Historical Markers
Twin Shaft Disaster Historical Marker
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Twin Shaft Disaster

Poconos / Endless Mountains


Marker Location:
North Main & Union Streets, Pittston

Dedication Date:
June 1992

Behind the Marker

One way to consider the tragedy at the Twin Shaft Colliery is by the numbers: 58. 434. 31. 101. 0.

Oil on canvas of Daniel H. Hasting.
Daniel H. Hastings, Governor of Pennsylvania, 1895-1899.
Fifty-eight men and boys died during the terrible cave-in, 434 feet below ground. They left 31 widows and 101 orphans. None of their bodies were ever recovered.

At 3 o'clock in the morning on Sunday, June 28, 1896, sleeping residents in Pittston were startled awake with the vibration and sound of an earthquake. Immediately after, the dreaded colliery whistle and town fire alarms sounded. Families ran to the mine works. Newspapers reported "havoc everywhere," from grief-stricken wives to frantic efforts to open tunnels now buried beneath collapsed top rock and crushed timbers. Volunteers struggled to open two rescue tunnels but sometimes could dig through only 20 feet a day. Hope soon faded for the miners trapped below, most of whom were Irish and Lithuanian immigrants. Only later could their names be compiled later, for the list of those working was underground too.
Half length portrait, facing front.
John Mitchell, President of United Mine Workers of America, circa 1903.

On July 10, testimony began in a formal investigation ordered by markerPennsylvania Governor Daniel Hastings to learn why the disaster had happened, whether mining laws had been obeyed, and what might prevent future tragedies. Testimony revealed that miners had heard an audible "squeezing" of the pillars about two weeks prior to the accident; a sure sign that a wall or shaft was about to crumble. Refusing to remain underground, miner Edward Hughes testified that he had defied his boss and left his shift early the night of the disaster because "the crackling grew worse." The superintendent had ordered extra pillars put up to provide additional support. Apparently, however, these props were not properly placed, for once one section of the wall gave way, the others collapsed like a deck of cards, caving in 200 acres.

Based on its investigation, the commission suggested that pillars of coal should be left standing for safety and not "robbed" of their coal, especially when two seams were to be mined at once, and that maps of mine workings and air tunnels be provided to mine inspectors. (Rescue operations at Twin Shaft has been slowed by the absence of such maps.)

Influenced by Twin Shaft and the markerLattimer Massacre the following year, John Mitchell worked diligently to persuade the mostly unorganized miners of the anthracite region to join his union, the United Mine Workers of America. Even as its president, Mitchell remained a plain-spoken organizer, genuinely attentive to stories of unfairness that mine workers told him. To standardize a grievance procedure across all fields and to enable the mine workers to be heard and their opinions considered by mine owners, Mitchell encouraged them to act collectively. From the end of the 1890s through the 1902 "long" strike, he became the beloved "Jonny d'Mitch."
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