Coal Glen Mine Disaster - Chatham Record - June 4, 1925

The Coal Glen Mining Disaster
Farmville, Chatham County, N.C.
May 27, 1925

Pittsboro, NC
June 4, 1925

Coal Glen Mine Gives Up Dead

Fifty-Three Bodies Taken From Ill-Starred Chatham County Mine
Last One Rescued Saturday Afternoon After Four Days of Nerve-Wracking Toil

Heroic Service Given by Miners

Startled State and Nation Rushed Assistance to Scene-Sanford Hospital,
Legion Auxiliary, the Red Cross and Other Agencies Prompt With Aid in
Rescue Work and for Comfort and Consolation of Hundreds of Bereaved

      Coal Glen mine gave up its fifty-third body late Saturday evening.  Water had risen in the mine to such an extent that the rescuers were practically forced to cease the search, but it was noted that fifty-three was the complete toll taken.

The following is a list of the victims:

White. Colored.
George Anderson, Will Irick,
F.S. Anderson, Arthur Poe,
A.F. Martin, Jas. Wright,
D.J. Wilson, T.D. Wright,
C.V. Johnson, James Williams,
Joe Hudson, John Burgess,
Claude Wood, John Shaw,
Zeff Riner, Charles Watson,
J.E. Laubscher, David Barr,
A.L. Stokes, June Cotton,
A.L. Holland, Jim Spruill,
Sam Napier, John Alston,
Elmer Hayes, Henry Alston,
J.B. Curd, Lige Hill,
C.B. Davis, Russell Wright,
W.E. Byerly, Wesley Howard,
Hollis Richardson, Robert Williams,
Reuben Chambliss, Albert Holly,
Thomas Cotton, T.N. Wright,
H.C. Hall, Wade Wilson,
Dan Hudson, Lee Hodges,
W.E Dillingham, Will Moore,
W.D. Dillingham, Wilson Chesney,
H.W. Sullivan, Manly Lambert,
N.R. Johnson, Isaac Hayes,
C.L. Wood, Jim Nabors.
Lee Buchanan.  

      Four days of incessant and nerve-wracking toil on the part of the heroic rescuers came to an end Saturday night, when, despite the rising waters, every nook and cranny of the mine had been explored and the last body of the 53 victims of the death-dealing blasts of Wednesday's disaster had been brought to the surface.

      From the erstwhile peaceful and happy little mining community near three score bruised, broken, and scorched bodies of formerly contented and industrious men have been rushed to morgue, and to burial far and near.  North and south, east and west, the trains bore the dead and the heart broken loved ones.  Five found their last resting place in the little Farmville church yard, while here and there over lower Chatham, family burying grounds show new-made mounds and Chatham homes are sadly bereaved.  Hardly yet has the public, dazed by the bulk of the tragedy, been able to concentrate its interest and sympathy upon the individual losses and sorrows, but to many a home-to parents, wives, and children, brothers and sisters-the great tragedy is centered in the snuffing out of just one life, or, in some cases, as with the Hudsons, that of several of the family.

A Halcyon Scene.

      It was Wednesday morning and after the usual precautions fifty-three stalwart men with individual electric lamps gleaming upon their heads, had been swallowed by the yawning blackness of the mine.  Another day of honest toil was under way.  Above ground the usual activities were in progress; the great ventilating fan hummed away, assuring a constant supply of fresh air to the men below; the powerful windlass gave its intermittent creaks as it hauled out of the bowels of the earth load after load of the underground wealth and sent the whizzing empties gliding over the rails back into the black maw; a thousand feet above the miners lay a broad, level field of cotton and here and yonder were dotted the cottage homes with wives, mothers and sisters about their humdrum daily tasks.  It was only another day, such as hundreds before when toilsome hours were followed by the evening meal, rest, and recreation.  The casual tourist would scarcely have dreamed, untold, that hundreds of feet below his very road three-score labored by light of flashing electric torches.  It was a halcyon scene, but one destined to instant shift.

Death-Dealing Blasts.

      Destiny had struck.  With the roar of a hurricane rushed yellow fumes followed by black smoke from the shaft.  Never will be known just what was happening below, or how or why the fatal blast.  But above, it first dazed and then galvanized into action the men who knew too well the significance of the blast.

      Young Howard Butler, the manager, kept his head.  His first thought was for the fan, which was discovered humming its saving song and giving hope of early riddance of fumes below.  His next was for the help of the experienced men in the Cumnock mine.  Then, accompanied by Joe Richardson, a machinist, he plunged into the shaft.  Claude Matherson, weighman, and K.R. Scott, lampman, followed.  It was easy near the blast he did not fear the full force, he and Richardson made their way unhindered by any debris.  The air was heavy but not utterly oppressive.  

Six Men Found.

      At the entrance to the second corridor to the right they found six men, but dazed and bruised.  These the two intrepid explorers dragged into the main shaft and still examining the wiring and testing the air, he searched through the windings and turnings for more men, but found none.

      "By that time," related Butler to reporters as he lay stretched out on a sofa in his own home, bruised and with dust-clogged lungs, "Joe Richardson had got away somewhere and I couldn't find him.  I thought I had better get back to the top to get work started to bring those six men out." But before he reached the main shaft, the second blast came.  Of that blast he did not feel the full force, he says, and thinks it was quite distant from him.

      Having reached the main shaft after the second explosion he was making his way upward when he heard the third explosion behind him and flung himself flat upon the ground.  "It sounded like a tornado," was the best description the young man could give.

      Thus wrote one of his interviewers for the Greensboro News:

      "The rushing wind swept over his prostrate body, hurled it forward and up the shaft, tossed it around, battered it and filled it with dirt and dust and sand and rock, ripped his cap from his head, his lamp from around his forehead, his very glasses from his eyes, and left him almost unconscious."

