Decapitated and Burned: Explosion at the Stone House Mine

Two miners digging coal in a coal mine in North Dakota, c. 1925. (Source: dp.la)

Recently I posted an image of a Bureau of Mines Mine Rescue Car that visited the mining town of Roswell in 1923. That image, and a comment from someone who saw it, led me to examine a tragic incident from 1927 that occurred at a local Tuscarawas County coal mine outside of Mineral City.


Two coal miners left their homes on the morning of Thursday, July 27, 1927 to go to work at the Old Stone House Coal Mine, about two miles east of Mineral City, as they did every day. It was a hot and cloudy July day and there was a chance of severe thunderstorms later in the afternoon. Shortly after arriving at the mine, the men went into the shaft to begin the work of boring holes and setting explosive charges to break up the seams of coal. The men had been at work only a couple of hours when, around 9:00 am, an explosion rang out in the mine; throwing dust and debris everywhere.

Many of the men who emigrated from Wales to the United States in the 19th century were miners hoping to find work in the growing coal mines in Pennsylvania and Ohio. One of those men was James Evans Williams (1848-1926) who left Wales in 1871 in search of a new life in America. James originally settled and mined in Stark County, where he became a naturalized citizen in 1879, but moved to Mineral City, Tuscarawas County by 1886 where he married widow Mary M. Weller Burell (1856-1899). The couple had two children, one of which was a son named William Williams (1886-1927).

  • Map of Mineral City, Ohio and the area where the Stone House Coal Mine was operating, 1908.
  • Two coal miners working in a coal mine by candlelight, 1909.

William, after attending school at least until he was 13, followed in the footsteps of his father and worked as a coal miner as well. After working a few years in local coal mines, including one operated by the Somers Mining Company, William married Anna Meagher (1888-1963) in June 1908. The couple rented a home in Mineral City where they started their family that would grow to include four children. William worked for the Magnolia Coal Company when World War One began and, a few years later, began working in the Old Stone House Coal Mine. That mine was being leased, and mined, by a recent Scottish immigrant named William Black (1871-1927).

William Black (1871-1927) was the son of a Scottish coal miner who grew up in the town of Shotts, Scotland, roughly halfway between the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh. William started coal mining at a young age, likely as soon as he left school, and worked in the local coal mines for nearly twenty years before making the decision to immigrate to the United States. William married in 1907 and, two years later moved he and his new family to Mineral City, Ohio to try his luck and perhaps someday operate his own coal mine there.

After arriving in Tuscarawas County William Black worked for a variety of coal mines in the Mineral City area including one operated by George Markley (1854-1938). William Black attempted to partner with another man in their own coal mining operation in the years just before World War One, but that partnership never materialized and led to lawsuits over damages owed one another. William Black then found himself leasing various mines, both productive and otherwise, until he took over the lease on a mine knowns as the Old Stone House Mine by 1927. This mine was located about one-and-a-half-miles east of Mineral City, though its exact location is unclear.

  • Coal miner "tamping" a charge after having already drilled the hole and set the explosive charge, c. 1930. (Source: loc.gov)
  • Map showing abandoned underground mines in the area east of Mineral City, Ohio, 2013. (Source: ohiodnr.gov)

After William Black and William Williams arrived at the Old Stone House Mine on the morning of Thursday, July 27, 1927 they set to work drilling holes in the coal seam in order to plant explosive charges to break the coal free. Once a hole was drilled, the men placed the charge with its fuse in the hole and then needed to fill the hole behind the charge with earth and wet clay so as to maximize the explosion. This process was called “tamping the charge.” According to one witness, it was that mine’s custom to light the fuse before the tamping was complete so as to speed up the process. Unfortunately for Black and Williams, the explosive charge detonated prematurely.

The force of the explosion, and the rock and debris it caused, immediately decapitated William Williams and his burned, headless body was partially buried in the debris. William Black, who had turned away from the explosion, suffered extensive burns on his face and across the entirety of his back. Two men who heard the explosion rushed into the mine, but by the time they arrived there was nothing they could do for either man. Once the bodies were dug out of the debris, they were taken to a mortuary in Mineral City to be examined by the coroner.

William Black was survived by his wife and three children and was buried in German Cemetery in Mineral City; meanwhile, William Williams left behind a wife and four children and was buried in the Greenlawn Cemetery in Sandyville. The explosion at the Old Stone House Mine was allegedly investigated by the appropriate authorities, but illustrates just how dangerous it was to work in the coal mines of Tuscarawas County.

  • New Philadelphia newspaper report of the explosion at the Old Stone House Mine, July 1927. (Source: newspaperarchive.com)
  • William Black's headstone in the German Cemetery, Mineral City, 2016. (Source: findagrave.com)
  • William Williams' headstone in the Greenlawn Cemetery, Sandyville, 2016. (Source: findagrave.com)

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© Noel B. Poirier, 2022.

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