Three mining disasters' 100th anniversary
will be commemorated
Uniontown Herald Standard -
November 30, 2007
For Ann Toth, the story of the Darr Mine disaster is part of her family
Her grandfather, Stephen (Istvan)
Toth Sr., was one of the first rescuers on the scene at the 1907 Rostraver
Township explosion that claimed the lives of 239 miners.
"The whole Yough Valley shook when Darr blew up,'' said
Toth, 78, a resident of Bobtown. "My grandfather was working at Whitsett and
they knew when the explosion came that it was Darr.''
The Darr Mine
disaster is one of three district mining tragedies that happened in December
1907 and are being commemorated this month.
They began with an explosion
that killed 34 miners inside the Naomi Mine in Fayette City on Dec. 1. Five days
later, massive explosions and roof collapses killed 362 men in the Monongah No.
6 and 7 mines in Monongah, W.Va. And on Dec. 19, the Darr explosion occurred.
In observance of the 100th anniversary, the Sen. John Heinz History
Center in Pittsburgh is offering an educational symposium on Saturday and will
open an exhibit called "The Darkest Month,'' which examines these events and
their aftereffects and runs through June 8.
Nicholas Ciotola, curator of
the Italian-American Collection at the history center, said the symposium is
important because "it makes history relevant."
"We learn about history we
experienced 100 years ago and what history can teach us about the world today,''
He referred to recent disasters such as Quecreek Mine in
Somerset County, Sago Mine in West Virginia and the Crandall Canyon Mine in
The history center's symposium will include national experts as
well as a roundtable discussion that will include Toth and other community
members. Ciotola said the roundtable will give these members a chance to tell
The roundtable, which will take place from 12:45 to 1:45
p.m., will include members with local connections, such as Toth, who
participates in commemorative events for the Darr miners and helps preserve the
culture of Hungarian community, as well as Aaron Carson of Washington, a
graduate student at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh who attends St. George
Serbian Orthodox Church in Carmichaels and is preserving coal mining history
through oral history.
The roundtable also includes Christina Duranko of
Pittsburgh, who has researched the Darr Mine disaster for the Carpatho-Rusin
Orthodox Diocese of America and the Carpatho-Rusyn Society, focusing on the
miracle of St. Nicholas for the Darr and Monongh mines.
"As many as 200
men were saved at the Darr Mine because it occurred on the Feast Day of St.
Nicholas, the patron of Carpatho-Rusyns. They gave up a day's pay to honor St.
Nicholas,'' said Duranko. "In Monongah, there was no Greek Catholic Church, so
the miners went to church with the Roman Catholics who celebrated on Dec. 6.
Also other Roman Catholics of other nationalities who considered St. Nicholas
their patron were also saved. If Darr had occurred Dec. 6 and Monongah Dec. 19,
very few miners would have been saved. It's a considered a miracle by the
Other roundtable members include Ray Washlaski, who has a Web
site on the bituminous mining district that documents every coal mine in
Pennsylvania, focusing on southwestern Pennsylvania; and Jeff Stunja, who also
has coal mining ancestors.
The roundtable is part of the symposium,
which runs from 8:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, and also includes Peter
Argentine, Argentine Productions, who has created a documentary on the Monongah
Mine; Joseph D'Andrea, president of the American Italian Cultural Institute; J.
Davitt McAteer, author of "Monongah,'' and a national coal mining expert; Drs.
Irwin Marcus and Elizabeth Ricketts of Indiana University of Pennsylvania; West
Virginia state Sen. Roman Prezioso and Dr. Joan Saverino of the Historical
Society of Pennsylvania.
There is a charge for the symposium. There is
still time to register by calling the history center at
Speaking about the disaster, Toth explained her grandfather
asked his superintendent if he was sending help to Darr. The superintendent told
him he couldn't.
"My grandfather said, 'The devil with that' and started
up the railroad tracks - three miles,'' said Toth, who said the disaster took
place about 11:30 a.m.
Toth said her father, Stephen Toth Jr., was 5
years old at the time.
"My grandmother was the apple of his eye and he
wondered what he did because all the women were crying,'' Toth said. "...He
didn't quite understand what was happening.''
That night, Toth's father
sneaked downstairs when he heard his father come home.
"He was tired -
physically and mentally exhausted. He said in Hungarian, 'They all died in
vain,''' Toth said. "A couple of days later, the children were taken to the
railroad tracks where the cars were loaded with caskets. That left an image in
my dad's mind. He never forgot to the day he died. All his life, three times a
day, he said prayers in Hungarian and he prayed for those who died in Darr
Toth also donated items for "The Darkest Month,'' including
photographs, a mine rescue mask and household items for a mining family's
The Coal and Coke Heritage Center at Penn State Fayette, the Eberly
Campus, also contributed to "The Darkest Month.''
A representative for
the coal and coke center was not available Thursday, but Ciotola said, "They
were one of the first resources we reached out to.''
Both Jalso and Toth
said they are pleased the history center is offering the symposium and
Jalso said, "We should respect those who sacrificed their lives
for the sake of America. They were dedicated working Americans facing risk every
day. They deserve respect and their memory kept alive.''
Toth, who also
donated items to the history center's permanent collection, is looking forward
to seeing "The Darkest Month.''
"I know the work they do and the fact
they're honoring southwestern Pennsylvania and coalminers - I give the history
center a lot of respect for showing what the immigrants went through,'' she
Local observances also will include worship services at 2 p.m.
Saturday at Fayette City Christian Missionary Alliance Church and at 7 p.m. on
Dec. 19 at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Jacobs Creek with Metropolitan
Nicholas of the American Carpatho-Rusin Orthodox Diocese and Metropolitan Basil
Schott of the Metropolitan Archbishop of the Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of
U. S. Mine