1907 - 2007: The Darr Mine Disaster
9/29/2007– Hungarian-American Organizations join Local Community to Commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Darr Mine Disaster. Key AHF member organizations joined forces to remember the worst mining disaster in Pennsylvania history. The Commemoration took place September 29, 2007 at Olive Branch Cemetery in Rostraver, Pennsylvania, where many of the miners were buried, many in a common grave above which AHF placed the memorial seen here.
On December 19, 1907 an explosion in the Darr Mine took the lives of an estimated 239 men and teenage boys. Though most of those killed were Hungarian immigrant laborers, AHF honors all those that sacrificed their lives. The Darr Mine Disaster is known as the worst in Pennsylvania history and 2nd worst in US history. The gas and dust explosion occurred in the Deadliest Month in US Mining History.
Prior to the ceremony, guests enjoyed exhibits on mining that featured the unique collection of Don Indof, son of the legendary "Mr. Miner" Henry Indof, and a display on mine safety from the Mine Safety and Health Administration.
It was standing room only as some 300 people attended the church ceremony that featured presentations by Hungarian-American leaders and local, state, and federal representatives. Local community representatives included miners, firefighters, the Masonic Lodge, and those that lost family members in the disaster.
Rev. Imre Bertalan, Jr., president of the Bethlen Communities in Ligonier, opened the day and offered welcoming remarks [download remarks]. AHF Executive Chairman, Bryan Dawson, accompanied by Raymond Kimball, led the national anthems of the United States and Hungary, followed by the Invocation by Rev. Stefan Torok of the Hungarian Reformed Church.
Pastor Chip Norton, a Darr Mine Historian, delivered the Keynote Address and described the horrors of the massive explosion and the continuing tragedy as the widows, who often lost their husbands and all male children, were left homeless and penniless. "May we remember not just the event, but that these were real people with real cities from where they had migrated, real towns where they lived, real wives who they loved, real children who were the apples of their eyes. May we learn we are never far from the gates of eternity ourselves," he said. While the "official" estimate is 239 victims, ev. Norton called attention to other news reports and estimates that were much higher. The blast was so powerful that many just weren't identified or known. Children often followed their fathers into the mines and entire families were wiped out.
Sponsor addresses followed. Speakers were Zoltan Bagdy, AHF Co-President; Rev. Ilona Komjathy, Pastor of the First Hungarian Reformed Church of Pittsburgh; Endre Csoman, The William Penn Association; Steven Varga, Chairman of The William Penn Association and AHF President ex-Officio and Board Member of both AHF and HAC, who read a letter from the Hungarian American Coalition; Joseph Fabry, Hungarian Reformed Federation of America; Rev. Stefan Torok, Hungarian Reformed Church; and Raymond D. Popp, President, Rostraver Township Historical Society.
The Honorable Kevin Stricklin, Administrator, Mine Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, gave a stirring speech, commenting on his own Hungarian mining background and the need for continued vigilance as mining disasters continue. A native of Wickhaven, PA, Stricklin said the while newer regulations gave more authority to federal inspectors to shut down mines and more recent penalties and improved technologies have improved safety, there is much work left to do. "When I go out to meet with the widow, I can tell you one miner dying is one too many." He added that it is unfortunate that so many US laws are "written in blood." AHF's Bryan Dawson presented him its membership pin and a copy of its Darr Mine poster. After the day was over, he said, "This is a very special event for me. I grew up here, I have family here, my Hungarian ancestors mined here." He joined Pennsylvania State Reprentative Ted Harhai in thanking the Federation for its work.
Mr. Stricklin was followed by Edward Yankovich, International Vice President of the United Mine Workers of America who focused on the need to protect workers and the continued sacrifices of so many. Audible shock could be heard as he reported that 100,000 miners have died in mining accidents since the Darr Mine tragedy and 100,000 miners have succumbed to Black Lung disease. He asked what the miners of old would expect of us today. "I believe they would want us to continue the fight for human life and safety. I believe they would want us to embrace them and help them see through the corporate greed that tries to use us against them." AHF presented Mr. Yankovich with a copy of its Darr Mine commemorative poster.
