Avondale Disaster (I), The (The Mines of Avondale) [Laws G6]
DESCRIPTION: Flames are seen outside the Avondale mines; the miners' families realize there is a fire below. The two men who enter the mine find all the miners suffocated. Over one hundred men die
EARLIEST DATE: 1929 (Greenleaf/Mansfield-BalladsAndSeaSongsOfNewfoundland)
KEYWORDS: mining disaster death
Sept 6, 1869 - The fire in the Avondale coal mines near Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. The fire blocked the only exit route and consumed all the oxygen in the tunnels. A total of 110 miners died, with 76 found in one ineffective shelter.
FOUND IN: US(MA) Canada(Newf)
REFERENCES (13 citations):
Laws G6, "The Avondale Mine Disaster I"
Greenleaf/Mansfield-BalladsAndSeaSongsOfNewfoundland 60, "Mines of Avondale" (1 text)
Leach-FolkBalladsSongsOfLowerLabradorCoast 106, "The Mines of Avondale" (1 text, 1 tune)
Leach-TheBalladBook, pp. 783-785, "The Avondale Mine Disaster" (1 text)
Leach-HeritageBookOfBallads, pp. 161-163, "The Avondale Mine Disaster" (1 text)
Korson-MinstrelsOfTheMinePatch, pp. 189-191, "The Avondale Mine Disaster" (1 text, 1 tune)
Korson-PennsylvaniaSongsAndLegends, pp. 386-388, "The Avondale Mine Disaster" (1 text, 1 tune)
Friedman-Viking/PenguinBookOfFolkBallads, p. 307, "The Avondale Mine Disaster" (1 text)
Lomax-FolkSongsOfNorthAmerica 64, "The Avondale Mine Disaster" (1 text, 1 tune)
Cohen-AmericanFolkSongsARegionalEncyclopedia1, pp. 149-151, "The Avondale Mine Disaster" (1 text plus a broadside print)
Foner-AmericanLaborSongsOfTheNineteenthCentury, p. 194, "The Avondale Mine Disaster" (1 text)
Darling-NewAmericanSongster, pp. 215-218, "The Avondale Mine Disaster" (1 text)
DT 713, AVONDAL1
John M. Curtis, "Mines of Avondale" (on MUNFLA/Leach)
John J. Quinn, "The Avondale Mine Disaster" (AFS, 1946; on LCTreas)
cf. "The Avondale Disaster II" [Laws G7] (subject)
The Mine of Locust Dale (File: KMMP193B)
NOTES [440 words]: Much the more common of the Avondale Disaster songs (which Laws calls independent ballads, though there are strong similarities between the two which may imply common influence), this one is characterized by the fairly fixed first stanza, "Good Christians all, both great and small, I pray you lend an ear / And listen with attention while the truth I will declare; / When you hear this lamentation it will cause you to weep and wail / About the suffocation in the mines of Avondale."
Kenny, p. 127, gives this brief account: "The worst [accident involving fire and gas in the Pennsylvania coal fields] occurred at the Steuben Shaft at Avondale, just outside the town of Plymouth, in Luzerne County in September 1869. Operated by the Delaware, Lackawanna, & Western Railroad, the Steuben Shaft was 327 feet deep and employed two hundred men. Directly on top of the staff stood a wooden coal breaker, and halfway down the shaft a furnace had been installed to provide ventilation. This single shaft was the sole means of entry and exit for the mine workers; the accompanying upcast and downcast [ventilation shafts] carried air, not men. On the morning of September 6, 1869, sparks from the wood used to ignite the furnace, possibly combined with some gas in the upcast, set fire to the timbering in the shaft, which in turn set fire to the breaker above. The breaker tumbled down through the shaft, blocking the only possible exit from the mine and starting a fire that rapidly consumed all the oxygen and spread various poisonous gas. One hundred and ten men were asphyxiated. It took a rescue party two days to find all the bodies."
Harris/Blatz has a summary on pp. 78. The miners had been on strike for three months before going back to work the Friday before (one wonders if this had affected the mine infrastructure, though the mine was fairly new). The accident took place on the following Monday. There were 108 men on the shift. Smoke was first observed coming from the breaker at 8:45, and by 9:00 was overwhelming. There was only one exit from the pit, so the fire made it impossible for the miners to leave. The fire raged for several days, and was so strong that the first two men to attempt to go down to deal with it died of asphyxiation. It was two days before rescue operation could begin. In all, 110 people died (I assume that's 108 miners and the two rescuers).
Pennsylvania had some mine safety laws, but they were inadequate -- and had been written to exclude Luzerne county anyway! In the aftermath, the laws were strengthened, but they were still weak, and they were not enforced very well (Harris/Blatz, p. 78). - RBW
Last updated in version 6.2
- Harris/Blatz: Howard Harris, editor; Perry K. Blatz, assistant editor, Keystone of Democracy: A History of Pennsylvania Workers, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1999
- Kenny: Kevin Kenny, Making Sense of the Molly Maguires, Oxford University Press, 1998
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