On May 1, 1900, an explosion ripped through the Winter Quarter/s Mine near Scofield, Utah. As men frantically scrambled to evacuate, they were felled by poisonous gases, some just feet from safety; others deep in the mine, at their posts. At least 200 men were lost. One Finnish family lost six of its members. 107 women were widowed; 268 children left fatherless. At the time, it was the worst mining disaster in the United States. Such a trauma marked the community forever, and, some said, left psychic scars as well. The first newspaper reports about hauntings in the mine are found early in the following year, 1901, when some of the miners went on strike.
BELIEVE SCOFIELD MINE IS HAUNTED
John Larson, a coal miner who has been working at Scofield, Utah, where the big explosion occurred last May, when 200 bodies were taken out of the mine, passed through Anaconda yesterday on his way to the Coeur d’Alenes. Mr. Larson, while talking to a friend on the station platform, said that on the day he left Scofield, which was last Monday, 500 miners employed in the coal mines there went out on strike, and it was believed that the strike would spread.
“I did not learn exactly what the cause of the strike was, as I was not interested in mining at that time, but I believe it is the result of a prevailing belief that the mine is haunted. While I was at Scofield I often hear the miners talking about the ghost in the mine, and know that 40 or 50 men quit work there because they saw the specter.
“From what these men said it appears that the ghost was in the in form of a miner without a head. The men state, positively that they saw this headless ghost and declared that they would not work another second in the place. So rapidly grew this belief in the existence of a ghost in the mine that that headless object was soon identified as the spirit of ‘Sandy’ McGovern, a miner whose body was the last to be taken out of the fatal pit after the explosion. The search for McGovern’s body occupied several days.
“Another reason why the men have struck, I understand is that a fortune teller at Salt Lake, who claimed to have related to a miner the details of the Scofield calamity, has predicted that there will be another and a greater horror still.
“The miners do not like the system of quarantine which has been resorted to lately to prevent the spread of contagious diseases. The men are mostly foreigners and do not understand or believe in vaccination.
“These considerations in addition to misunderstandings about wages are the cause for the strike, but the belief that the mine is haunted is the chief reason for the walkout.
Anaconda [MT] Standard 19 January 1901: p. 4
Miners were considered (with sailors) to be among the most superstitious of men. The paranormal literature is full of premonitions and omens of mine disasters. (You’ll find a “spook light” warning in this post.) Foreign miners were especially ridiculed for their fears. Finns, singled out in this article, had an uncanny reputation as “wizards.” The article is obviously an effort to give rational explanations for some of the stories. Yet the examples given of apparitions and of the dangers still found in the mine make trembling with superstitious fear seem positively sensible. It is interesting to me that the Pleasant Valley Mine company’s biggest fear seems to be not the dangers of the mine, but rather that the mine would acquire a haunted reputation and men would refuse to work there. The article tries to frame the strike as one over money or working conditions, rather than ghosts. It is also curious that the haunting is rumored to have spread to the graves of the victims.
Strange Noises and Ghosts In Scofield Mines
A Scofield miner who is not in the strike tells a strange story of strange happenings and superstitious beliefs among the miners at that place. According to his story, the situation, especially among the superstitious Finns, borders closely on panic. Ever since the fearful explosion of May 1 last there have been strange happenings in the mines and in the cemetery where so many of the miners killed in the explosion were buried. As a result of this condition, many of the men are afraid to work in the mines and they could not be hired for love or money to visit the graveyard after night.
It is stated that blue lights are to be seen any dark night in the cemetery, and that many of the miners are of the opinion that these lights are the ghosts of the dead miners. And, furthermore, at a certain hour every day, from 12 to 2 o’clock, crackings and hissings are to be heard in the mine and many of the men refuse to work in the mine during that period.
“Upon one occasion,” said this miner who tells the story, “I wen into the mine to work with a fellow miner. After we had got well into the mine and near a place where a number of miners had been killed in the explosion, my companion stopped suddenly, turned white as a sheet and trembled as though he had the palsy.
“’Did you hear that voice say ‘Go back! Go back!’ he exclaimed.
“’No,’ said I, ‘there was no voice; it was your imagination.’
“’No,’ he gasped, ‘it was not imagination, and I am going out.’
“He ran and I ran after him, knowing that the man had really gone into hysterics, and that if left to himself he would come to harm. When I succeeded in catching him he fought like a maniac, and it took three men to hold him. We carried him out of the mine and administered opiates until he fell asleep; but after that he would never go into the mine again.”
