Marker dedicated for Baltimore Mine Tunnel disaster

Last updated: January 23. 2014 11:31AM - 5122 Views
By Bill O’Boyle boboyle@timesleader.com

Drew McLaughlin, Wilkes-Barre City's municipal affairs manager, left, and Bill Lewis, Commissioner of the Pennsylvania Historic Museum Commission, unveil the new historical marker for the Baltimore Mine Tunnel Disaster that was dedicated on Wednesday near the intersection of Pine and Spring Streets in Wilkes-Barre.
Drew McLaughlin, Wilkes-Barre City's municipal affairs manager, left, and Bill Lewis, Commissioner of the Pennsylvania Historic Museum Commission, unveil the new historical marker for the Baltimore Mine Tunnel Disaster that was dedicated on Wednesday near the intersection of Pine and Spring Streets in Wilkes-Barre.
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Explosion victims

• Names of the men killed in the Baltimore Mine Tunnel Explosion, June 5, 1919:

Oscar Bidwell, William Bohn, Joseph Borden, Felix Boritz, Edmund Brew, John Bronchonski, George Bunza, Michael Burcta, Joseph Chesnock, Alick Cichon, Michael Connell, Michael Cutlarski, Stephen Demchak, Fred Dippenworth, Andrew Drevnock, Anthony Dzenis, Nick Fedoch, Andrew Flecto, Stanley Forestal, Frank Gasner, Edward George, Gene Getner, Bernard Gillespie, John Golongo, John Greglock, George Hanza, Michael Harris, Victor Harris, Joseph Hart, James Hern, William Hogan, William Hommicky, Joseph Hopper, Andrew Hraba, Lazlo Jiojavics, John B. Jones, Michael Kahwil, George Keiper, Andrew Kimeja, John Kowatsko, George Kubick, Walter Kubick, Paul Kuda, Parick Lenahan, Michael Lestanos, Harry Linteski, Joseph Lipenski, James Maguire, Charles Mantville, James McClosky, John Michlosky, Paul Milchick, Andew Muroski, James Murphy, Joseph Mylefski, Anthony Narkunas, Michael Nestor, Edward Oliver, Patrick O’Malia, John Penrish, Llwellyn Perrett, Michael Plachta, John Pochka, Joseph Polinski, Joseph Pononish, Joseph Ponozin, Charles Popheadinas, Michael Remakus, Joseph Repicka, John Rushton, Morris Ryan, Stanley Smikel, Fred Spador, Anthony Stanitis, John Staveyash, William Stenicka, Joseph Stremus, Samuel Subiak, Slaca Taminsky, Stanley Tavgonski, Stanley Terinski, Samuel Topeka, Alick Trucknik, John J. Van Nort, Kospy Vickesky, Adam Voychik, John Wallace, Michael Waschik, Frank Wiechert, Richard Wiechert, Jacob Wozick, Joseph Yaris, John Yaskulski, John Zelinski.

WILKES-BARRE — Sometimes a disaster creates bonds that cannot be broken and legacies that live forever.

Such is the case of Frank and Louise McCabe of Kingston, each of whom had grandfathers who were killed along with 90 other coal miners in the Baltimore Mine Tunnel Disaster of 1919 caused by an accidental explosion.

It was the area’s second-worst mining disaster behind the 1869 Avondale Mine Disaster in Plymouth Township, where 110 workers were killed.

On Wednesday, a state Historical and Museum Commission marker was unveiled to commemorate the event — forever marking the location and preserving the history of the victims’ sacrifice and those left behind.

The marker is at Spring and Pine streets near the entrance to Raymour & Flanigan. The Baltimore Mine was located at the rear of the property.

Frank Wiechert, Louise McCabe’s paternal grandfather, and Michael Harris, Frank’s maternal grandfather, were both killed that June 5 about 95 years ago.

Wiechert had nine children, who would go on to have nine grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren. Harris had three children, resulting in 24 grandchildren and more than 100 great-grandchildren and 30 great-great-grandchildren.

Safety laws ignored

Laws at the time required miners to be transported into the mines separately from blasting powder, but, as was the case that morning, such laws were often ignored.

So with the 95th anniversary of the tragedy approaching, the McCabes, who have been married 37 years, and 35 others braved the single-digit temperatures to attend the ceremony. Many were there on behalf of their ancestors who were killed or injured in the explosion.

“It sure does mean a lot,” Louise McCabe said. “It’s about time these men were remembered for what happened that day.”

She said Elizabeth Wiechert, the last living child of her grandfather, died Aug. 23, 2013, at the age of 96.

“I wish she could have been here today to see this,” McCabe said. “She would be very proud.”

John Karazia Sr., 52, of Wilkes-Barre, said his grandfather Charles Vasil Karazia survived the disaster.

“It’s important to remember what happened here almost 100 years ago,” he said. “This event was almost forgotten, but thanks to the efforts of a lot of people, we now have the marker. But I never thought I would have seen it in my lifetime.”

The site is now developed, but Sally Healey of Wilkes-Barre remembered playing in the area where the mine tunnel was located.

“We knew something happened there,” she said. “But little did we realize how tragic that event was.”

June 5, 1919

According to historical records and an account of the disaster that was printed in the June 12, 1919, edition of The Weekly Courier in Connelsville, the accident occurred around 6:45 p.m. Thursday, June 5, 1919, killing 92 men in Baltimore Tunnel No. 2 Mine, due to an explosion of black blasting powder. Another 44 were injured and seven escaped uninjured.

The mine workers were riding to work, crowded into what was known as a trip of mine cars drawn by a motor. The rear car carried 12 kegs of black powder used for blasting loose the coal. A trolley wire snapped when the train had gone about 200 feet from the entrance. The wire sputtered and sizzled and the sparks touched off the powder.

“The terrified men on the cars instantly were aware of the danger that confronted them, but they stood powerless to avert it,” the account stated. “There was a roar and in an instant every man and boy on the train was either dead or dying. Terribly mangled bodies were found everywhere by the rescue crews which instantly rushed into the mine. Firefighters working frantically succeeded in an incredibly short time in subduing the flames which followed the blast.”

To read the entire account, go to: http://www.usmra.com/saxsewell/Baltimore_tunnel.htm.

McLaughlin called the marker project “a perfect example of what can be achieved through a strong collaborative effort between the government, private organizations and citizens.”

A King’s College service learning project by history department professors and students did the research to substantiate the historical marker was warranted.

McLaughlin said the property owner gave permission to erect the marker on its land — Sunshine Market Inc., 1492 Highway 315, Wilkes-Barre.

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