1991 Marker in ClymerEileen Mountjoy

On Aug. 26, 1926, two violent explosions rocked the subterranean caverns the Clymer No. 1 mine, located at Sample Run, one and a half miles southwest of Clymer.

The first explosion occurred in the "first north" off the main tunnel, blowing the large doors of the manway and airway, located a mile and a half away, into fragments. Later, the mechanical recorder in the fan house was checked to determine the exact time of the blast: precisely 1:00 p.m. Five or six minutes later, a second explosion ripped through the already devastated mine. With the force of a hurricane, this blast hurled itself against the darkness, leveling the ventilation doors and tile stopping in its path. Flame and coal dust, expelled by the immense pressure, billowed out of the mine and blew like a geyser over a hundred feet into the air.

There were 57 men in the mine. Forty-four men, ranging in age from 17-52, were killed; nine who were working nearer the opening escaped without injury. The remaining four were saved by rescue workers. The mine was on slack time; usually, between 400 and 500 were employed. In the 65 years intervening between then and now, the initial horror of the Clymer No. 1 mine explosion has diminished. With the exception of the survivors and the families bereaved by the tragedy, the disaster has been nearly forgotten until Louis Tate of Clymer began to feel a growing concern for the fading memories that surrounded the events of those terror-filled days that had already passed into history before he was born.

According to the first newspaper accounts of the disaster, the mine, opened by the Clearfield Bituminous Coal Company in 1905, was "known to be gaseous." For 21 years, the miners who dug the coal in Clymer No. I labored from sunup to sundown surrounded by unseen dangers. Often, they laughed and talked among themselves, enjoying jokes and sharing food, and, as members of UMWA Local 1489, indulged in a little "gob-pile oration," while they waited for cars, expressing their concerns about wages and working conditions. At the day's end, they wiped their sweat-and-coal streaked foreheads, shouldered their picks and shovels, and trudged wearily back along the length of tracks that separated them from the outside world.

But on the afternoon of Aug. 26, 1926, most of them never made it. Mrs. Mart Whistle, whose house was located near the main portal, sounded the first alarm. Alerted by the thunder-like rumble, she ran to the window. Seeing the smoke and fire pouring from the mouth of the mine, she notified company officials. Throughout the remainder of the afternoon, rescue teams from several area mines, accompanied by Father F.S. Kondria of St. Anthony's Roman Catholic Church, cleared away the twisted mine track, tons of fallen rock, and shattered doors that blocked their path to the dead and dying miners. Several times lethal gases drove them back, so that each shift could work a short time before returning to the surface for air.

By 2:00 p.m., four men, still living, were brought out of the mine in coal cars, given artificial respiration, and transferred to the Dixonville Hospital. One of these, Mike Puro, lived to tell the story. His brother, Edward, who lives in Ohio, writes: "My father, John Puro, was killed in the mine explosion at Sample Run. Brother Mike was with dad at the explosion. Mike is now 81 years old. Mike tried to drag my father out. But my father said, Go ahead, son, leave me behind or we'll both die.' It was the toughest decision of his life. But he left him behind, or Mike wouldn't be here if he made the other choice. My mother was widowed with 13 children. George wasn't even born yet. I, myself, was only 13 months old. It was a real struggle for my family. We have never forgotten that day."

The daughter of another survivor, Irene Reshonsky, who lives in Commodore, also remembers the impact of those fateful hours: "A newspaper account that came out the next day," she recalls, "mentioned that some foreigner, whose name could not be ascertained, emerged from the Whistle' manway, and walked away, unassisted, from the scene.'" Miss Reshonsky believes that the "foreigner" was her father, Andrew Reshonsky. "He had only been in Clymer about eight weeks when the explosion occurred," she notes. "He came to America from Hungary in 1898, settled first in New Jersey, and then became a miner. working in Windber, Coalport. and MacDonald. For years, he wouldn't talk about the explosion, but in later life when people would question him about it, he'd say, Yes, I was in that,' and he would tell how he went into the main heading and he heard the first explosion. He ran into a manway, and his buddy, Blazey' Bucca, ran in after him. They heard another explosion go off shortly after the first. They stayed in the manway; there was an awful lot of smoke, and gas fumes, too. My dad had his dinner bucket with him, and the bottom was filled with cold tea. So he took off his kerchief, and soaked it in the tea, and covered his mouth with it. Blazey kept insisting he wanted to leave the manway; he kept saying, I'm going!' and finally, he did. But my dad said, I'm staying here.'

"Blazey dashed off into the thick of the smoke, but he only made it a few feet when he began calling for help. He collapsed, and my dad went after him, grabbed him by his feet, and dragged him back into the shelter. At the same time, Dad found another man wandering around in the smoke, too. By the time he and Blazey got him to the manway, the man had stopped breathing. Dad and Blazey put their tea-soaked kerchiefs over his mouth, and he started breathing again. Then my dad decided the three of them had better try to get out of the mine, so they began crawling on their hands and knee trying to stay low enough to escape the gas. As they inched along, my dad said they had to crawl over dead bodies. He even said there were arms and legs in some places. He remembered to the rest of his life that some of the men were still alive, and they were screaming. They kept crawling, and finally they got outa mile and a half. Outside the men wanted them all to go to the Dixonville Hospital, but my dad just kept going. He said, I have a big family, and my wife is going to be worried.' You see, he was worried about us."

Miss Reshonsky can still envision the exact moment when the agony of suspense was lifted: "I can just about see him coming down the road, on the Sample Run Hill. When she heard the explosion, my mother told the six of us kids not to go on to the road because of all the cars and ambulances flying up and down. But she started running up the hill, crying. Already, Dad was coming. So they met, and hugged each other, and they came home. Three months later, Dad took us to Commodore and we started over. He worked as a miner until he was 73 years old."

Unlike Mike Puro and Andrew Reshonsky, 44 other miners did not live to describe their experiences that day. By late that afternoon, "rows of white-shrouded figures" lay in an improvised morgue in a CBC machine shop. Most of the bodies were "badly mutilated," making identification difficult. By nightfall, however, all were claimed by grieving relatives. In some homes, two or even three caskets came to rest on sawhorses and planks hastily set up in the front rooms of the soot-stained houses of Sample Run. On Monday, Aug. 31, men who perished in Indiana County's worst mine disaster were buried in three separate cemeteries. On a bright, hot summer morning long ago, 44 men, joined as brothers, entered the Sample Run mine. Together in life, they were separated by death.

On Aug. 25, 1991, at 2:00 p.m., they will be united once again, as their names, cast in bronze, are now affixed to a monument fittingly made of the rough gray rock found in the fields surrounding the town Clymer. Louis Tate and Edward Puro unveiled the simple marker, placed on the lawn of the Clymer Borough building. Assembled with them that day will be relatives, friends, and all those who wish to take a moment from their busy lives to remember men who sacrificed their very existence: "Working the coal mines feed a family they loved. Now they rest with their Gods, in the heavens above."