This segment features a news item from Fayette County’s past. This week we examine a story from the January 6, 1900 edition of the Daily News Standard called “Coroner’s Jury Verdict.”
An hour before sunrise on December 23, 1899, engineer Solomon Meese stood near the mouth of the Braznell Mine. As the operator of the cage that transported workers up and down the mine shaft, he’d already sent a few groups down that morning. Others had gone in before he’d arrived and were busy preparing for their shift more than a hundred feet below the surface.
When a signal came to raise the elevator, Meese laid his hand on the lever that controlled it. He then heard a strange sound come up out of the earth — a rumble, a groan — and suddenly the lever was jerked from his grasp. The door to the engine room slammed shut. Then a torrent of air carrying twisted chunks of metal, smoke, and human limbs shot up through the shaft and knocked Meese to the ground. The Daily News Standard described the moment vividly:
“There was a loud roar, like the bursting of a hundred cannon, a ripping sound of timber torn from the buildings, a pattering of debris as it settled back to the earth in a confused mass from its flight in the air; then silence . . . A gray vapor, pungent to the taste, began to pour out of the mouth of the pit, and the trained and experienced miner known what this meant.”
By the time the dust settled, blanketing the immediate area in blackness, the mine’s tipple was destroyed and the engine room’s roof was torn away. One of the cage elevators, large enough to carry eight men, had been propelled out of the shaft by the force of the explosion. Even the shed over the mine’s ventilation shaft had been blown off.
Braznell had been in operation for under a year and had no major accidents on its record. So, what had gone wrong?