Whitesburg KY
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The Way We Were

Clips from available Mountain Eagle pages since our founding in 1907
Mountain Eagle contributing editor Phil Primack was a young reporter for the paper on the night of December 30, 1970, when he snapped these photos of coal miners (below) and family members (above) awaiting word on the effort to rescue more than three dozen of their family members and co-workers who were trapped underground after an explosion at the Finley Mine on Hurricane Creek, near Hyden in Leslie County. In the end, rescuers recovered the bodies of 38 miners. Only one miner survived. The blast occurred exactly one year after the passage of the federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969. Thomas N. Bethell, who is also a Mountain Eagle contributing editor, authored a well-received book about the Hyden explosion in 1972, “The Hurricane Creek Massacre: An Inquiry Into the Circumstances Surrounding the Deaths of Thirty-eight Men in a Coal Mine Explosion” (Harper & Row). (Photos by Phil Primack)

Mountain Eagle contributing editor Phil Primack was a young reporter for the paper on the night of December 30, 1970, when he snapped these photos of coal miners (below) and family members (above) awaiting word on the effort to rescue more than three dozen of their family members and co-workers who were trapped underground after an explosion at the Finley Mine on Hurricane Creek, near Hyden in Leslie County. In the end, rescuers recovered the bodies of 38 miners. Only one miner survived. The blast occurred exactly one year after the passage of the federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969. Thomas N. Bethell, who is also a Mountain Eagle contributing editor, authored a well-received book about the Hyden explosion in 1972, “The Hurricane Creek Massacre: An Inquiry Into the Circumstances Surrounding the Deaths of Thirty-eight Men in a Coal Mine Explosion” (Harper & Row). (Photos by Phil Primack)

Mine rescuer writes to Eagle after Wise County mine blast killed eight miners in 1910

EDITOR’S NOTE: Mine rescuer John Cook of Roda, Virginia provided The Mountain Eagle with the following account of a December 14, 1910 mine explosion at the Greeno mine near the town of Tacoma in neighboring Wise County, Virginia. The blast killed nine men, including the mine superintendent, James Barrowman, whose wife had just arrived from Minnesota that morning to spend Christmas with him. Barrowman had entered the mine as part of a rescue team. The blast, said to have been caused by “black damp,” would have claimed more victims had between 10 and 13 other miners not have escaped after smelling the poison gas and rushing toward the mine’s exit.

With your permission I will give you the details of the awful explosion that occurred in a coal opening up at Greeno, this county, a few days ago.

 

 

In company with Andrew Smith, we went into the mine to see what we could do with the living and the dead. On entering we found dinner buckets, mining caps, clothing and mining cars blown off the tracks.

There were 12 men in the mine at the time of the explosion. Eight of those were killed outright while another died soon after being rescued. Mr. Berman, the superintendent, was burned to death. Charlie Whitaker, the mine boss, Lee Rolen and George Miller, whom I knew, were all killed. The rest I did not know.

The disaster occurred at 10 a.m., and two of the rescued men were not taken out till 2 o’clock the next morning. At the mouth of the mine opening, it was heart-rending to hear the cries of the poor widows and children of the men who were so ruthlessly crushed to death.

I trust I shall never be called upon to witness another scene like this. How awful it is to be forced to make a living by working in these terrible death holes. May all the young men in the mountains prepare themselves for work that is not so dangerous.

— By JOHN COOK 


THURSDAY DECEMBER 22, 1910

John Fox Jr., the author, was in Eolia this week, probably collecting material for a new book.

The Mountain View Hotel in Whitesburg is open under new management and is now up to date in all respects. “The traveling public will be given special attention,” says new hotel manager Stephen Combs. “For the present, our rates will be $1 per day. Table fare and all other accommodations (are) first class.”

The White Oak Lumber Company of Letcher County is offering $25 rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of any person committing the offense of cutting or destroying any timber branded in the bark by the letter “X” the company is using.

The Town of Whitesburg Board of Trustees has approved an ordinance requiring that owners and occupants of every home and business located inside the town’s limits keep the sidewalks, highways, streets, alleys and sidewalks “free from waste, stone, wood, paper and debris of any kind.” Offenders will face fines of between $1 and $15.

“How things have changed,” The Mountain Eagle observes. “Six months ago, it was seldom that a single individual walked our streets that we didn’t know. Not so now. Strangers of most every nationality and clime can be seen hurrying to and from their labors.”

Contractors and stonemasons working to install the new railroad from Jackson to Neon are warning Letcher County residents to stop handling their tools and machinery or risk being prosecuted.

S.S. Lewis, convicted in February in Letcher Circuit Court for murdering David Blair, announces he will ask Kentucky’s governor for a pardon from his sentence of life imprisonment on or about January 15, 1911. All who object are to notify the governor in writing.

It is being rumored that the “KY” Hotel in Whitesburg will change hands, with parties from Salyersville being in on the deal for it.

