— Coal Heritage Trail — National Coal Heritage Area Interpretive Site —
"Say a prayer for those who died in darkness so we may enjoy the sunlight." —Inscription on the miners' memorial in Whipple erected by the Knights of Columbus.
The most dreaded sound in the coal
camp was when the mine whistle blew
without stopping. The mine whistle
blew several times during the day:
once early in the morning to awaken
the miners, again when the work day
began, and another when the shift
ended. If the whistle blew any other
time, it meant trouble in the mine.
Women would drop whatever they
were doing and run to the tipple to
wait for news of their husbands.
Coal mining has always been a
dangerous job. Hazards on the job
include roof falls, cave-ins, and kettle
bottoms; human-made dangers such
as accidents with coal cars; and long-term injuries such as black lung. The
most dreaded danger was the mine
disaster, where multiple lives were lost
in major mining accidents. Disaster
struck the White Oak Valley on several
occasions. On May 1, 1907, 16 men
were killed in the Whipple Mine,
followed by later disasters at Carlisle in
1915 and Whipple in 1916.
In the New River Company mines of Stuart, Parral
and Whipple, 124 men lost their lives in a span of
15 months in 1906 and 1907. Three coroner juries
convened to investigate the deaths in
the three separate
mine explosions. Sam Dixon, President of the New
River Coal Company and undisputed Republican boss
of the county, selected all 15 members of the juries and
all 15 were coal company officials. In each case, the
company was found not to be at fault.
Coal miners refused to return to the mines of Stuart
and Parral, claiming the safety hazards had not been
addressed. Rather than fix the dangers, Dixon solved
the problem by changing the name of the mines to
Lochgelly and Summerlee.