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Remembering the Farmington Mine Disaster November 20, 1968

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
November 19th, 2019

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Assistant Curator for WV Books & Printed Resources & Rare Book Librarian

Huge plume of smoke billowing from an obscured structure over a parking lot

Early on the morning of November 20, 1968, while the day was still in darkness, an explosion rocked the Consolidation Coal No. 9 mine in Marion County, WV.  The Farmington Mine Disaster, as it is remembered today, took the lives of 78 miners.  Of the 99 miners at work in the mine that day, only 21 survived.  Of the 78 miners who died, 19 of the dead have never been recovered.  Their grave is the mine where they worked. 

Bill Evans, at that time the editor of the Fairmont Times, remembered the disaster in a letter he wrote to a friend on Christmas afternoon, 1968.  Evans spoke about the disaster from a reporter’s prospective.  He recounts that the original reports of the explosion appeared under a Mannington dateline.  Not until later was this information corrected to read Farmington.

Evans writes at length on the sensational tactics used by the national media as they reported the explosion.  According to Evans, the first few days following the explosion families were stationed in the company store, “constantly surrounded by cameras.”

“Anytime a woman broke down and cried, she was instantly cornered by a dozen or more TV people six or eight of them sticking mikes under her nose.”  This kind of attention was more than some of the No. 9 men could take.  They took the initiative to protect the families from the reporters and moved them to a local church and community center where they could wait for news undisturbed. 

Evans lists some of the papers and reporters on hand covering the story including Ben A. Franklin of the New York Times, Roger Stuart from the Pittsburgh Press, as well as reporters from the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post.

Three men in coal mining helmets, looking upwards from a bucket that is carrying them up a shaft
Gary Martin, left, and Bud Hillberry, right, and an unidentified man are hoisted from the Farmington No. 9 mine.  They were the last men to escape the disaster alive.  Photo by Bob Campione.

In addition to Fairmont Times editor, Bill Evans’ letter, the West Virginia and Regional History Center also has books on the subject of the Farmington Mine Disaster.  Among them is Bonnie E. Stewart’s book, No. 9: The 1968 Farmington Mine Disaster, published by the West Virginia University Press.  The book takes a close look at public records, interviews miners, and describes the conditions underground before and after the disaster.  Stewart also addresses the legal actions taken by the miners’ widows to gain justice and establish coal mine safety legislation.

Three men in coal mining helmets, looking upwards from a bucket that is carrying them up a shaft. Overlaid with text "No. 9 The 1968 Farmington Mine Disaster Bonnie E. Stewart"

We invite you to visit the West Virginia and Regional History Center to view the Evan’s letter and browse our selection of books on the Farmington Mining Disaster.  These items, from our shelves and our archives, serve as a permanent memorial to the miners who lost their lives in this explosion, 51 years ago. 


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