some distance from the others and it was removed on a stretcher. Knowing the distance from the entrance to be considerable, and that it would be impossible to bring the men one at a time. Inspector Louttit had the machinery put in operation and a car and mute taken down into the mine. These were taken back to where the bodies were located and they were all placed in the car and brought to the surface as quickly as possible. Apparently all six of the officials had been caught in the explosion and hurled a distance of many yards against the sides of the entry. So great was the force of the explosion that all were more or less mangled. Several had their arms and legs broken in many places. Mine Superintendent Hornickel’s body was terrible force, having received the full force of the explosion. His face was crushed almost to a pulp, every bone in his face being broken. The bodies of several were found just in the positions they had fallen and were yet rigid, several covering their faces with their hands and others in a position that indicated they were running away from the explosion. The bodies were brought to the surface early in the forenoon. As no trains were operated on the Monongahela & Washington branch, on which the mine is located, on Sunday, a train was made up at Monongahela and the bodies were brought to this place and taken to the Bebout and Scurfield, undertaking establishments. A peculiar fact in connection with the explosion was that no excitement attended the removal of the bodies. As the mine is some distance from Hazelkirk village it was not generally known that five of the most prominent men in local circles had their lives snuffed out by the deadly gas and the bodies had been brought to this place before the news was generally known and before several of the families were notified. Yesterday the death of the officials became known and it seemed to cast a pall over the community as each of the dead men had a large acquaintance. The disaster was the only topic of conversation and the undertaking establishments were besieged by crowds of people during the afternoon, but all were refused admittance. Many people visited the mouth of the mine today and the home of Rodney at Hazelkirk was besieged during the afternoon by those attracted by morbid curiosity. Although suffering intense pain, with the flesh in many places in great blisters, the Frenchman was able to coherently tell of his harrowing experience in making his awful journey over the bodies of his comrades and through 1,500 feet of inky darkness on his hands and feet and up dozens of steps, each move cutting through the flesh to the bone. John Hornickel, the dear superintendent has been a resident of Monongahela for eight years, coming there from Youngstown, O. He was superintendent of the Monga mines before taking charge of the Hazelkirk mines. He was a brother of Lute Hornickel, now general manager for the M.A. Hanna Coal company and formerly general manager of the 10 mines of the Monongahela River Consolidated Coal & Coal company in the third pool. Supt. Hornickel belonged to the Monongahela lodge of Elks and the Youngstown Knights of Pythists? funeral services will be held tomorrow at his former home in Monongahela, after which the body will be removed to Youngstown, where the interment will take place Wednesday. In response to a telephone message telling of his brother’s death, Lute Hornickel arrived in Monongahela yesterday afternoon. The Washington Penna, Reporter Tuesday, October 31, 1905 HAZELKIRK MINE WILL BE REOPENED Damage Has Been Largely Repaired and Mine is Pronounced Safe. MONONGAHELA, Oct. 31,—This community is yet overcast with gloom as the result of the explosion in mine No. 2, at Hazelkirk, early Sunday morning, when five men met instant death. President Kuhn, of the Westmoreland coal combine, which owns the Hazelkirk mines, was in this city and went out to the mines to look over the situation. Thursday at 1 o’clock has been set for the time of the inquest, which will be an investigation on the part of the mine officials as well as on the part of Coroner W.H. Sipe. Men were at work all Monday in the mine replacing the brattices and endeavoring to confine the fire to one section of the mine. Yesterday morning, after a consultation on the part of the mine officials of this district a party entered the workings to replace the stoppages. The party consisted of John McVicker, James Kennedy, Joseph Kennedy, Lowry Kennedy, Charles Clee, Isaac Cooper and “Dr.” Daugherty. These men are all experienced mine workers, connected with the Black Diamond workings. They entered the mine long before daylight and after ascertaining the atmosphere was free from any dangerous gases they went to the point where the bulkheads had been blown out. Wooden brattices were hastily erected as far back as No. 6 entry, thus confining the fire to the section beyond that entry, the boundary of the original fire. Upon the completion of these temporary brattices a force of men was then put to work erecting the brick bulkheads and all have been replaced. Although this work was attended by considerable danger no accident occurred. Mine officials of this district have pronounced the mine safe and operations can be resumed at any time. President Kuhn, while at the workings, expressed himself as being opposed to reopening the mine until all was safe and is authority for the statement that he would rather flood or abandon the workings that have another life sacrificed in an attempt to place the mine in operation before it had been declared free from gas by the inspectors. The body of John Laverty was taken to Fayette City Monday to the home of relatives of the deceased, from which the funeral will take place. Superintendent John Hornickel’s body will be taken to Youngstown tomorrow, where the interment will be made. The funeral of John Hunter, one of the firebosses, will be held from his home at Hazelkirk, Wednesday, at 2 o’clock. The interment will be made at Monongahela. The last rites over the remains of Pitboss Daniel Griffith will be held at the home of his wife, Hazelkirk, tomorrow at 2 o’clock. The interment will also be in the Monongahela cemetery. The funeral of Henry Clayborne, the colored fireboss, will be held Wednesday at 2 p.m. from the A.M.E. church. After the services the remains will be taken in charge by the Coal City lodge I.O.O.F., of which the deceased was a member. The inquest will be held in city hall at 1 o’clock Thursday, and it is said that some fact concerning the death of the men which have not yet been divulged will be brought out by the coroner and the mine officials, as those who have knowledge of the affair will undergo a rigid examination. The most important witness, it is said, will be Mine Inspector Henry Louttit, who will give some testimony which will indicate why the ill-fated party entered the mine and tore out the bulkheads at such imminent risk.

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