The following is the official report from the 1897 Pennsylvania Department of Mines Inspector, for the largest loss of life at one time in the coal mines of Old Forge, as written by Mine Inspector H.O. Prytherch. The disaster occurred in the Jermyn No. 1 Mine of the Dunn Colliery, owned by the John. J. Jermyn Coal Co. in the Rendham section of town.
Fire Boss Issac Watkins, while making his morning examination of the workings of the middle vein, Jermyn No. 1 mine, discovered a fire in a chamber known as Apple’s, off of Davies old airway on the morning of Sept. 21. Mining was suspended in that section of the colliery and every energy directed toward extinguishing the fire. The fire originated from a blower having been left burning at quitting time the previous day, and this, in a short time, communicated fire to the workings. A line of water pipes was laid and properly connected to a pump, and work was commenced with the air current flowing in its usual direction. As the work progressed it was discovered the fire was closer to a cross-cut and had caused the roof to fall in a considerable distance, this fall had to be loaded out and the place re-timbered. It was decided by the mine officials, after a consultation, to change the direction of the air-current and reach the location of the fire with the view of quenching it, and so reduce the heat and smoke so the work of loading the debris would be facilitated. The air-current was changed on the 28th of September about two o’clock, Mine Foreman Johns being in charge of the work. Sometime later Mine Foreman Johns and Fire Boss Watkins having found that the air-current was working successfully in the new direction, decided to go in to the location of the fire. They found the vicinity of the fire clear of gasses and concluded that it would be safe for the shift to go in and commence work from that end. Issac Watkins the Fire Boss had charge of this shift, consisting of John Gallagher, William Franklin, William Tompkins, and Joseph Smith. About 3:30 p.m. they went in after making arrangements with other men to later bring in mine rails. At 5:10 p.m. George Shrives, Al Whyte, Thomas Curley and John Conway made their way to an airlock door with the rails. This door they found closed. They discovered the body of Tompkins on the other side and the bodies of Franklin, Smith, and Gallagher, some distance inside. Later in the day, the body of Fire Boss Watkins was recovered from a point near the fire.
During the investigation and inquest which followed, it was determined the air-current around the location of the fire was intact, beyond a doubt, with no possible way by which it could reach the return, except by way of the fire. All doors, brattices, and walls were undisturbed, and the fan running at the usual speed. The coroner of the county, assisted by the mine inspector, held an inquest over the remains of Isaac Watkins and others on Oct. 4, 1897, at Rendham, at which all available evidence was submitted.
The jury returned the following verdict: “We the undersigned jurors, after hearing the evidence submitted that the said Isaac Watkins and others, for some cause unknown, retreated to the bad air-current and met death as the result of breathing sulphurous gases. We further find that no blame can be attached to Isaac Watkins nor the other officials, R.W. Reese, E.D. Owens, T.P. Crosgrove, F. Crosgrove, J. Nicholas and William Monroe.”
A week after the disaster, the New York Times reported on it: In part, the article read:
“Not a man in the party survived to tell the story. In the case of each body the head pointed toward the shaft, indicating that they had groped and struggled toward the shaft and fresh air, while suffocation was overcoming them.”
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