Spirits of the Fraterville Itinerant Miners

The Fraterville Mine in the Coal Creek Watershed of Anderson County exploded on May 19, 1902.  Over 200 men and boys were killed, making it the worst disaster in the history of mining in the South. The exact number of fatalities is uncertain.  Bodies were dismembered in the explosion, including itinerant miners whose identities were never determined.

Ten of the miners wrote farewell messages to their families before suffocating after the explosion.  Families of the resident miners buried their loved ones in local cemeteries.  Many are buried beneath headstones saying “gone but not forgotten”, while others have their farewell messages inscribed on their headstones.  The disaster left only three adult males alive in the town of Fraterville.  Since that time, Memorial Day has been celebrated on May 19th in Coal Creek in memory of the miners who lost their lives in the Fraterville explosion. 

The itinerant miners had no family members to care for them.  They were buried by strangers adjacent to the railroad trestle in Fraterville without anyone even knowing their names.  Today, the old railroad trestle is gone and the mine portal is sealed.  Only fieldstones remain to mark the graves of the itinerant miners. 

 

Bodies of Fraterville miners being put on a train and transported for burial

 Account of the Fraterville Mine Explosion
(Tennessee Division of Labor):

The miners had not been in the mine more than an hour when at 7:20 a.m., thick smoke and dust were seen coming from the ventilating shaft and from the mouth of the mine.  Rescuing parties were organized and penetrated about 200 feet where they came upon the body of a victim of the afterdamp.

Along the main entry the force of the explosion was terrific, timbers and cogs placed to hold a squeeze were blown out, mine cars, wheels, and doors were shattered, and bodies were dismembered.

In other parts of the mine no heat or violence was shown and suffocation had brought death to those whose bodies were found there. A barricade had been placed across 15 right entry near the heading to protect the miners there from the deadly afterdamp. The 26 men found there must have lived for several hours, as notes were written as late as 2:00 p.m.”

Spirits of the itinerant miners are said to still be calling for family members to care for them and remember their names.  If you visit the graves of the itinerant miners on a clear night when the wind is blowing and the moon is full, listen carefully.  You may be able to hear them whispering their names.

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