Lest We Forget: The Ludlow Massacre One Century Later

One hundred years ago, on the afternoon of April 20, 1914 William Snyder and his children made the mistake of climbing out of the pit they had dug under their tent in Ludlow Colorado. Outside, the Colorado National Guard and striking coal miners were engaged in a war that had raged since morning. For much of the day the pit had been their shelter from the indiscriminate gunfire that had ripped through the tent city that striking coal miners had erected near the town. The immediate reason for the battle has been lost to history, and both sides have claimed that the other started shooting first. Whatever the cause, the fighting seemed to be letting up and the Snyders took the opportunity to escape their pit and return to the relative comfort of the tent itself. Frank Snyder, a young boy of eleven, went to sit in a chair and his sister joined him on the floor between his knees. According to his father, Frank was in the act of leaning forward to kiss or caress his sister when the bullet that killed him ripped through the family tent and struck Frank in the head (Snyder 133). In his affidavit to the Commission on Industrial Relations William reported, “I was standing near the front door of my tent and heard the impact of the bullet striking the boy’s head, and the crack of the bullet as it exploded inside of his head” (133).

Elsewhere in the tent colony a strike leader named Louis Tikas was arrested and confronted by the militia leader, Karl Linderfelt, about who was at fault for the violence. According to Scott Martelle, as the argument escalated “Linderfelt grabbed his rifle by the barrel and swung it hard at Tikas, striking him in the head and breaking the gunstock” (175). Incapacitated by this attack Tikas and two other striking miners were murdered moments later by the mob of militiamen that surrounded them (176). Tikas was killed by three shots in the back. As Tikas was murdered, the tent colony was going up in flames. How the fires started remains a matter of contention. Guard members claimed that they started thanks to sparks caused by stray bullets and fueled by explosives hidden by the miners in the camp. The strikers contended that that attacking militia purposefully set the fires. Whatever the cause, the fire was deadly. In another pit under a tent like the one the Snyders had sheltered in, hid a group of women and children: twenty-seven year old Fedlina Costa her two children, Onafrio age six, and Lucy, age four, Rodgerio Pedregone, age nine, Cloriva Pedregone age four, Frank Petrucci, age six months, Lucy Petrucci, age three, Joe Petrucci, age four, thirty-seven year old Patria Valdez and her children Rudolph, age nine, Eulala, age eight, Mary age seven, and Elvira, age three months (223). In all, two women and eleven children remained hidden as the fires spread through the tents. They suffocated to death as the fires above them ate the oxygen in their supposed safe haven. They were not found until the morning after the gun battle (2).

Collectively these atrocities have come to be known as the Ludlow Massacre. Continue reading “Lest We Forget: The Ludlow Massacre One Century Later”

Jharia on the brink

Earlier this week the LA Times had a story about Jharia, India and the coal fires that have threatened that community for decades. The case of Jharia is pretty bleak according to the Times. An intriguing aspect of this story though is the increase of strip mining that has occurred as a means to “save” the coal from the fires. There are a number of different draws here since coal burnt in the ground as opposed to say a steel mill is ultimately money lost for mining interests. At the same time, strip mining leads to increased profits for those same interests. At the root though there remain the local residents whose lives are irrevocably changed by a coal mining disaster set to a slow burn.

Resurgent Black Lung

NPR, the Charleston Gazette and The Center for Public Integrity have compiled a series of important stories about resurgence of Black Lung Disease among coal miners and miners operating in Appalachian regions of Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia in particular. There is a lot of overlap in the stories I’ve linked above, but the information compiled in these stories is damning. In short, the resurgence of Black Lung points towards inadequate regulation and enforcement of worker safety laws in the mines. The newfound prevalence of this issue rams home once again the dangers in mining and the numerous ways these dangers are exacerbated through negligence by mining companies and government programs. Black Lung is the long debilitating disease that eventually kills its victims by destroying their ability to breathe. You can get a feel for the nature of the disease in the quote from Mark McCowan in the NPR article:

“Now it feels like I’ve got a heavy wet sack on each lung,” McCowan says, between long, deep breaths. “Breathing has become a conscious effort. … It seems like I give up a little bit of my world each day, that it gets smaller and smaller.”

Black Lung is a symbolically fitting as a disease tied directly to mining. Like our societal dependence on coal itself, the continuing presence of Black Lung reminds us that coal is a killer in the long term no matter what our efforts to “clean up.” In the immediate future, the issue of Black Lung should be addressed on a legislative level, but as Ken Ward Jr. reports, easier said than done. (This may sound like I’m drawing a hard line on coal, and to an extent I am. Still I want to be a bit more nuanced. As I’ve said in the past, I don’t believe there’s a complete answer to our dependence on coal yet, but that any answer that we come up with needs to take into account the economic stability of regions that have historically suffered the boom and bust cycles of mining. Moreover, my immediate focus is on worker safety issues.)

In other coal related news, the New York Times recently ran an op-ed by Jason Howard about the civil war raging in coal country regarding mining and MTR in particular. It serves as a good introduction to the stakes in this issue. (Thanks to Marcus for the link.)

For readers in Oregon, I also point to some coal issues closer to home via the Register Guard.

Slow Burn in Centralia

Fifty years ago today, workers in Centralia, PA, began burning trash at a site over an old mine entrance just outside of the town. That fire is still burning to this day. The fire ignited the coal and then continued to spread underground. Officials spent twenty years trying to put it out, but each effort failed. Eventually, between gasses it releases, and the extreme heat and pressures that causes the ground to destabilize and result in fissures and sinkholes the town of Centralia eventually decided to close shop. For the most part, Centralia exists today as a site that encompasses a number of types of disasters: industrial, environmental, economic, and individual. That last one comes into play because, like the story of Treece I posted last week, not everyone has abandoned Centralia. Despite the site now being owned by the state and most of the town’s buildings and homes being bulldozed, a few folks still insist on calling Centralia home.

I’ve seen two decent stories about Centralia in the last couple days. The first is an AP story collected at Huffington Post focuses a bit more on the former towns residents today and includes some pictures. The second, a story from Smithsonian.com by Kevin Krajick focuses on the story of the coal fire on a larger scale. The scope of this coal fire is impressive to say the least, but the fact that stood out to me is the sheer number of these sorts of fires that are raging throughout the world at this moment.

As I said in my link to the story about Treece, I suspect I’ll be coming back to write about these stories in the future.

A Series of Unrelated Links

Some stuff I’ve recently come across:

Intriguing piece by Greg Rucka at Io9 on his writing strong female characters in his work.

Wes Enzinna has a powerful article at the New York Times Sunday Magazine about Treece Kansas, a now abandoned mining town. I’m really fascinated by areas and towns that have been destroyed through such extremem environmental and economic degradation. I suspect I’ll be writing more on them in the future.

An older story about the salt mines under Detroit at Environmental Graffiti.

Rob Lammie goes in depth into the Animaniacs over at Mental Floss.

The Fog of Mining

Ken Ward Jr. has an interesting post regarding the rumors about new strip mining at Blair Mountain. Right now it seems that everything is a bit hazy. The Sierra Club’s press release about the increased activity at Blair can be found here. I’ll be trying to keep up with this one as it develops.

[Update 2/9/12]: Ken Ward Jr. has a statement by an Arch Coal spokeswoman denying that there are any plans to mine Blair Mountain.