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Скачать книгу Fire and Brimstone: The North Butte Mining Disaster of 1917

Fire and Brimstone: The North Butte Mining Disaster of 1917

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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The rationale for requiring doors, of course, was to prevent the precise scenario that was playing out in the Speculator—the entrapment of men in the event of an emergency.

The contemporaneous accounts do not record the terror and panic that Wirta and the others must have felt as they battled this new obstacle, but bulkheads built without doors would emerge as one of the most bitter issues in the aftermath of the fire. There were widespread, graphic rumors that rescue crews found dead miners with “their fingers worn to the knuckles in an attempt to reach safety.”

Wirta’s group would manage to avoid at least this fate. Grasping the futility of pounding at a concrete wall without proper tools, they ran back into the smoky Speculator.

“We first tried to go up to the twenty-second level,” reported Wirta, “but the gas was so bad that we were forced to stop.” Back down at the 2,400, Wirta gathered twenty-five sticks of dynamite, determined to return to the High Ore bulkhead and blast his way through. But it was too late. By then strong gas had filled the connecting drift, preventing all access. “We all thought that we were facing death,” said Wirta. “This was the first I heard of the nipper.”

Wirta would emerge as one of the key chroniclers of the North Butte disaster for an important reason in addition to his good memory. He was one of the few miners who carried a watch.

More men began to converge in the main tunnel at the 2,400 level of the Speculator. Like John Wirta, most had already made other attempts to escape and, like Wirta, most believed that their options had dwindled to nil. Two of the men joining this growing group were Albert Cobb and his partner, Henry Fowler. Barely an hour earlier, Cobb and Fowler had been working in the 2,400 Station of Granite Mountain when Ernest Sullau came scrambling up from the shaft, burning cable at his heels, desperately demanding a bucket of water.

When it became clear that the Granite Mountain fire would not be doused by buckets, Cobb and Fowler fled in the direction of the Speculator, warning others as they moved through the crosscut. Before long, though, they encountered a group of miners fleeing in the opposite direction who told them “the station was bulkheaded.” Next Cobb and Fowler tried to climb up a level but found that path blocked by gas as well. “We were like a bunch of fools and did not know where to go,” remembered Cobb. “We met Duggan after we came back from the Speculator shaft.”

Manus Duggan was born on May 30, 1887, in Coatesville, Pennsylvania.

He was pure-blooded Irish, the son of two first-generation immigrants named Mary and John Duggan. The closest that Manus came to a birthright was his auburn hair, green eyes, and a tradition of mining—his father made his living in the Coatesville coal mines. At the time of the fire, Manus’s father was dead. His mother, though, was actually on a train bound for Butte. Manus had saved for months to raise the money to bring her west.

As a boy, Manus had managed to obtain an elementary education. At age twelve, though, he joined his father in the coal mines, “picking slate.”

The precise year that Duggan arrived in Butte is unknown, but it is believed that he headed west during one of Coatesville’s periodic downturns. He may have arrived in Butte in 1906 at the age of twenty-one. It is known that in that year Duggan took a room at the Brogan Boarding House, an establishment named for its proprietor, Mary Brogan.

Mary Brogan’s daughter Madge was a preteen when Manus moved in, but he caught her eye from the beginning. “He was the finest looking man who ever walked the earth,” she would say in her later life. “I was crazy about him from the time I was eleven years old.”

Madge was eighteen and Manus was twenty-seven when they married, on April 7, 1915, at the Sacred Heart Church. Forgoing any sort of honeymoon, the newlyweds put Manus’s modest savings toward the construction of a small house—which Manus built himself.

It was a piecemeal process, with construction progressing in tandem with Manus’s wages. Madge would remember the greatest gift that Manus ever gave her—a porcelain commode. The indoor toilet took the place of an outdoor privy and eliminated frosty nighttime treks during Butte’s frigid winters.

Duggan worked for the North Butte Mining Company as a “nipper.” The primary responsibility of nippers was to sharpen tools, a constant need, as the miners drilled into solid rock. In the course of their workday, nippers moved throughout the mine, gathering up tools, shuttling them to the surface, and returning with freshly honed equipment. In their daily travels, the nippers developed a familiarity with every crosscut, manway, and drift.

A miner named Josiah James was the first to encounter Manus Duggan after the start of the fire. James was working with his partner, a young Italian, when they learned of the burning shaft. The two partners, after fleeing the burning Granite Mountain shaft, decided to split up in order to warn others. The Italian miner would later be found dead. James had better luck—the first man he met was Duggan.

Duggan offered to help spread the alarm as they searched desperately for a way out. Manus and James ran through the smoky labyrinth, gathering up the men—and boys—they found along the way. They covered an enormous amount of ground in a period of less than an hour: down twenty stories from the 2,400 to the 2,600; back up to the 2,400; then up to the 2,200; then down again to the 2,400. Seventeen-year-old Willy Lucas was at work on the 2,400 when he received the nipper’s warning, falling quickly in tow.

At the 2,600, Duggan found an Austrian immigrant named Godfrey Galia. “I was working on the 2,600 level when the nipper ran in and told us there was a fire in the shaft.”
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