Scores gather to remember 92 miners killed near Wilkes Barre 100 years ago
Miners among coal boxes in Wilkes-Barre in 1912. (Bain News Service/via Wikimedia Commons)
(Wilkes Barre) — Scores of people gathered in northeastern Pennsylvania over the weekend to remember the 92 miners killed in a mine tunnel disaster a century ago.
At Saturday’s memorial service at the old St. Mary’s Church of the Maternity Cemetery, the names of those killed in the June 1919 explosion in Baltimore Tunnel No. 2 in Wilkes-Barre were read aloud as a bell rang twice after each name, and a wreath placed on the mass grave site.
Twenty-seven of the victims, ranging in age from 18 to 52, were buried in the cemetery and were members of the church, later renamed Our Lady of Hope Parish. The 65 other miners killed were buried at other cemeteries in the area.
In all, 143 miners were traveling in mine cars at the time of the 6:45 a.m. explosion and fire. A fallen or sagging trolley wire used to power the train is believed to have sparked the explosion of about 600 pounds of blasting powder carried on the same train transporting the miners into the mine.
“They were husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, uncles, cousins and friends,” said parish member Sara Klinges, who said she researched the tragedy with her mother, Elise, and uncle David Jacobs.
“Most were Polish miners who came here for a better life,” Klinges said. “The men did not die in vain, because the investigation that followed the explosion led to better safety improvements in the mines.”
Those attending the ceremony sang a Polish hymn, “Serdeczna Matko,” (“Stainless the Maiden”) followed by “God Bless America.”
Township Mayor Carl Kuren dedicated a memorial plaque to those killed and the families left behind, as well as to the 60 injured. Back in the era when life was hard and life in the mines even harder, the men went into the ground every day knowing the risk but “choosing to brave the environment for the sake of everyone in need of their service,” he said.
“We memorialize their sacrifice so that the future generations will come to understand how these men lived and what they did in their efforts to seek what was necessary to provide for their families helped to fuel an industry that defined the Wyoming Valley,” Kuren said.
A Mass will be celebrated on the 100th anniversary of the Baltimore Mine Tunnel Disaster at 7 a.m. Wednesday at Our Lady of Hope Parish.