Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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May 4, 2013

Preserving history — Boy Scouts to clear unmarked graves

As one of their community service projects for this summer’s 2013 National Jamboree, the Boy Scouts of America will be helping to preserve history in McDowell County.

The Boy Scouts have been recruited to assist with a project to clear the unmarked graves of miners killed in the 1912 explosion near the site of the Jed Coal & Coke Co. mine. The blast claimed 83 miners.

This is an important project that is more than worthy of support from the Boy Scouts of America.

 The McDowell County Commission was recently able to track down the location of the unmarked cemetery near Havaco, a small unincorporated community a few miles west of the Welch city limits, according to County Commission President Gordon Lambert.

The unmarked burial site is located in the Little Egypt section of Havaco, not far from the site of the March 26, 1912 explosion at the Jed Mine. The remains of most of the 83 victims in the blast lie in unmarked graves behind a row of houses in Havaco, but 100-plus years of unchecked growth has made the field essentially unknown, and almost gone from memory altogether.

Lambert says the commission has been working with the Boy Scouts of America to identify potential community service projects that the scouts can undertake during the National Jamboree scheduled for July 15 to 24 at the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve in Fayette County. While the travel time from Fayette to McDowell counties could be a challenge, Lambert said officials are working hard to make the project a reality.

“We know that the Boy Scouts will not be able to operate any machinery, so we’re going to rely on the AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps) to help us when we need to use machinery,” Lambert said.

Jerry Stepp, who works for the county commission, was able to pinpoint the location of the historic cemetery after talking to residents in the Havaco area.

“It’s not marked, and that’s something we need to address in the future,” Stepp said. “The first thing we need to do is get the site cleared and work on keeping it cleared.”

Many of the miners killed in the 1912 explosion were immigrants with few friends and no relatives, according to Lacy Dillon, who wrote about the deadly blast in his 1976 book on West Virginia’s mine disasters, “They Died in Darkness.”

We applaud the commissioners, and all those involved, in helping to locate and now take steps to preserve this historic unmarked cemetery. Although more than 100 years have now passed, it is still critical that we remember and pay proper tribute to those who died in the 1912 blast.

We also welcome the involvement of the Boy Scouts of America in this worthy community service project. We think the cemetery preservation project will be a great experience, as well as a unique history lesson, for the scouts.

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