“Could it get colder than it was Tuesday night?” The Eagle asks. “Icicles froze on Jupiter’s nose and tears of ice fell from his eyes.”

THURSDAY DECEMBER 25, 1930

The families of 12 Letcher County children received early Christmas presents this week when Seco Hospital doctors B.F. Wright and John W. Moss removed their tonsils at no cost whatsoever. The children were referred to the hospital by the Letcher County Board of Health.

Frank Collins of Mayking, the man who opened the first coal mine in our county many years ago, was a visitor to the offices of The Mountain Eagle this week. He was accompanied by Mose Adams, also of Mayking.

The Central Hotel of Neon is now under the management of Mrs. Millie Combs.

A few cases of smallpox are being reported in and around Neon.

THURSDAY DECEMBER 25, 1940

This Christmas, 1940, the City of Whitesburg is putting on a most extensive and beautiful lighting and decoration program. The store windows are dressed with gifts, handsome, expensive, useful, and pretty. There are gifts to suit every pocketbook. The gifts are displayed in front of Christmas Greens, festoons, lights, miniature Christmas trees. The streets are strung with bright-colored lights. For this most extensive and grand array of lighting, we are indebted to our progressive merchants.

Employed by the National Youth Administration on the resident project at Camp Lake Reba, Richmond, five young men from Letcher County are being given an opportunity to gain basic skill and work experience in various phases of shop, construction, repair and agricultural work.

Bryant Fields, a soldier in the U.S. Army, is here to spend the holidays at his home.

THURSDAY DECEMBER 28, 1950

Captain John Verdell Bach of Whitesburg and his wife, the former Harriet Lieberman, are the proud parents of a 10-pound boy, born during the height of a wintery storm November 26. The captain was bringing his wife to a hospital in Mount Holly, N.J., and dodging falling trees, windblown signs and 65-mile-per-hour winds. At the hospital, the power went off and the hospital put on its emergency power system, but two hours later that failed too. The baby was born surrounded by a staff of nurses holding 24 flashlights over the operating table. All in all, it was a pretty exciting way for baby Johnny to enter life. Captain Bach is the son of Mrs. H.C. Bach of Whitesburg.

Jimmy Gray Hogg, who has been fighting in Korea, is home now with his mother, Mrs. S.M. Banks. Hogg was at one time rumored to have been killed in action. Later reports however, showed that he had received frozen feet while fighting in Korea.

A new appliance store known as the Letcher Electric Co. will open in Whitesburg Jan. 13, it was announced by Randall Polly, owner. The store will be located in the Mattden Frazier building next to the city hall.

Damage of around $350 was suffered Wednesday when a faulty stove flue set fire to clothing in the wash house near the home of Melvin Cornett in Graveyard Hollow. The fire destroyed two washing machines owned by the Cornetts and some clothing and caused partial damage to the wash house.

THURSDAY DECEMBER 30, 1960

Whitesburg Postmaster R.C. Day has released details of city delivery mail service, which will begin in Whitesburg January 7. Day said city officials are working on a system of numbering for homes and business places to be served. Each homeowner or occupant should notify his correspondents of his new address as soon as he receives his number.

State Senator Archie Craft, Whitesburg, was appointed this week to a committee to advise the state whether additional state junior colleges or extension campuses should be established, and if so, just where. Craft was appointed by Lt. Gov. Wilson Wyatt to a group called the Legislative Research Commission Advisory Committee on Higher Education.

An airport to serve Whitesburg and Letcher County will be constructed and placed in operation within the next three months. State Aeronautics Commissioner Phil Swift said the airport will be located in the Camp Branch area near Deane on property owned by Nat Combs.

“The novelty of new toys is beginning to wear off,” writes Haymond correspondent Wanda Richardson, “and children (and moms) are heard wishing school would hurry and start again.”

THURSDAY DECEMBER 24, 1970

The Citizens League to Protect Surface Rights met Friday in Blackey and most of the attendees agreed to back a move that will place grievances before the Letcher Circuit Court Grand Jury at its January session. The complaints concern both the damage done by oil and gas drilling operations and strip mining activities in the creeks and hollows of the Blackey area of Letcher County.

The vast coal properties of No. 7 Coal Corp., Maxietta Coal Co., Kingdom Come Dock Co., and Big Four Coal Corp. — all in Letcher County — have been sold to McCulloch Oil Corporation of Los Angeles. The properties represent anticipated annual sales of more than $6 million. Mc- Culloch spokesmen said that in general the existing personnel will continue to operate the assets and properties acquired.

4-H Club members at Kingdom Come School presented a program of Christmas poems, readings and carols for their parents. The youngsters made Christmas card plaques for their families and used these and sprigs of pine to decorate the schoolhouse.

Airman George Campbell of Blackey, son of Troy Campbell, has been assigned to Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, following completion of basic training. Campbell is a 1970 graduate of Letcher High School.

