SCHUYLKILLL COUNTY HISTORY
GILBURTON MINING MISHAPS
by the Honorable Judge John Domalakes
Gilberton Borough, once one of the wealthiest communities in the Commonwealth due to its large resources of valuable Anthracite coal, was also the site of many coal-mining catastrophes.
One such tragedy involved an underground mining explosion which occurred on January 22, 1935 in the Gilberton Colliery at one of the Philadelphia Reading Coal and Iron Company’s mines which killed twelve (12) miners and injured 70 others. The deadly gas “Black Damp” was identified as causing the blast which occurred in the lowest level of the mine, 1,100’ underground. The gas ignited resulting in the deadly explosion. Sixty-nine (69) miners were working in that section and the gas spread rapidly to other areas of the mine. Rescuers used gas masks to conduct their activities. The dead were identified as Richard Evans and Joseph Stoppey, both of Gilberton; Harvey Morgan and Clark Wagner, both of Valley View; Joseph Mezallis, Charles Ruzuskie and Anthony Welchester, all of Minersville; John Murphy and Charles Andrew, both of Frackville; Harry Mauger of Mahanoy City, Anthony Pichalonis of Shenandoah, and Harry Lengle of Tremont. Gurney Dunlevy of Valley View and Tony Mulloch of Girardville were hospitalized in critical condition due to burns from the blast.
Deadly gasses were not the only hazards involved in coal mining. Approximately 4 ½ years earlier, on August 9, 1930, seven (7) miners lost their lives and sixteen (16) others were injured in a collapse of timber and debris at the Gilberton Colliery of the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company operation. Timber was used to uphold the roofs of tunnels in the underground mines. If they collapsed wood, silt, coal and dust would bury unfortunate miners in the area of the collapse. In August of 1930, twenty-three (23) miners were working to re-open a tunnel 1,900’ below the surface when the collapse of the old timber took place bringing the roof down on top of the miners.
The dead in this calamity included: Anthony Strucks of Shenandoah; William Burke and Matthew Koker, both of Maizeville; Charles Yourches and Patrick Birmingham, both of Gilberton; Joseph Comeroski of Turkey Run; and Michael Mallick of Frackville.
Coal mining was deservedly reputed to be among the most dangerous activities at which men made their living.