Are you interested in teaching your children about life’s priorities while exploring local history? If so, spend an afternoon visiting graves of Coal Creek miners who wrote farewell messages after mine explosions trapped them underground. These testaments, written by men taking their last breaths, provide a unique perspective on what is important in life.
The subject of each message is the same....God and family. You or your children may want to read each farewell message aloud over the grave of the miner who wrote it. A suggested itinerary for visiting these cemeteries, and selected farewell messages, include:
Longfield Baptist Church
|Directions to mine
Coal mine explosions at Fraterville on May 19, 1902, and Briceville on December 9, 1911, killed nearly 300 men and boys in the Coal Creek watershed of Anderson County, Tennessee. The youngest miner was 12 years old. Most died instantly, but some lived up to two days before suffocating. Twelve left poignant farewell messages, written while awaiting death.
Cemeteries where these miners are buried are marked with “Coal Creek Mine Disaster Burial Site” signs. A self-guided tour begins at Longfield Cemetery, located on the north side of Norris Freeway, 0.3 miles east of I-75 exit 128 in Lake City, TN.
Continue the tour by turning right onto Norris Freeway from Longfield Cemetery, proceeding to the first stoplight, and turning right onto Highway 25W. Wilson Cemetery is located behind Days Inn adjacent to I-75.
From Wilson Cemetery, go south on Highway 25W. Turn right at the second stoplight onto Highway 116 and proceed 4 miles to Briceville Cemetery, passing the town of Fraterville on the way. Park at Briceville School or the clinic and walk up the hill to Briceville Church Cemetery.
From Briceville Cemetery, return to the intersection of Highways 25W and 116, turn right, and proceed 0.8 miles on Highway 25W to Old Lake City Highway. Turn right on Old Lake City Highway and drive 4.5 miles to Pleasant Hill Cemetery.
From Pleasant Hill Cemetery, return to the intersection of Old Lake City Highway and Highway 25W. Turn right on Highway 25W, drive 0.8 miles to New Clear Branch Road, and turn left. Follow the signs to Leach Cemetery at Clear Branch Baptist Church. More details about these men and boys can be found on the Internet at www.coalcreekaml.com.
Briceville Elementary School students
|Powell Harmon is buried next to his son, William Condy Harmon, in Longfield Cemetery. Before he suffocated in the Fraterville Mine, Powell wrote: “Dear wife and children, my time has come to die. I trust in Jesus. Teach the children to believe in Jesus. We are all almost smothered. I hope to meet you all in heaven. May God bless you all wife and children for Jesus sake goodbye until we meet to part no more. My boys, never work in the coal mines. Henry and Condy be good boys and stay with your mother and trust for Jesus sake.” Condy did not follow his father’s advice. He died nine years later in the Cross Mountain Mine explosion in Briceville. If you wanted to support your family in Coal Creek in the early 1900's, you mined coal. Today, a good education provides students with unlimited opportunities like Powell Harmon’s great-grandson who owns a software development company. Coal mining has also changed. In the early 1900's, thousands of coal miners died each year. In 2004, 25 coal miners died while providing the fuel that generated over half of the electricity used in the U.S. An experienced mining machine operator can now support his or her family by earning up to $80,000 per year.|
Frank Sharp, who is buried in Wilson Cemetery behind Days Inn, left a farewell message to his wife. Since he had no paper, he scratched his message on a piece of slate saying, “Dear Mabel, I am dying for air. I will soon be gone. Meet me in heaven. Help Jesus. Take care of the children and do the best you can. Meet me in heaven”.
Briceville Church Cemetery
Farewell message from Cross Mountain written on barricade wall inside the mine
Pleasant Hill Baptist Church Cemetery
Leach Cemetery at Clear Branch Baptist Church
Newspapers in 1902 reported that as many as 216 bodies were recovered from the mine, but only 184 were identified. Itinerant miners killed in the explosion were not included in the official listing of fatalities because their names were unknown. They are buried under simple fieldstones next to the railroad siding that leads to the abandoned Fraterville Mine.
Farewell messages written by the Coal Creek miners were printed in newspapers nationwide allowing the general public to know coal miners by name for the first time. Increased public awareness about the dangers of mining resulted in new government safety regulations and development of rescue methods. Advances in technology and improved mining practices make coal mining as safe today as many other professions.
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