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Today marks centennial of 1909 Roslyn mine disaster

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    Today marks centennial of 1909 Roslyn mine disaster Daily Record - Washington, USA October 3, 2009 ROSLYN - As the wife of a miner at the Northwestern
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      Today marks centennial of 1909 Roslyn mine disaster

      Today marks centennial of 1909 Roslyn mine disaster

      Daily Record Washington, USA
      October 3, 2009

      ROSLYN — As the wife of a miner at the Northwestern Improvement Company’s No. 4 mine in Roslyn, Mary Arundell took comfort in the fact that her husband, William, worked above ground.

      If she needed that solace, there was reason.

      Mary Arundell was familiar with the personal loss mining brought to many families in the Roslyn area.

      In 1892, her uncle was one of 45 miners killed in an explosion at the No. 1 mine.

      Two years later, in 1894, the same year that she married, her 14-year-old brother also died in a mine accident.

      As fate would have it, even working above ground would not save Mary’s husband.

      Roslyn’s David Browitt, an attorney whose family roots also extend deep into the area’s mining history, tells the story of what happened 100 years ago today.

      It was Sunday, Oct. 3, 1909, a day of rest for most in Roslyn. Not so for the men who headed to the No. 4 mine for maintenance work. Unlike slope mines where the shaft runs down at an angle, the No. 4 had a vertical shaft. A hoist was used to bring men — and coal — up and down the shaft.

      John X. Jones was the hoist man that day.

      His son, John E. Jones, 21, was the pump man, charged with keeping the pump running to remove water seeping into the mine.

      Browitt says the elder Jones had just lowered his son down the shaft before the moment when the No. 4 mine would go down in history. According to reports, at 12:45 p.m. the ground beneath the town of Roslyn shook and a fireball shot up in the air.

      Hot ashes floated over the town, drifting on to rooftops.

      John X. Jones, badly burned but alive and destined to survive, crawled to where he could activate the steam whistle, sounding the alarm. In a way, Browitt says, that action was superfluous. The community already knew that a disaster had occurred.

      “The concussion was tremendous,” Browitt says. “There were claims windows were broken half a mile away. This was a mining community. For those people, there was no question what had happened.”

      Community members rushed toward the mine. So did the Roslyn Volunteer Fire Department, pulling hose carts.

      Credit Chief Andy Attleson for “keeping a cool head,” Browitt says. Attleson directed some of the men to stay up in town while the rest were battling the fire at the mine.

      “There were reports there were more than 20 roof fires,” Browitt says. “The people in town were battling roof fires with bucket brigades and garden hoses. The potential for a much greater disaster was there if those fires had gotten going on the roofs.”

      By 4 p.m., all the wood structures at the mine were gone. The powerhouse, constructed of brick, remained.

      The rubble would smolder for days.

      At the time of the explosion, five men had been working below the ground and five, plus the hoist man, had been working above.

      Rescuers found three of the men who had been working above ground. James Gurrell died almost immediately. Otis Newhouse and William Arundell, Mary’s husband, lived until about 4 p.m. and then died at Miners Hospital in Cle Elum. The remains of the two others working on top — Carl Berger and Aaron Isaacson — never were found. They’re believed to have fallen down the shaft and been consumed by the flames.

      But what of the five who were below?

      It took several days to get into where they were thought to be, accessing the area through the No. 1 Mine slope.

      At that point in time, the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition was running in Seattle and among the things being demonstrated at the exposition’s mine building were Draeger Rescue Helmets, at the time state-of-the-art helmets that had their own oxygen supply.

      “So they sent for the helmets,” Browitt says. “They were the newest thing. But the guys that brought them over didn’t know to operate them. So somebody finally arrived that could use them.”

      In those days, he said, the mules that pulled the coal cars stayed in mule barns in the mines.

      On Oct. 7 rescuers discovered one dead mule and eight live ones. “And when they got to the mule barn they heard a cat mewing,” Browitt says. “Apparently, it was a mine mascot. It never left the mine.”

      They brought it out. Photographs were taken of the cat, which survived the explosion.

      The discovery that animals had survived the disaster re-ignited hope. Rescuers moved on. They’d gotten to the animals without using Draeger helmets but later that day, they had to wear the helmets when they discovered the body of John E. Jones, apparently unburned, Browitt says, in an area “filled with bad air and gas.”

      Hope faded.

      The next evening, searchers found the bodies of Philip Pozarich and George Tomatich. But two men — Daniel Hardy and Dominick Bartolero — still were missing. “There was a huge amount of debris at the bottom of the shaft,” Browitt says. “That’s where they determined these guys were.” It would be six months before their bodies were recovered.

      In the meantime, the men who worked at the No. 4 were absorbed into other Northwestern Improvement Company mines in the area.

      Initially, the mining company began rebuilding the mine, cleaning the debris, lining the shaft with concrete to stabilize, replacing what had been wood with metal.

      But in the end, it never operated again.

      Browitt theorizes that a fall off in demand for coal made it obvious there was no need to put it back into operation.

      In human impact, Browitt says, there were 9 widows, 21 orphans and at least six adult children of the people who died that day.

      But the disaster could have been much worse. Had it happened on a regular work day, between 400 and 450 men could have been on-site and the loss of life could have been dramatically greater.

      As for Mary Arundell, she never remarried.

      The mining company gave her a small monthly stipend. To make ends meet, she moved her family into a larger home, began taking in boarders and cooked for social functions.

      Her son, also named William Arundell and just 9 when his father died, immediately began doing odd jobs to help support the family.

      Mary Arundell’s heartbreak was not over.

      In 1922, William, then 22, died in a mining accident.

      Over the years, Browitt says, numerous stories have been told about that day in 1909. Among them: one story he heard about a man who claimed to have been saved by the bottle.

      “There was a man, now deceased, whose father was a known drunk in the town,” Browitt says. “He told me his father was supposed to go to work at the mine that day. But his father was too hung over to go to work. His father said drinking saved his life so he never did give up drinking.

      “He died in Roslyn more than 50 years after that explosion.”

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