"Monongah Remembered provides an intricate look at the nation's worst coal mine disaster, weaving together the historical realities of early
20th century mining, a community devastated by the human destruction, and the ordeal of immigrant miner families. "
Paul H. Rakes, Ph.D. Historian, WVU

Monongah, West Virginia.
December 6, 1907.

The ground quakes. Pavement buckles. Streetcars are shaken from their rails.

Women and screaming children run to the mine entrances, praying for their husbands and sons to crawl out of the rubble.

Only five men survived.

Instead of Christmas wreaths and decorations, coffins lined the streets of Monongah that December. According to official reports, 362 men and boys lost their lives that day, when an explosion rocked Mines Number 6 & 8 operated by the Fairmont Mining Company. Unofficial reports put the number of casualties at more than 500. All in all, more than 700 people perished nationwide in mining disasters in December 1907, many of whom were first- or second- generation immigrants to the United States. In Monongah, they left behind 250 widows - and more than 1,000 children.

After the explosion, those men left in the village worked frantically to clear the rubble from the mine entrances. The explosion produced toxic gasses - known as afterdamp - that poisoned the air, killing miners and rescue workers alike. Recovered bodies and ventilation equipment often had to be dragged over half a mile through headings clogged with overturned mine cars, collapsed roofing, and wrecked machinery.

Above ground, women and children used personal effects like mismatched socks to identify the often mangled and burned bodies of their husbands, sons and fathers. Priests, one of whom had lost a brother himself, worked around the clock to sanctify the dead. A makeshift morgue was established in a bank; men dug long rows of graves on nearby hillsides. Widows sank into depression, attempting to commit suicide by throwing themselves in front of streetcars and into the river.

These immigrant victims, many of whom were farmers and shepherds, left Italy, Austria, Hungary, Russia and Turkey in the hope of securing a better life for their families. They journeyed to a remote part of the United States where they worked underground. Their efforts built the strength of this nation, but too often, these immigrants were also casualties of the industrial revolution that provided their jobs.

Through the lens of history, Monongah Remembered connects the impact of the Monongah disaster, still the worst mining disaster in American history, with its eventual ramifications for governmental safety regulations. The documentary explores a counter-narrative to the traditional "streets paved with gold" myth of Italian immigration. By focusing on those immigrants who did not achieve the American Dream, this video ventures beyond a mere celebration of Italian-American history and into a significant and as yet unknown facet of American immigration history. Using compelling personal accounts of the disaster and its aftermath, provocative archival photographs, impassioned interviews and meticulous research, Monongah Remembered weaves a tale of immigration, catastrophe and consequences that is particularly relevant in light of present-day collapses at the Quecreek, Sago and Crandall Canyon mines.

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December 5, 2007



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