Springhill Mine Disaster (1958)
DESCRIPTION: Describes collapse of mine tunnel in Springhill, Nova Scotia, 1958; twelve men are trapped in a cave-in, while several are killed. The lamps, food and water give out; after eight days some are rescued
AUTHOR: Peggy Seeger (with additional words by Ewan MacColl)
EARLIEST DATE: 1960 (copyright by authors)
KEYWORDS: rescue death mining disaster ordeal worker
REFERENCES (2 citations):
Silber-FSWB, p. 124, "Ballad of Springhill (The Springhill Mine Disaster)" (1 text)
NOTES [351 words]: I include this, although it's a recently-composed song, because it is solidly within the traditional ballad style, and because it's entered the common repertoire. - PJS
Usually listed as by MacColl and Seeger, but their official report is that it is "chiefly the work of Peggy Seeger." Peggy Seeger, in her book First Time Ever: A Memoir, Faber & Faber, 2017, p. 166, says that it's all her work, except that MacColl (by whom Seeger was pregnant, but to whom she was not yet married) suggested that she needed something that made it sound like she had been down in a mine, so he supplied the verse that begins "Down at the coalface miners working." Seeger adds that she considers this "my first good song."
Seeger adds that the song "has now been officially adopted by the community of Springhill, even though the mine closed after the 1958 'bump' and never reopened." She adds in a note that Caleb Rushton, who is mentioned in the song (and whom she met in 1997) actually took part in the community functions, and sang the verse about him.
There is some confusion about the copyright date; it's listed as 1960 in the Folksinger's Wordbook, but Peggy Seeger's songbook says it was copyrighted 1963.
The mine disaster of 1958 was not the only Springhill tragedy; there had been an earlier (and even more deadly) cave-in in 1891, for which see "La Complainte de Springhill (The Lament of Springhill)" and "Springhill Mine Disaster (1891)."
The town of Springhill is in Cumberland County, Nova Scotia, not far from the New Brunswick border, on the fringes of the Cobequid Mountains (really hills). There is still coal in the area, but it is now considered a minor resource; there is, in fact, a nuclear power plant nearby.
Joseph Ruby reports that MacColl's figures are inaccurate: "75 men were killed and about 40 were rescued - after 12 days, not eight." Seeger says in her book that 74 died and 99 survived after "many days." Seeger wrote the song while the rescue was actually taking place; she does not say so, but I suspect she used the figures which were given at the time, which were not accurate. - RBW
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