A busy weekend here so I’m posting an excerpt from the chapter titled “Death Angels and Banshees: Tokens of Death,” in The Ghost Wore Black: Ghastly Tales from the Past. (Available on my site and at various bookstores and online retailers and for Kindle.
Perhaps because of the extreme danger of their work, miners believed in a variety of death tokens: rappings and knockings made by the spirits known as “kobolds” or “knockers,” and mysterious lights. (For example, in The Face in the Window, I included a story of a star-shaped spook light that warned of a mine cave-in in Belmont County, Ohio.) The black apparition in this story is atypical; usually the warning signs down the mine were more abstract: lights and sounds, rather than a ghostly figure.
BLACK SPECTER IN MINE
Two Men After Warning of Subterranean Apparition Are Speedily Killed
Eveleth, Minn. Superstition has been aroused among the miners at Eveleth and its surrounding locations by statements said to have been made by Walter Koki and Rjalmar Linna, mining partners, who were killed in the Adams Mine recently.
According to report, Linna said that when he and his partner were at work in No. 4 shaft on Friday, April 6, they were met by what seemed to be a black man. The apparition is said to have put its hands on the men and to have commanded them to go away. Linna told his friends that he was so impressed by the vision that he had determined to work in the shaft no longer.
Koki, however, laughed at his partner’s awe, and, refusing to leave the drift, joined the timber gang. The same day Koki wandered into a deserted shaft that was filled with deadly gases and met his death. He was not missed until the following Sunday, when searchers found the body. So overpowering were the fumes that it was necessary to raise the body to the surface with a hook and tackle.
Linna was deeply impressed by the fate of his partner and talked with several countrymen about his experience with the “black man.” He was told that he was the victim of a practical joker, but nevertheless he adhered to his resolution not to work in the shaft again. Linna secured a position as an ore sampler and a week later he was thrown from an ore car and so badly injured that he died.
His death caused his fellow countrymen to recall the “black wraith” which is alleged to have warned the men, and although there are many skeptics some of the miners firmly believe that the spirit will again make its appearance and if it does the persons approached will meet a certain doom.
Elkhart [IN] Weekly Truth 7 June 1906: p. 9
A more typical harbinger of death by disease or mining disaster was the “Woman in Black,” who was particularly prevalent in the mining communities of 19th– and early 20th-century Pennsylvania. These apparitions (Chapter 12 of The Ghost Wore Black is devoted to their dark doings.) became conflated with the black-robed banshee in their role as a token of doom.
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.