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Libraries, History Department mark Buffalo Creek disaster anniversary with exhibits, event

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
February 23rd, 2022
Photograph of Buffalo Creek
Photograph of the damage along Buffalo Creek after the flood, February 1972, Governor Arch A. Moore Jr. papers, WVRHC.

In the early the morning of February 26, 1972, a coal slurry impoundment on Buffalo Creek collapsed, sending millions of gallons of wastewater rushing into the valley below. Hundreds of people died or were injured, and thousands were left homeless. The cleanup, investigations, and lawsuits that followed further strained the community.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the disaster, WVU Libraries and the Department of History have created exhibitions online and in the Downtown Library’s Atrium that will remain on display through December.

In conjunction with the exhibits, the Libraries’ Local to Global Film Series and Department of History will host a virtual screening of Buffalo Creek Flood: An Act of Man and Buffalo Creek Flood Revisited followed by a discussionwith award-winning film director Mimi Pickering on March 3 at 7 p.m. Registration for the event is open.  

“The Buffalo Creek Disaster: 50 Years from Flooding” exhibits feature photos, letters, newspaper articles, and audio dating from the 1970s as the valley absorbed the shock of the disaster and began its attempt to recover. They encourage visitors to reflect on how tragedy has shaped the community and what it means to support a community that has experienced tremendous loss. They highlight the significance of the coal industry and debates over its regulation within the history of West Virginia.

Materials for the exhibits come primarily from the archives of Governor Arch A. Moore Jr. at the West Virginia & Regional History Center.

The exhibits were curated by Public History Graduate Assistant Crystal Coon, and materials were digitized by Research Apprenticeship Program student Noah Boylen. Additional archival processing was conducted by Graduate Assistant MaryAnn Steinmiller. Project faculty advisors are Dr. Melissa Bingmann, Danielle Emerling, Dr. William Hal Gorby, and Dr. Jessica Wilkerson.

The Buffalo Creek Disaster 50th Anniversary project has been made possible by a grant from the WVU Humanities Center.

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