It was known by Pennsylvania mining families as "the dreaded month". According to the current director of mines for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, December 1907 was the "darkest month in mining history in the country". Although mining was always fraught with risks and the nation had seen many mining disasters, never before had there been so many casualities in the same month. Even today, December 1907 still holds the infamous record. By its end, more than 3,200 miners had lost their lives in American mine accidents. In Pennsylvania, 1,400 miners died that year: 708 in the anthracite and 806 in the bituminous mines.
One of the catastrophes of that month still rates as the single worst mining disaster in the history of America: the explosion of the Darr Mine southeast of Pittsburgh. Two-hundred and thirty-nine men lost their lives that day, most of them Hungarian miners.
To hear the story of the tragedy and learn about the effort to preserve the history of the event and the memory of the men whose lives were lost, view the WQED Pittsburgh video on the Darr Mine Disaster.
It is a story of sadness and suffering, but also of joy and thanksgiving thanks to a miracle which saved the lives of many would-be victims of the disaster. More than 200 Carpatho-Rusyn miners refused to go to work on December 19, 1907 in order to observe the Orthodox feast day of St. Nicholas, their patron saint. They were in the midst of the liturgy praying for God's protection and invoking the prayers of St. Nicholas when they heard the explosion and left to go assist their co-workers in the mine. According to the video, it was the second such miracle to occur that month: a similar one had occured on the Roman Catholic feast day of St. Nicholas earlier in the month at another mine.
In the end, only one mineworker on duty at the Darr Mine was spared that day. Mining remains a dangerous occupation, but thankfully the mining industry saw many changes shortly after 1907, partly as a result of the horrific tragedies of that year.
For more on the history of the Darr Mine and its disaster in 1907, see the American Hungarian Federation's webpage on the Darr Mine Disaster Commemoration or Ray Washlaski's webpages on the Darr Mine at the Virtual Museum of Coal Mining in Western Pennsylvania website.