Petersburg Observer Newspaper: Saturday, March 28, 1903


Concussion Was Colossal and its Work of Destruction in Mine Was complete
Explosion Occurred Early Monday Morning When Only Ten Men Were in the Mine and Only Three Escaped Alive
Funeral Services and Burial of Two of the death in this City Wednesday.

Six miners were killed and one seriously injured in shift No. 2, of the Athens Mining Company, of Athens, Ill. The fatality occurred Monday morning at 3 o'clock. Ten men were in the mine at that time and only three escaped alive.

The dead:
Dave Myers, aged 55 years; leaves a wife and eight children.
Edward Cornduff, aged 50 years; leaves a wife and six children.
Fred Impkey, aged 32 years; leaves a wife and one child.
August Null, aged 44 years; leaves a wife and three children.
John Rudjaniski, alias Rogers, aged 34 years; leaves a wife and four children.
Joseph Petrowich, aged 24 years; single.

The injured:
Paul Jorkones, alias Jurkins, badly suffocated with fire damp, taken to St. John's Hospital, Springfield; may die.

Coronor A.L. Clary, of this city, was sent for and held an inquest Tuesday.

Lee Kincaid, president of the mining company, sent telegrams to J.M. Taylor, state mine inspector for the Third mining district of Illinois; Richard Newsam, president of the state mine board, both of Peoria; officials of the United Mine Workers, of Springfield; operators, Luken, of Virden; Mooreshead, of St. Louis; Young, of Pawnee; Edward Cahill of Springfield, vice-president of the miners' organization; county mine inspector, G.R. Charlton, of this city, and former county mine inspector, Thomas Hanna. These gentlemen arrived on the first train Monday morning and in the afternoon they were lowered into the mine, accompanied by Mine Manager McGarrity and Fire Boss Cooper, and proceeded to the scene of the explosion. The atmosphere of the mine was so contaminated with fire damp and other suffocating gases, that the men were unable to stay long enough to make a complete investigation.

Full Can of Powder Used.

The explosion took place in an entry leading south from the main east entry. The point where the disastrous shot was made was about 500 feet from the main entry and about 2,500 feet from the bottom of the shaft. The entry was known, according to miners parlance, as No. 10 south, on the east entry.

At the extreme end of this entry No. 10, Impkey was cutting a cross cut to entry No. 9, the back portion of which was gaseous and had to be closed up. He had drilled six holes in the wall of coal and had filled them with what the officials think were excessive charges of powder. It is estimated that at least twenty-five pounds of powder, or a full can, must have been used in the six blasts, all of which were close together and which were discharged at the same time.

An examination of the scene of the explosion clearly shows the wrong method used by Impkey, which resulted in the death of himself and his companions. All of the coal which could get vent for collapse was piled up on the floor of the mine. However, in the blank wall of the coal untouched by the energy of the powder could be seen the tell-tale holes extending backward, from which the excess of powder shot like a charge from a cannon, dealing death to the miners.

Fire Damp's Fatal Effect.

One of the charges, for some reason, failed to go off and the tamping can be seen. Of the five "dead holes" as they are termed by the miners, two measured three feet straight into the coal. One measured two feet, seven inches, another one foot, nine inches and another fifteen inches. This represented eleven feet and seven inches of drilling, the powder in which could not expend its energy on the coal, but had to discharge it into the atmosphere. Each of the original holes was about seven feet in depth. At least half the powder must have vented itself on the atmosphere of the mine.

Impkey, when he touched off the fuse for his shots, ran down entry No. 10 and through a cross cut into entry No. 9 where his dead body was found behind an empty car. Myers, Cornduff, Null and Petrowich also were in this entry when the explosion took place. Rudjaniski and Jorkones had completed their work in entry No. 8, on the north side of the main entry and were on their way to the bottom of the shaft. It is the theory that the men were knocked to the earth and rendered unconscious by the shock and that fire damp which came in the wake of the explosion completed the work of death.

The distance which the main group of men from the scene of the explosion was about 500 feet. Rudjaniski and Jorkones were fully 1,000 feet away.

Escape by Bare Accident.

