On January 30, 1911, the worst mining accident since the disaster in Monongah, West Virginia occurred in Frotua, Ohio. 298 men and young boys were drowned when a black coal mine flooded from a rupture in the Allegheny River.
There were at least eleven known survivors, but many were migrant Italian workers with little command of the English language and a fear of authority. Other survivors may have remained hidden for fear of punishment.
One known survivor, identified as Vincenzo Petrulli, chanted, “in piedi morti,” as he emerged from the earth, which translates to “the standing dead.”
In a statement to police that eventually aided in convicting Petrulli and the other survivors for the murders of the other mine workers, he described an explosion that initially killed about a dozen workers, the subsequent waters of the Allegheny River capturing all but about three dozen men.
“My brother,” Vincenzo said, “I was holding his hand when the stream tore him away. I don’t know how I wound up on dry land, but I asked St. Brendano to spare me one more time and went back in. But the water was too black and rising. The others pulled me free and we began searching for a way out.
“We heard them by the second day. Reason and our own echoes masked them. But it was the mine and we had no light—solitude and dark inquisitors of all of us. We searched by hand until Carlo chanced upon a box of a few matches and we wound our shirts around sticks to make torches. That was when we saw them, drenched in their clothes. Nunzio [Petrulli’s brother] was there. Some of the others wanted to go to them, to help them. They seemed blind, but I warned them away. I knew that was not my brother.”
Vincenzo’s written statement is highly redacted after that point, but it goes on to state they found a secondary path leading out of the mine, but before exiting one of the miners ignited several sticks of dynamite, the explosion collapsing the narrow passageway and sealing in forever those who could not pull themselves free.
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