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1924: Castle Gate Mine Explosion

In short:

two miners

John Psaroudakis and Joseph Sargetakis, both miners from Crete, at the Castle Gate Mine #2 shortly before Joseph was killed in the explosion.

Twenty-four years after the Winter Quarters mine disaster, a mine boss lighting his lantern ignited coal dust, setting off two explosions that killed 171 miners.

More of the story:

On March 8, 1924, at 7:30 a.m., less than an hour after the miners had entered the Castle Gate Mine, coal dust and gas exploded through the tunnels, killing everyone in the mine.

What apparently happened was that one of the bosses had discovered some gas near the roof of the mine tunnel. When he climbed up to investigate, his carbide light went out. As he relit his lamp, the flame from his match ignited the gas.

The gas and the coal dust set off a gigantic explosion, killing many. The explosion blew out the carbide lamps of all the men in the mine. When the men tried to light their lamps, they set off another explosion that killed the rest of the men in the mine.

The sad death toll.

coffins and crowd of men

A mass burial service for Greek miners killed in the explosion.

171 men died: 45 Americans (including two African Americans), 50 Greeks, 25 Italians, 32 English and Scots, 12 Welshmen, four Japanese, and three Austrians. They left behind 415 dependents. One of the rescue workers also died.

One man, Andrew Gilbert, had survived the Winter Quarters explosion, only to be killed at age 73 at Castle Gate. Mrs. George Shurtliff lost her first husband at Winter Quarters and her second at Castle Gate.

Tears—and help.

woman, 2 children, and dog

The family of Archie Henderson. One of the children had gone back to the mine to get the hat his father had worn.

Rescue workers who came from all the surrounding areas recovered the bodies—but it took nine days to find them all. Women also came to help. They cooked for bereaved families, tended children, and sew mourning clothing.

Anguished, grieving wives and children waited to hear whether their husbands and fathers had been found. Five-year-old Maria Tagliabue looked through a pile of clothing until she found her father’s socks. A newspaper reported that when she realized “she had really found her daddy, little Maria’s eyes filled with tears and muffled sobs racked her.”

Adapting to the new reality.

The widows and fatherless of the earlier Winter Quarters mine explosion had had to fend for themselves. Nobody helped them.

But in 1917, the state had established a fund workmen’s compensation fund to help the families. So the mourning widows and children of the Castle Gate tragedy received financial assistance--up to $15 a week for six years.

Also, for 12 years after the disaster the state paid for a welfare worker, Annie D. Palmer, to visit and help the widows and their children.

Each of the widows adapted in her own way. Some went back to their home countries, some remarried, and some worked or started their own businesses.

Tragically, mining accidents still happen. Have you heard or seen news stories about mining accidents?

group of children

Children orphaned by the Castle Gate mine explosion.

group of children

The O.H. Rollins family, after he was killed in the Castle Gate mine explosion. From left to right: Mrs. Rollins (pregnant with another child), Verzella (1), Iris (17), Lafayette (14), Orson Jr. (12), Joseph (11), Vera (9), Eliza (7), Viola (5), Iona (3).