“A Shocking Mining Accident” in Williamstown, Pennsylvania – April 1872

Anthracite mining remains one of the deadliest occupations in American history. Let’s jump back to the early days and look at one example why that was the case.

The following is clipped from the Lykens Register, published in the Harrisburg Telegraph on April 29, 1872.


Shocking Mining Accident – Three Men Killed.

On Thursday morning, between 9 and 10 o’clock, our community was startled with the report that a terrible accident had occurred at the Williamstown Colliery, caused by the sudden fall of an immense body of rock on the extreme eastern portion of the upper level of the mines.

At once the largest portion of the miners engaged in the colliery proceeded to that part of the workings, when it was found that a body of rock of very great extent had suddenly, and without a moment of warning, fallen down, crushing underneath it three miners named Joseph Moore, John McCann, and Edward Kelkerbrunn. Moore, it is supposed, was immediately killed, as a fragment of the main fall was found overlying him and crushing his body out of all shape of humanity.

Kelkerbrunn was imprisoned under a mass weighing many tons, and no time was lost in making every effort to relieve him, as he was yet alive, firmly fastened by the rock, which lay on his lower extremities and left shoulder; but before his release was finally effected, occupying a space of nearly four hours, his sufferings were ended by death.

During nearly the entire time he was conscious and talked freely with those engaged in attempting to extricate him.

John McCann is known to be under the rock somewhere, but in what direction it is not yet definitely known; and, it may be possible that, even with the strong force of men now at work (3 o’clock, P.M), blasting will have to be resorted to before recovering his body, as it is almost beyond human possibility that he is alive.

Alexander Keiser, one of the miners that first reached the place where the accident occurred, was struck on the back and head by a splinter while stooping to talk with Kelkerbrunn, sustaining thereby several broken ribs and very severe cuts and bruises. He was at once assisted home, where his injuries received prompt attention.

John Jones made a narrow escape. In going to aid Keiser in relieving Kelkerbrunn, he was struck by the same piece of rock, and received a cut on the left side, but his injury is not of a dangerous character.

To recover McCann, or his remains, it is supposed that it will be necessary to drive through a pillar and get around the fall, and to accomplish this there will be no delay, as the miners will relieve each other at short intervals

The excitement is great. Men and women assembled around the mouth of the tunnel, anxiously awaiting the progress of work in recovering the body of Kelkerbrunn. There was no lack of help, the miners joining in herculean efforts to get out the remains, which was only accomplished after life was extinct.

This is, we believe, the most appalling casualty that ever occurred in the mines at this place, and the terrible disaster has cast a deep gloom over the entire community. The three men who were killed were all married; Moore and McCann lived in this place and Kelkerbrunn in Wiconisco.

For the communities of Pennsylvania’s Williams Valley region, there were many more funerals to come in the century and a half that followed.

Featured Image: Williamstown Tunnel in the 19th century (Williamstown – My Hometown)

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