Mary Lou Pécsi Magiske, corresponding secretary of the Rostraver Township Historical Society whose grandfather was killed in the Peters Creek Mine in 1909 and Joe Iacoboni, Rostraver Township Commissioner, were the final speakers. Mr Iacoboni presented a proclamation and expressed his gratitude for all those who came to Rostraver to remember the victims.
Following the church ceremony, participants followed bagpiper Scott Hamilton and the Perryopolis VFW Post 7023 Honor Guard to the adjacent Olive Branch Cemetery for presentation of the colors21-gun salute commanded by George Timko. Bishop Koloman Ludwig, Calvin Synod, United Church of Christ and Tony Fao, Chaplain of VFW Post 7023 offered prayers for the dead.
The Olive Branch Cemetery is the final resting place for 71 Darr miners. Hungarian American leaders laid a wreath at the AHF Memorial which sits above a common grave where the remains of some 49 miners are buried.There is a single grave of a Darr miner near the AHF Memorial marked Helmuth Schneider. The VFW Post 7023 Honor Guard presented arms and a 10-gun salute commanded by George Timko. Participants observed silent reflection as students from the Frazier School District played Taps.
The AHF memorial, placed in 1909 on the second anniversary of the tragedy, was partially funded by Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph. The Memorial reads:
Visit to the Mine Site
With the official ceremonies over, some participants attended a tour of the Darr Mine site. They scaled the overgrown hill to find the brick-covered entrance to the mine. The explosion from this entrance was so powerful it was felt miles away.
The bodies were brought down the hill to the village of Van Meter. There, local historians and residents shared their knowledge of the dramatic events following the Darr disaster with commemoration participants. Many of the original buildings still exist and a memorial was placed near the site of the makeshift morgue. Joseph Sbaffoni, Que Creek Mine Rescue Miner, talked about mine safety and his experiences.
A reception was held in Belle Vernon. AHF's Bryan Dawson presented Raymond Popp with the full-size Darr Mine poster and thanked him and Mary Lou Pécsi Magiske of the Rostraver Township Historical Society for all their support and hard work.
He recalled the months of planning that went in to the event, thanked all the sponsoring organizations and remarked that when the community shows such unity, nothing was impossible.
December 1907 began with an explosion that killed all 34 miners inside the Naomi Mine in Fayette County on Dec. 1. Five days later, the single greatest mine disaster in American history occurred when massive explosions and roof collapses killed 362 men in Monongah, West Va. Ten days later, on Dec.16, an explosion in the Yolanda, Ala. killed 57 miners, many by asphyxiation. By the time this deadly month ended, more than 3,200 American miners had died in accidents. In Pennsylvania, 1,400 miners died that year, 708 in the Anthracite mines, and 806 in the Bituminous fields.
Why so many Hungarians?
The total dead at Darr could have been much higher, eclipsing even the Monangah disaster, if not for the fact that many of the miners were recent immigrants of the Greek Catholic and Greek Orthodox faith which celebrates the Feast of St. Nicholas on December 19 according to the Julian calendar. As a result, nearly 200 miners chose not to go to work the day the explosion happened. Those that chose to work that day were mostly Hungarian, Italian, German, and Austrian immigrants. "The Miracle of St. Nicholas," celebrated by some of the Orthodox faith as hundreds were saved that day, did not extend to these poor Darr miners. Of the estimated 239 dead, over 140 were Hungarian.
Honoring the Dead
The American Hungarian Federation (then known as the Hungarian American Federation) placed the memorial over a common grave at Olive Branch in 1909. An inquiry into the disaster afterwards concluded, as was usually the case in that period of Pennsylvania coal mining, that the Pittsburgh Coal Company was not at fault.
