Sunday, May 3, 2009

Coal mining and caving

Coal mining is one of the most dangerous occupations in the U.S., but fatalities have decreased over the decades - with the exception of 2006, when an explosion in the Sago Mine in West Virginia trapped 13 miners and killed all but one of them. This is a fraction of the American coal miners killed in December 1907, which author Carlton Jackson calls "The Dreadful Month": the lives of more than 700 men were lost in mining disasters in West Virginia (361 in a single morning), Pennsylvania (273 in explosions at 2 mines), Alabama, and New Mexico. The most dangerous mines, however, are in China: about 6,300 people were killed in 2004 in floods, explosions and fires in China's 34,000 mines. China also has the dubious distinction as the location of the world's worst mining disaster, when 1,549 workers were killed in a single explosion in 1942.

Although the bodies of the victims of the Sago Mine explosion were all recovered, victims of other mining disasters have been entombed in the shafts. Such was almost the fate of Floyd Collins - twice over. Collins was not a coal miner, but a cave explorer. Determined to find a connection between Crystal Cave - which his family owned - and Kentucky's Mammoth Cave, he became trapped in a narrow passageway 55' underground, and only 150' from the entrance to the cave, on January 25, 1925. He had been caving alone when a dislodged rock pinned his leg, but he was missed and found by friends the next day. Though they could not remove the rock either, they lowered food and an electrified bulb (for light and warmth) to him. Massive rescue operations ensued and when the tunnel leading to Collins collapsed twice, a vertical shaft was excavated to reach him. With crowds drawn to the site, rescuers reached the caver on February 17th - but found him dead of starvation and exposure. It was deemed too dangerous to remove his body, so Collins was left in place until his brother recovered the remains on April 23rd by excavating from the other direction. Collins was buried on family property, but when the homestead and cave were sold in 1927, the new owner installed him in a glass-topped casket and displayed him in Crystal Cave. The cave was closed after it was purchased in 1961 by Mammoth Cave National Park, but it was not until 1989 that the Collins family succeeded in getting the National Park Service to remove and reinter the body. The incredible tale of Floyd Collins is told in Trapped. He also had a well-deserved place in my Modern Mummies book, as you can see from the photograph below.

1 comment:

  1. wow, thats really interesting. but i was just looking for stuff about the ancient native american mummies. but i'll definatly include this now.


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