LITTLE EGYPT LOST
McDowell County, West Virginia is the most southern county of the state,
and they hold the record for the largest number of explosions in the state. The
mining town of Jed, located two miles north of Welch, lost eighty-three men when
the mine blew on March 26, 1912. The blast was blamed on an open-light. At that
time, all miners wore open-lights on their mining hats. A flame from one of those
lights ignited gas which set off "bug dust" causing the explosion.
Many of the men who died in the Jed Mine where foreign born without
relatives in the states, and they had made few friends. The victims were laid to
rest on a barren hillside graveyard called "Little Egypt." The graves were never
tended, and brush and trees soon hid any evidence of the burial ground.
Shortly after the explosion at the Jed Mine, the coal company changed the
name of the mine to Havaco. By 1940 the miners who worked at the Havaco Mine believed it
to be a safe place to work. The families who lived there liked the convenience
of living near the city of Welch, and considered Welch High School a good school
for their children.
Then on Tuesday, January 15, 1946 as the noon hour approached, the
shaft mine at Havaco blew up again killing fiftteen men. The blast was so strong
the earth shook, and the force broke every window pane in Havaco. Some of the
doors flew off their hinges and went flying away from the air pressure. The
explosion was deafening, and after the blast the noise of falling debris could be
heard for several seconds. The roar was heard for miles around as far away as
For just a heartbeat after the explosion . . . all was silent. Then panic set
in when the residents of Havaco rushed outside and looked toward the shaft. The
hoisting tipple was blown away, the powderhouse destroyed, and the smokestack
toppled over. Amid the confusion, the screams and cries of women and
children were heard. There were two-hundred-sixty-seven men inside the mine,
and they didn't think anyone could survive the devastation that lay before them.
The fastest method for rescuing the injured and removing the dead was by
rigging a hoist and attaching a muck bucket to a cable and lowering it into the
blast-tore mine. The injured were brought up first, and taken by ambulances to
local hospitals. Clarence Hale, age twenty-one, was found badly burned near his
father's body. Thirty-three other miners suffered burns. Clarence Hale and
Lawrence Carper died in the hospital the next day. Several days later, Luther
Tolley also died of his burns.
The men knew an explosion had occurred because the air pressure inside
the mine became so intense they felt they were being squeezed by an invisible vise.
The uninjured men started immediately walking to the shaft bottom.
As rescue teams and officials moved in the Red Cross and Salvation Army
set up canteens to serve hot coffee, chocolate, and food to those in need.
Mine officials determined the blast had blown to the outside instead of
shooting back into the workings of the mine. It was a dust explosion set off by an
accumulation of methane gas. The mine had been well rock dusted the night
before, so this kept the death toll down.
In less than two hours a1l the survivors were brought to the surface to join
their anxious loved-ones. Some climbed to the top by a 250-foot spiral escape
stairway near the main shaft. Other men, two and three at a time, rode a muck
bucket to safety.
Finally, the dead with their limp bodies slumped in the round muck bucket
which was four feet deep and three feet wide came eerily swinging and swirling
up from the bowels of the earth like a pail of water from a hand-dug well.
Most of the miner's homes were damaged, and in some cases there were no
doors to keep out the January cold. So, they hung quilts, blankets, boards, tar
paper, and cardboard over the open holes to stay warm. The company store, only
a half mile away, was also in shambles. All the windows, including the big plate
glass windows in the company store, were shattered by the blast. Canned goods, and hardware
flew in every direction when the explosion hit, but luckily no one was in the store was
None of the bodies were sent to the "Little Egypt" graveyard which after
almost thirty-four years had become a hillside jungle. Instead, they were taken to
Welch funeral homes to be prepared for burial. The relatives claimed the remains of their love
ones, gave them a proper funeral, and laid them to rest in a cemetery of their choosing.
It was said that sixteen men died in the explosion, but the Bureau of Mines listed fifteen. Thirty-eight men were injured, and two-hundred-fifteen men narrowly escaped death.