The story of the three survivors of the catastrophe, Fire Boss Cooper, McNab and Tottle, concerning their experiences in the half hour which followed the explosion is very interesting. The two latter escaped with their lives by the merest accident. They had both completed their night's work, having fired the last shot, and were preparing to leave the mine. They had not yet left the side entry and this fact saved their lives. If they had gone into the main entry on their way to the shaft, as Rudjaniski and Jorkones had done, it is probable that they would have met a like fate.

The explosion knocked Tottle from the tool chest on which he was sitting and badly shocked both men, their lights were extinguished. The men were some distance apart when the accident occurred. One of them shouted:

"It's all up, buddie! Save yourself!" The men knew the deadly effects of the fire damp which follows an explosion and started on a run down the entry in the direction of fresh air. They had not gone many steps until they began to feel the effects of the fire damp. "Duck down," one of them shouted. They were compelled to get down near the floor of the mine where the air contained the most oxygen. Their progress in darkness was slow.

When the men arrived at the door leading from their entry to the main east entry they found that the door had been blown down. They crawled out into the main passageway. The air there was so full of the damp that they could scarcely breathe.

Encounters Jorkones' Body

Grouping their way along the bottom of the main entry with their heads a few inches from the floor, McNab encountered the body of Jorkones. The two men consulted together and finally took the risk of lighting a match. It was found that the bodies of Rudjaniski and Jorkones were lying close proximity. An examination showed that the latter was still faintly breathing. The fact that he was walking in front of his companion, who received the brunt of the concussion, is supposed to have saved his life.

Fearing … to try to bear Jorkones with them would result in suffocation of all three, the two men proceeded slowly and painfully to work their way toward the bottom of the shaft. They had made only a few steps when they were accosted by Moses Cooper, the fire boss who was in entry No. 8 south at the time of the explosion.

Finding that the air was becoming somewhat better, the three decided to attempt a rescue of Jorkones. Accordingly they made their way back to where he was lying and pulled him to a place where there was plenty of fresh air. The task was exceedingly difficult, as the members of the party were compelled to keep their heads near the floor of the mine. Their companion, deposited in a place of safety, it was agreed that Tottle should signal to be hoisted and should seek relief in the village while the other two made as much of an investigation of the mine as was possible.

When the cage ascended bearing Tottle on his mission of alarm, Cooper and McNab started for the scene of the explosion. The air by this time was much improved and it was found possible to penetrate to the point where they knew their companions had been working.


Bodies Are Found.

The first man whom they found was August Null, who was found lying near the floor in entry No. 9. Near him was the body of Petrowick in a position which indicated that he was leaving the same entry. The bodies of Myers and Cornduff were found on the track in the same entry. The last man to be found was Impkey, who fired the fatal shot. He was lying behind an empty car.

Door Blown From Its Hinges.

When the party arrived at the bottom of the shaft, the lamps were lighted and the journey was begun up the easy entry in the direction of the explosion. No signs of the catastrophe were encountered until the party had proceeded a distance of about 1,500 feet when a shop was made and Inspector Taylor pointed out to the party the fact that dust had settled to the depth of eighth of an inch on cars of coal left standing on the track.

One hundred feet further on the party viewed the scene where the bodies of Rudjaniski and Jorkones had been found. The door to entry No. 8 north, had been blown from its hinges a distance of four feet.

As the party proceeded on down the main entry the work of the explosion began to be manifest in the small pieces of coal and slate which had been dislodged from the roof of the mine. The fire damp became so perceptible that it was necessary to stoop in order to breathe. At this stage the miner's lamp carried by the state inspector was extinguished and the party depended for light on the small safety lantern. On arriving at the entrance of entry No. 9 in which the most of the victims had been found, the awful force of the explosion became evident. Large pieces of steel and slate had been jarred down from the roof and several cars containing coal had been overturned on the track. Powder cans which were strewn about were battered and broken into almost unrecognizable shapes.

About 200 feet from the entrance of this entry the door, made for the purpose of regulating the air, was found to have been demolished. A car which had evidently been on the other side of it was blown through the woodwork.

