Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

April 29, 2013

Buchanan Historical Society hosts memorial for miners lost in 1938 blast

By BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

OAKWOOD, Va. — The Buchanan County Historical Society marked the 75th anniversary of a tragic explosion at the Red Jacket Coal Company’s Keen Mountain Mine by honoring the families of several of the 45 coal miners who perished in the April 22, 1938 explosion.

Due to rain, organizers moved the ceremony inside the gymnasium of the former Garden High School where Jeff Brown and Still Lonesome Band, performed songs appropriate to the occasion, some family members shared their thoughts, Fred Powers gave a portrayal of a 1938 coal miner, organizers read the, “Roll of Honor” roll call, and lit luminaries in memory of the coal miners who lost their lives in the explosion that occurred at 4:45 p.m.

“There were about 100 to 125 people in attendance,” Janice Busic, public relations spokesperson for the Historical Society said during a telephone interview on Sunday afternoon. “We had some overwhelming responses from some of the family members of the men who died that day.”

Busic said that for her, one of the most memorable moments came when James Keen, a son of Harvey Milton Keen, one of the miners who died in the 1938 disaster, brought his father’s pocket watch with him. “He wound it, and it started ticking,” Busic said.

Historical Society members had written the names of each of the coal miners who died on the luminaries. Busic said that after all the luminaries were lit, organizers dimmed the lights to maximize the impact of the moment.

“We planned last night that this will not be the last one,” Busic said. “There was a lot of interest in the ceremony. There was also interest in taking a hike to the actual mine site,” she said.

News accounts of the disaster and even some of the records of the investigation had some inaccuracies in the spelling of some of the names of the coal miners who died in the explosion. Buchanan County Historical Society members led by the efforts of President Rodney Shortt researched each name and corrected the errors. The society members also invited several surviving family members who participated in the event.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com