Mine Disasters, 1959-1977


"I wouldn't say fortunate -- but I was able to, in my time, I was able to cover three of them, to photograph three of them. I guess the first was up at the Knox mine disaster, up at Pittston, when twelve were killed, when the Susquehanna River broke through. The miners just got a little bit too close. The roof got a little bit close to the Susquehanna River, and the river broke through and it was in January of 1959. I heard about it on the radio, and it was another one of those things, I don't know why you go to them, but you're part of the region. And in '59, it was just about four or five years, about four years after the mines closed here. They were still working up at Wilkes-Barre. Deep mining was still operating up there. But after the river went through, that was the end of deep mining in the Wyoming Valley. I don't have too many pictures of that, because by the time I got up there, I don't have any pictures of any of the men being brought out. But I do have a few photographs showing the town and the people, waiting, to see what's going to happen. I have numerous pictures of people dropping in huge railroad gondolas to try to breach this hole in the Susquehanna. That was kind of an eerie scene with the ice flowing down the river, and then this river just swallowing up these huge mine gondolas."

"The Sheppton disaster was probably the most photographed and watched disaster in the anthracite region. I mean, due to the fact that television was coming into its own there, and they were covering it as a big news event. It was covered by every network and every newspaper in the east here, even foreign press was here. . ."

"I heard about it on the radio. I heard there was three miners entombed. I was working for Bethlehem Steel at the time. Did I say '63? Yeah, okay. I was working for Bethlehem Steel at the time, and I think it was a Tuesday. I think I was off that week, or I had a day off or something, and I heard about it, and I decided, "Well, Sheppton's not that far from Lansford." You go up 309, up to Hazleton, branch off through West Hazleton, and then Sheppton's about three or four miles down the road. I figure it's not that far. And when I got up there, lo and behold, who do I see but Gordon Smith, who was the chief mine inspector, who was handling the whole job. I had photographed Gordon Smith many years ago. He was kind of the foreman of the Superintendent of the Gilberton Coal Company, up at Gilberton. So we became pretty good friends though the photographs. And when I got up there, I had the Speed Graphic, and they were trying to send some miners down the slope, and they would go down part way, and they'd have to come back up because they worked with the gas, and they reported it. The mine was pretty well blocked up. And then, I think I went up the next day, and then Gordon told me, he said, 'I don't think we'll ever find these men alive.'"

"I think over the weekend, Joe Bova, who was the brother of Louie Bova, talked to him and insisted -- not insisted, but felt that they should drill a hole in this one place, in this one area. Because he had a pretty good idea of what the mine looked like and where they might be. I think it was a Saturday, and they decided to drill a six inch bore hole, and after they got down to about where they thought the mine is -- I think they were only down like three hundred feet. I think they got down there, and then they dropped this pipe down into this bore hole, and lo and behold, the fellow -- I forget his name, Beros I think his name was -- who hollered down, and he heard a noise. And he got all excited and said, 'Hey, they're alive! The men are alive.'"

"Tower City was in March of 1977. It was a day almost like Port Griffith, not quite as cold, but it was in March. That disaster was also caused by a flooding. Evidently some water had built up in the dam in one of the old workings, and then when the men entered the gangway, the water, instead of breaking in from the ceiling, broke in from the bottom and started to flood the mine. I also heard about that on the radio. I found out where Tower City was and decided to go there. I spent a number of days photographing the rescue teams who were hoping to get the men out. They did locate a fellow by the name of Ronald Adley. Evidently, he got up into an air pocket, where the water hadn't reached, and he was able to get enough air to survive. After they did locate him, we were notified. Everyday they would go in with different crews to try to clear enough debris to get him out safely. The press was staying up in a trailer which the state brought in, and that's where we slept. One evening the rescue people said they were going to bring Adley out at nine o'clock the next morning. When you're sleeping in a trailer, you don't get too much rest. So, I got up early and with another fellow, a photographer from The Reading Eagle, headed for the tunnel mouth and after a while, we see a series of lights coming toward us, and they were getting bigger and bigger. Adley had decided he didn't want to be carried out. He wanted to walk out, and when he walked out of the mine, we were able to get photographs of him as he emerged from the tunnel."