      All this the listeners dragged from Butler slowly and by piece-meal.  He wasn't talking much about it unless you questioned him closely.  But somehow as you heard him talking you saw him staggering ahead.  On hands and knees he crawled the remainder of the way to the mouth of the mine.  

      "The last 200 feet took me 45 minutes," somebody said, he mentioned almost casually.  "I didn't know how long it was.  I guess I didn't know anything much but to keep on climbing."

      Somebody asked him how he felt.  He thought a moment.  Then he said: "Did you ever dive into the water and hit flat on your belly? Well, that's the way I feel all over." But when a physician came in, the youngster turned his head and said cheerfully enough, "Hello, Doc, I'm getting along all right."

      That interview was give Wednesday afternoon.  Afterward young Butler was threatened with pneumonia and was taken to a Sanford hospital.  

      He is back home now and practically recovered from his harsh experience.

The News Spreads.

      The news of the disaster was heralded far and near.  Sheriff G.W. Blair hastened to the scene, swore in twenty or more special deputies, and has remained in complete control of the situation, experiencing little, or no difficulty in maintaining the very best order and keeping the area about the shaft clear of the thronging crowds.

      The news was flashed to the Governor, who dispatched Gen. Van Metts to the scene and stood in readiness to call out troops if there should be occasion for it.

      Fort Bragg was alert.  Gen. Bowley himself was absent in the extreme eastern part of the state, but the major next in command, hastened the ambulance corps, two lorries of soldiers, stretchers and other paraphernalia.

      Washington heard and acted.  A supply car with experienced men and material from West Virginia arrived 24 hours after the explosion.  A similar party hastened from Birmingham, Ala.

      But the promptest assistance came from the Cumnock mine, three miles distant, miners of brown experience and courage, and from Sanford, where the hospital corps and the American Legion Auxiliary responded immediately-surgeons, nurses, and supplies.  The Red Cross, too, got into action.

      In the meantime, and for the next two days, the roads were thronged with automobiles whizzing ton the scene of the tragedy from points near and remote.  The narrow roads were dust-clouded.  That there was no collision is notable.  For half a mile cars were parked as at a monster county fair.  Thousands and tens of thousands of people visited the spot, Flocks of newspaper reporters sped thither and camped.  The wires were kept hot; fast automobiles conveyed written copy to Raleigh and Greensboro.  Sanford was bombarded with calls from afar for the latest news.  The office of the Carolina Coal Company was converted into a reporters' rendezvous and work shop.  Soft drink and hot dog stands sprung up and did a flourishing business and even the cafe and cold drink stands in Pittsboro boast a booming trade last week.

Grief-Stricken Families.

      The most distressing sight was that of the awed and grief-stricken wives, children and parents, waiting in stoical silence at first with hope that their ... loved ones might be extricated alive, and later with the certainty that sooner or later they should see the bruised and scorched bodies brought to the surface.  There was very little weeping and wailing.  The fortitude of those who had lost all was remarkable.  From Council, down in Bladen County, came Uncle Butler Wright, a darkey who had lost three sons and a brother in the catastrophe.  Mr. M.B. Hudson lost two sons, Joe Hudson, aged 27, and Danncy, aged only 17 but married, and his son-in-law, Sam Napier.  Though stunned, Mr. Hudson's chief concern was reported to be as how the wives and children were to be taken care of.  Two sisters from Alabama are said to have lost their father and their husbands.  But these are only illustrations of the more in mat[illegible] and distress that bore down upon the bereaved families.  There are 40 widows and 75 orphans.

Finding the Dead.

      The third blast had evidently clogged the shaft down which young Butler and Richardson had readily passed to the "second right" so that reaching the six men whom they had drawn into what they had hoped was a life-restoring air current was now to cost much time and labor.  Shifts of six or eight miners exchanged places in clearing away the debris and pushing forward in search of those they now had little hope of finding alive.  Late Wednesday evening the six were brought out, all dead, and more or less broken and mangled.  Thursday saw ten more brought from the lower levels of the mine, when Friday brough the weary workers to the larger group of bodies in the deepest recesses, and by night had seen the number recovered reach even fifty.

      On Friday decomposition had set in to such an extent that an order went forth for the prompt burial of the bodies to be brought out thereafter.  The first burial of all was that of Archie Holland, who was buried at Gulf Baptist Church Thursday.  The four buried at Farmville Friday were C.V. Johnson, W.E. Byerly, Hollis Richardson and H.C. Wall.  Present and assisting in the funeral services were Rev. R.W. Herring, of Sanford, C.L. Wicker, of Gulf, and Rev. Zeno Wall and Rev. E.J. Eisenhour, of Goldsboro.

      Many of the bodies were taken down to Sanford undertaking establishments and there prepared for shipment to the points of burial as far away as Alabama.

      During all the trying hours President McQueen of the Carolina Coal Company and vice-president Bion H. Butler, father of young Howard Butler, gave the most diligent and earnest attention to the progress of the rescue work and the care of the dependents of the mine victims.  Their own personal fortunes had been imperiled, but that seemed forgotten in the anxiety to render aid and comfort to those whose hopes were buried in the deep recesses of the mine.

      Finally the last body was brought out and the curtain was pulled down upon the last scene of the tragedy at the mine's mouth.  But at points many leagues apart the dead were lying in state or being laid away for the long sleep.  The last body was brought out Sunday evening.  Though search revealing no more, the brave, but toll-worn workers, could seek their homes and rest; the reporters scooted back to their headquarters; the officials, though weary, may begin their counsels looking to the future operations of the mine, and now the aforetime peace and quiet have settled upon the stricken community, but for many weeks doubtless tourists will turn aside to view the scene of the worst single disaster that has ever occurred in North Carolina in peace times.

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