Debris of Coal and Slate.

Proceeding the party came to the cross entry leading into entry No. 10, where the party was instructed to sit down while Mine Inspector Taylor proceeded a short distance down No. 9. The fire damp was so manifest that if the safety lantern was raised to the ordinary height of a man's head it would go out. The rest of this entry was closed up on account of the existence of gas, until such time as Impkey could finish the cross cut, he was blasting so as to let in the circulation of air.

Turning down the cross entry toward entry No. 10, the greatest damage was done. Coal and slate was piled up in a chaotic mass and the wooden rails, which had been temporarily laid, had been torn up in places splintered by the force of the explosion. Cars were broken and scattered about in confusion. It was difficult to make progress through the piles of debris.

When the party reached the entrance to entry No. 10, its further progress was stopped by the inspector. The members seated themselves with their heads near the ground in the center of the entry while he walked on a few steps to the exact scene of the explosion.

The fatal shots made by Impkey had town down probably four pit cars full coal. As an evidence of the fact that drillings had been over charged pointed out the fact that only two pieces of the coal were found to be as large as a man's head. The most of it was fine slack.

Freak of the Explosion

The party returned to the mine entry through entry No. 1?, south. At the entrance one of the strongest, freaks of the explosion was noticed. The door which closes the side entry and which was in direct line with the explosion was intact. This fact was explained by the inspector, who pointed out that in a powder explosion the velocity seeks the point where the freshest air is to be found. The air current leads through entry No. 9, and hence the explosion took that direction.

The fact that the explosion was purely powder and that the gas had nothing to do with it was proved by the fact that the party found two miners coats in entry No. 9, between the … where the men were found and the scene of the explosion. These garments were not even scorched.

Coroner's Inquest.

The coroner's inquest held over the remains of the six miners who met their death by the explosion at Athens, after spending the greater part of two days in an exhaustive inquiry into the causes of the catastrophe, brought in verdict at 10 o'clock Tuesday night, which fails to fix the responsibility for the accident and merely states that the explosion was due to an overcharge of powder, at a cross cut, between entries No. 9 and 10. The full report of the jury is as follows.

We, the undersigned jurors, sworn to inquire into the deaths of David Myers, Edward Cornduff, Fred Impkey, August Null, John Rudjaniski, Joseph Petrowich, on oath do find that they came to their death as the result of an explosion, which occurred at or about 3 o'clock on the morning of March 23, 1903, at the place known as shaft No. 2, owned and controlled by the Athens Mining Company, located near the city of Athens, county of Menard and state of Illinois, and further find that said explosion occurred in what is known as side entry No. 10, in said shaft No. 2, and we, the jury, believe from the evidence that said explosion was caused directly or indirectly from an overcharge of blasting powder fired in the solid at a cross cut between said entries Nos. 9 and 10.

(Signed) W. J. Cheaney, Foreman
T.E. Courtwright
A.S. Kincaid
A.S. Brown
J.B. Fulton
Austin Elmore
A.L. Clary, Coroner

Funeral Services

Funeral services were held Wednesday over the remains of five of the miners.

The remains of John Rudjaniski and Joseph Petrowich were brought to this city Wednesday morning and taken to the Catholic church where services were held, and burial took place in Calvary cemetery, east of the city. A delegation of miners and the Athens band accompanied the cortege. Also the miners' local union, and American Federation of Labor, of this city, attended the funeral in a body.

The funeral of August Null was held at Athens. Services at the grave, under the auspices of the U.M.W. of A., at 10 o'clock a.m.

The funeral of Dave Myers was held at 1 p.m. , at the M.E. Church, Rev. M Hobart officiating. Services were held over the remains of Edward Cornduff at 3 p.m., at the M.E. Church, Elder G.J. Ellis officiating. Burial was made in the West cemetery.

Wednesday the business houses of Athens closed their doors from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., out of respect to the dead miners. School began at the usual hour for the day, but was dismissed at 9:30 o'clock by order of the school board. Citizens and miners, headed by the Athens band, attended the funeral in a body.

Transcribed by: Jeanie Lowe


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