Many other similar instances are related enough to show that many of the old miners and a good many of the new ones fairly tremble with superstitious fear as they work in the mines. “And another thing,” said this informant, “There have been nearly as many deaths and injuries in the Winter Quarters mines since May 1, 1900, as there were men killed on that fatal day, caused largely through the caving in of large quantities of loose earth and coal. Since the great shaking up the mines seem to be in such a loose, unstable condition that it is unsafe to work in them. Many an old coal miner has walked into the mines to work, but after looking around has shaken his head and walked out, saying: ‘It’s too dangerous a place for me.’”
This man stated still further that he thought the conditions outlined above were the chief causes of the strike. “The men are getting good pay from the company,” he said, “but a great many of them think that the old diggings should be abandoned and the work done in new and safer ground. Why, the ringleaders of the strike are making $5 per day; what better would a man want that that? I am inclined to think that the company desired the strike to be made for an increase of wages because it feared that there would be a strike anyway on the grounds that the miens were unsafe and haunted; and if this occurred it would be a very difficult matter to secure men to take the places of the strikers.”
EXPLAINED BY MINERS
The above story was submitted to Messrs. Hoye, George and Rooney, the three men who are in the city as the representatives of the striking mines. They hooted at the idea that this had anything whatever to do with the strike, ridiculed the statement as to the number of accidents that had occurred in the mines since May 1, and denied that the mines were more unsafe than other mines, but they did not deny that superstitions existed to a greater or less extent among the miners, especially among the Finns.
P.J. Rooney said that he, in company with others, had investigated the graveyard story about a month ago. They found that the blue lights were due to the moonbeams falling upon some bronze letters on some of the new tombstones. As to the noises heard in the mines, all the men said that was common to hear crackings in coal mines, but that hissings were never heard except where there was gas, and they knew that there was no gas in the Scofield mines. Strange things had happened in the mines and some of the men had convinced themselves that these happenings were due to some supernatural causes. For instance one man told of a car in the mine being put squarely across the track while he was absent but a few seconds, and without any shock of any kind having been felt.
But the Scofield men in Salt Lake denied most emphatically that this feeling of fear existed to any great extent among the miners.
The Salt Lake [UT’ Herald 3 February 1901: p. 8
Near the year anniversary of the disaster, the story about Sandy McGovern received wide coverage.
HEADLESS GHOST HAUNTS MINE
Fearsome Specter of Sandy McGovern Revisits The Scene of His Death.
A headless ghost has been the cause of a great deal of trouble for the Pleasant Valley Coal company in its Winter Quarter mine in Utah. The miners, most of whom are Slavs and Hungarians, are so frightened by its presence and by certain supernatural noises and manifestations that several times they have been on the point of stopping work.
Last May there was a big explosion in the Winter Quarter mine and 200 men lost their lives, many more being severely injured, some of them maimed for life. Among the killed was a Scotch miner, Sandy McGovern by name, and when his body was found the head was missing, having been blown off in the explosion.
When the mine was opened again after the explosion, there ensued a period when great masses fell from the roof; masses which had been loosened by the shaking up the mine had had in the explosion. For weeks there was scarcely a day when some miner was not injured by the falling debris and rock. This tended to shake the nerve of the miners, but they stood it and after a time the loosened mass ceased to fall.
But a more nerve racking thing followed. The mine became haunted. Strange and weird noises were heard the calling and groaning of the spirits of the dead miners who had perished I the great explosion made the place hideous, and to work in the bowels of the earth with ghostly voices and agonized groans from departed fellow workmen sounding around one is, as any one will admit, something to try the stoutest hearts.
But all these things might have been endured had not the ghost of the headless miner appeared. It has frequently been seen by the miners in the various drifts. It walks about the mine at all seasons, and no one knows when he will meet him or glance over his shoulder to see the headless one standing close behind him.
The mine is dug in the side of a hill and from its depths mules and horses draw the loaded cars to the mine’s mouth, opening on the sunlit slopes. Sometimes the driver of a car will see the ghost beside him and it rides until the light of day begins to show from the mouth of the mine.
Fort Wayne [IN] Daily News 3 May 1901: p. 8
Other mine hauntings? The coal fields of Pennsylvania are full of them. Can a case be made for the “toxic gases seeping out of rocks causes hallucinations” theory? Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
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.