At two thirty in the afternoon of December 6, 1907, a massive explosion ripped through the Fairmont Coal Company mine at Monongah in northern West Virginia. Flames and billowing smoke erupted from the ground. The blast blew buildings clear across the West Fork River. In parts of town above the mine gaping cracks opened to the streets. Townspeople rushed down the hillside in panic. Family members gathered near the collapsed mine opening, praying for survivors.
As bodies were pulled from the rubble, Monongah’s only bank was converted into a morgue. Overwhelmed by the number of Catholic victims, priests couldn’t handle all the funeral services and sent for help. The official death toll was three hundred and sixty-one. That didn’t include dozens of boys who worked off company record books.
It was the worst mine disaster America had ever seen. One thousand children lost a father or a brother. Two hundred fifty women were left as widows.
Fairmont Coal offered families one hundred fifty dollars compensation. Company lawyer, A. Brooks Fleming, a former governor, thought the offer was generous. “I think the money would be quite a Christmas present,” he said.