November 21, 2023 - Sunday afternoon, Marion County, WV officials gathered with representatives from the United Mine Workers of America at the Farmington Mine Memorial to remember the Consol No. 9 Mine disaster, which killed 78 miners 55 years ago this week.
The disaster rocked Marion County on the cold morning of Nov. 20, 1968, leaving innumerable residents without fathers, sons, brothers, husbands and more. Fifty-five years later, friends and family of those who lost their lives — and even people who have no personal connection to the 78 miners lost in the disaster — still remember the event, and came together Sunday afternoon to remember the fallen victims.
A memorial now stands over the mine, where 55 years ago, 78 men lost their lives in the Consol No. 9 Mine disaster.
Staff photo by John Mark Shaver
An explosion at Consolidation Coal Company’s No. 9 Mine near Farmington killed 78 men on Nov. 20, 1968.
Photo: Michael Lemley
“A lot of people gave their lives here for the betterment of the country,” UMWA President Cecil Roberts told WV News. “The folks who died here did so many things — not intentionally, obviously — but at the end of the day, I wouldn’t be president of this union if this hadn’t happened. Democracy came about as a result of this. We wouldn’t have federal and state laws to protect other people of (these miners) hadn’t given their lives.”
Just before the ceremony began, Roberts was asked to take a picture with a young boy whose great uncle was among the 78 souls lost in the mine, and Roberts noted that the lineage of these miners is important, as is never forgetting what they went through.
“His family wanted him to be here to understand what this is all about and to keep the memory of his great uncle alive,” Roberts said. “This morning I was thinking about how many people were related to each one of these miners, and you could come up with a pretty big number. Those numbers multiple over the generations, and it’s wonderful that someone walks up and asks me to take a picture with a kid who is here because his great uncle died here. ...
“(The child) probably never knew anything about that six years ago, but now he does, and hopefully, he’ll be coming here 30 years from now and bringing someone with him. We’re honoring these people and commemorating what happened here, and we should never forget it, because when you forget something, you’re going to repeat it.”
The disaster wasn’t the largest the country had ever seen, nor was it the deadliest, but what made the explosion at Consol No. 9 unique was the media coverage it got, allowing, for the first time, people across the country and world to see the effects that a tragedy at that level has on the entire community around it.
“This wasn’t the first coal mining explosion in West Virginia, and it certainly wasn’t the worst as far as fatalities went. But what was so different about this one is, for the first time ever, because of satellite imagery and things like that, the whole world got to see what coal miners were going through here,” Sen. Mike Caputo said. “Watching the smoke bellow out of those shafts, knowing there was little to no hope of survival, sent a spine-chilling effect all across the country and world. People, for the first time, were seeing the dangers in mining.”
The disaster’s nationwide coverage, and a march in Washington, D.C., led by the families of the 78 miners lost, spurred passage of the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, which forever made the dangerous act of coal mining a safer career for thousands of Americans.
“Before, there was little to no regulation or safety or enforcement powers in the industry,” Caputo said. “The companies all screamed ‘If you make us do this, we’ll go out of business.’ Well, they never went out of business, and thousands of lives were saved because of that act. … We want to remember all loss of life that happened in this industry, but particularly the No. 9 folks, because that is really what changed the direction of coal mine health and safety. …
“Unfortunately, it was tragedy that created these laws, and that’s why we feel so compelled to have a service every year in honor of these brave men and their families.”