THURSDAY DECEMBER 22-25, 1980

Letcher County officials have taken a step toward gearing up for legal expenses the county expects to incur when a $6.5 million federal lawsuit naming various county officials as defendants goes to trial in January. The Letcher Fiscal Court voted to set aside $10,000 for its “legal bills” account to help meet the initial expenses County Attorney Guy Palumbo’s office is expected to meet when a suit filed by James Keel of Millstone goes to trial in U.S. District Court at Pikeville. The suit, filed last year, names Letcher County Sheriff Vernon Hall, ex-Deputy Sheriff Oscar Hamm, former Whitesburg Police Officer Bill Jones, former State Trooper B.J. Stephens, Ronald Short, County Judge/ Executive Robert Collins, fiscal court members Billy Keel (James’s brother), Add Polly, Lee Hogg, George Arthur Adams, Charles Dixon, Letcher County Jailer Cecil Holbrook, and former Kentucky State Police Commissioner Kenneth Brandenburg. James Keel accuses Hall, Hamm, Jones, Stephens and Short with causing “serious, grievous, painful and permanent injuries.”

Kentucky Power Co. customers will find their electricity bills at least 11 percent higher next month. The increase in rates, requested by the company, was approved by the Kentucky Utilities Regulatory Commission. The higher rates are only half what the company had requested.

Most Jenkins residents began getting water again Saturday after the state promised grants totaling $5,000. The city is using the funds to buy gasoline to power two pumps which carry water from Fishpond Lake to the nearly dry Jenkins Lake, the city’s water reservoir. The city reservoir went below pumping levels late last week for the second time in three months. s Dorothy Collins, owner of Collins Lumber Co. at Isom, and Ray Brown, a contractor who does business under the name Ray Brown Enterprises, have informed county officials they would file suit to collect $36,720 for materials and $9,601 for labor they say the county has owed them since the installation of a new roof on the courthouse was completed last year.

WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 26, 1990

The Letcher County Sheriff’s Department has arrested the foreman of Cumberland Harlan Drilling Company, a subcontractor for Newport Oil, for damage done to a county road. Howard E. Starcher turned himself in to Sheriff Steve Banks after county road supervisor Tony Paxton obtained a felony warrant for his arrest. The company apparently damaged a road to a nearby cemetery, damaged a county bridge, and partly dammed Ingram Creek.

Department for Social Services employees didn’t distribute Christmas baskets this year — for the first time in 18 years. Last year they and other volunteers spent more than $3,000 in donated money to send Christmas baskets to more than 350 Letcher County families. This year social workers couldn’t raise the money, and the project had to be forgotten.

Bill Jones of Naples, Fla., was named builder of the year by the Collier County (Fla.) Builders and Contractors Association. He is the son of Mrs. Mae Jones of Naples and the late G.C. “Red” Jones, formerly of Letcher County. He is a 1954 graduate of Whitesburg High School.

WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 20, 2000

Kentucky State Police say troopers and officers from the Hazard City Police Department raided the first methamphetamine laboratory ever in the Hazard State Police Post area, signaling the arrival of a dangerous new drug to eastern Kentucky. KSP Detective Dan Smoot said the lab is the first encountered in the five-county Hazard post area, but it wasn’t a surprise to find it. “We always knew it was coming because of the trend,” he said.

Classified school employees won two victories from the Letcher County Board of Education on Monday, gaining more paid sick days for non-teaching employees and higher pay for bus drivers on extracurricular trips. The board of education approved both measures unanimously.

Members of the Cook family of Letcher County told Gov. Paul Patton Monday that they expect their payroll at Golden Oak Mining Co. to grow to more than 300 men and women from the current 251 sometime next year. The Governor was at the company’s headquarters to congratulate the Cooks on their purchase of the mining company and also to talk about what he himself plans to do for eastern Kentucky during the final three years of his second term.

The Whitesburg Lady ’Jackets are tied with the Jenkins Lady Cavaliers for the top spot in the 53rd District standings with 2-0 marks.

WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 22, 2010

Letcher County’s smallest city is by far its most affluent, new U.S. Census Bureau data show. The City of Blackey’s 123 residents have a per capita income of $26,533, a median household income of $41,250, and a median family income of $62,083.

A warrant has been issued for a man police say robbed the Super 8 Motel at knifepoint, but police had not arrested the suspect as of press time. Whitesburg Police Sgt. Tyrone Fields said the robber, wearing a full-face toboggan, lingered in the lobby of the motel for about 20 minutes. “The thought never came across the attendant’s mind that he might get robbed,” said Fields. The man held a butcher’s knife to the throat of the desk clerk and demanded money.

Today (Wednesday) marks the 13th day of classes students in the Letcher County school district have missed because of bad weather.

Mr. and Mrs. Frank Perry of Whitesburg will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary on December 23. He retired after working many years at the old A&P store and the Bank of Whitesburg. She retired after working 32 years with Kentucky Power Co.

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