HOLDEN, W.Va. – A memorial which, was long overdue, was dedicated to the 18 men who lost their lives in a mining accident on March 8, 1960 this past Saturday on 22 Mine Road at Holden.
Although, 56 years have passed since the tragedy at Island Creek Coal Company mine at 22 Holden left children without fathers, parents without sons and wives became widows, the hurt and pain is still fresh in the hearts and minds of those affected by the tragic turn of events.
It was reported by officials a fire on a cable line was suspected to have been knocked down near a wooden timber causing a raging inferno to go through the tunnels inside the mine; a slate fall was the result of the fire, which caused the miners to become trapped.
Willis Carter, one of the trapped miners decided to crawl through a small opening in hopes of getting a way out.
Kyle Blair soon followed him.
In all it took the two men around four hours to find their way out of the mine.
The fire claimed the lives of 18 men who decided to stay inside and wait on mine rescuers.
After eight days of digging and attempting to extinguish the fire, mine rescue workers came up on the bodies of 13 of the miners, who were believed to have died within hours of the slate fall.
On the ninth day after the disaster while a heavy wet snow blanketed the area, the body of the last miner was brought to the surface.
Details released by the rescuers were heart wrenching but at the same time comforting to family members.
None of the bodies were burned. It was determined that all 18 deaths were due to asphyxiation.
Two of the miners were found as if they had been eating their lunch.
One was found in a kneeling position as if he was praying.
One was found still holding a note he had written to his wife.
A copy of that note is in each of the Mine Health Safety Administration (MSHA) offices in West Virginia.
The Holden 22 Mine accident is the third deadliest mine disaster in West Virginia history.
One thing is certain the small tight-knit community of Holden located near Logan was never the same.
As widows, children, grandchildren, siblings, extended family and friends gathered at a memorial site on 22 Mine Road to honor the men who sacrificed their lives to provide for their families.
Isom Ooten, President of the Holden 22 Miners Memorial Committee was praised by many of the speakers for his determination and perseverance in getting the monument placed.
For Ooten, this was an endeavor close to his heart; he was one of the 72 children left without a father.
Ooten said, “This monument was made possible through a joint effort, by many people.”
State Senator Art Kirkendoll (D-Logan) served as Master of Ceremonies for the dedication.
The West Virginia National Guard Color Guard posted colors, and the invocation was by performed by Reverend Lonnie Gore, Jr. of Maryetta United Baptist Church. Serving as guest speakers were Ooten and Logan and Mingo County Commission Presidents Danny Godby and John Mark Hubbard.
Roger Bryant, a singer/songwriter and EMS official of Logan County performed at the event.
Family and friends participated in the ribbon cutting ceremony, with each of the miners represented, heartfelt stories were shared and memories were relived.
Mary Ann Hall Curry, R.N. reflected on her life changing experience as a young nurse thrust into the mist of chaos during the rescue mission.
Ms. Curry spoke of the heartbreak and anguish on the faces of the family members and the rescue workers.
She told how she stayed at the site day and night and how the heavy snow that had blanketed the area stopped “liking flipping a switch” when the last of the bodies was loaded into the back of one of the awaiting ambulances.
Eighteen balloons were released near the closing of the ceremony to represent each life lost.
After the closing of the ceremony a buffet luncheon was served to the estimated 200 people in attendance.
Not one structure remains in the coal camp community of 22 Holden, but the reality of the loss of so many lives all those years ago will be there forever.
The following is a list of those who lost their lives:
Charles Adams, 46, wife, 7 children
Frank Ardis, 63, wife, 4 children
Ernest Bevins, 35, wife, 7 children
Okey Bryant, 49, widower, 5 children
James Carter, 30, wife, 6 children (brother of Willis Carter)
Josh Chafin, Jr. 37, wife, 4 children
Roy Lee Dempsey, 52, 9 children
William Donaldson, 53, wife, 1 child
Garfield Hensley, 43, wife, 5 children
Berti Horvath, 32, wife, 4 children
Flint Lock Jarrells, 39, wife 6 children
Albert Marcum, Jr., 34, wife. 5 children
Melvin Newsome, 46, wife, 1 child
Isom Ooten, 43, wife, 6 children
James V. Lundell, 26, wife, 2 children
Orville Sargent, 32, wife, 1 child
Clyde White, 39, wife, 3 children
Louis Workman, 32, wife, 1 child
Gone…….But not forgotten, memories will live on in the lives and words of their future generations.
Kendra Mahon is a reporter for the Gilbert Times. She can be reached at [email protected]