Pete Starry, a mining historian, provided an interesting article to the The Coal Miner's Memorial. It was The United Mine Workers Journal from Dec. 1, 1957, entitled, "Main Thing was Management Neglect"
The Darr Mine Relief Committee Report
Below are edited excerpts of a report on the relief efforts undertaken by a newly formed "Darr Mine Relief Committee." While the efforts were certainly appreciated, the opinions expressed regarding the victims and their families exemplifies the attitudes of the time toward these "ignorant" second-class people. The report was entitled, "Darr Mine Relief Fund Report to the Executive Committee covering the Collection and Distribution of the Public Fund for the Dependents of the Men Killed by the Explosion in the Darr Mine of the Pittsburgh Coal Company December 19th, 1907."
[On December 26th a public meeting to consider measures for relief, commensurate with the magnitude of the disaster, was held in the office of Pittsburgh Mayor Guthire. It was attended by the Mayors of Pittsburgh, McKeesport and Connellsville, the President and Vice-President of the Mine Workers' Union, the Austro-Hungarian and the Italian Consuls and many others. The Darr Mine Relief Committee was then formed for the purpose of coordinating the various efforts for relief.Miners families received a $150.00 death benefit (some received additional assistance totalling $249.00) and were asked to leave the company-owned homes. The Hungarian community stepped in to help the orphans and widows. Today, as a direct result of this disaster, there are few Hungarian families left in the area. Most, if not all, were forced to relocate.
But the miners did not die in vain.
The PA EPA wrote: "The Darr and Monongha disasters marked the first use of self-contained breathing apparatus in a deep-mine rescue in the United States. Other major advances in mine safety followed soon after. Within six months the U.S. Geological Survey created the Mine Accidents Division and opened a station devoted to research of mine rescue techniques in Pittsburgh. In two years, branch stations were established in Illinois, Tennessee and Washington. And on July 1, 1910 an Act of Congress established the U.S. Bureau of Mines.
The following year, the number of mining fatalities began to drop, and never again approached the horrific total of 1907. In 1954, the number of mining fatalities dropped below 100 for the first time since mining began in Pennsylvania. Although deep mining remains a dangerous occupation, advances in knowledge, equipment and regulations have combined to make Pennsylvania's Deep Mine Safety program a national model."
Pennsylvania House Honors the Victims
AHF thanks all those involved, including state representatives Mark Gergely, Tom Harhai and all co-sponsors of Pennsylvania House Resolution 401, honoring the Victims of the Darr Mine Disaster. - Bryan Dawson (photos courtesy Bryan Dawson and Les Banos)
"To the Memory
of the Martyrs
The Darr Mine Disaster
Erected by the
Sponsoring organizations issued a joint statement, saying, "We affirm that the sacrifices were not in vain, and we pledge ourselves to continue working together for the good of humankind.
Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission Historic Site Marker honoring the coal miners killed in the Darr Mine Explosion, Dec. 19, 1907. The plaque is located at the Olive Branch Cemetery, on PA Route 981 between PA Route 51 and Smithton, PA. The marker was not erected until September 1994.
The plaque reads as follows:
"On December 19, 1907, an explosion killed 239 men and boys, many Hungarian immigrants, in Darr coal mine near Van Meter. Some were from the closed Naomi mine near Fayette City, which exploded on Dec. 1, killing 34. Over 3000 miners died in Dec. 1907, the worst month in U. S. coal mining history. In Olive Branch Cemetery, 71 Darr miners, 49 unknown, are buried in a common grave."
The American Hungarian Federation (AHF), a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, was founded in 1906 in Cleveland, Ohio. The largest Hungarian-American umbrella organization in the United States, AHF is also among the oldest ethnic organizations in the country. AHF was established as an association of Hungarian societies, institutions and churches to "defend the interest of Americans of Hungarian origin in the United States." Read more [about us] or
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