Sunday, January 13, 2019

Hurricane Creek Mine Disaster

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

In the spring of 2014, Joann and I were on a photography trip to Kentucky. One place we wanted to visit was a memorial to a mining disaster that occurred back on December 30, 1970.

Forty-eight years ago, 40 miners left their families to work in the Finley coal mine at Hurricane Creek, outside of Hyden, Kentucky. Just after lunch, an explosion rocked the mine. Thirty-eight miners were inside the mine.

One miner, A. T. Collins, was the lone survivor of this tragedy. He was just returning to the mine when the explosion occurred and was blown back over 60 feet. He is honored with a plaque on the statue of a miner at the memorial. The plaque says, “A.T. Collins, 1923-2007, Survived by his wife Dora, four children, six grandchildren, and two great grandchildren. He worked as the beltman. He was the lone survivor of the tragedy and was blown over 60 feet out of the mine.”

The memorial consists of 16 gates along a winding path that leads to the full memorial. On each post is a bronze miner’s hat representing one of the miners who was killed.

The hat above honors James Minton, Age 27, survived by his wife Geraldine, and his daughter, Sondra, two years old. He was a veteran, having served in the Army for three years. He performed in musical groups on many occasions. He lived in Manchester.

Honoring Lawrence Gray, Age 30, Survived by his wife Nancy, children, Charlotte, 9, Wade, 7, parents, Ballard and Ollie Gray, three sisters and three brothers. He lived on Elk Creek in Clay County. He worked in the mines at least ten years.

This helmet, honors Howard Couch, Age 34, Survived by his wife Daisy, four children, Phyllis Jean, 10, Berna Dean, 7, Charlene, 5, Eva Carol, 2, and his parents, Will and Elsie Couch. His twin brother, Holt was also killed.

Honoring Theo Griffin, Age 28, Survived by his wife Martha, and daughter, Sandra Carol, 6. He lived on Paces Creek in Clay County. He worked in the mines for four months. His brother-in-law, Jeff Spurlock was also killed.

At the back of the memorial is a long row of plaques with information about each of the miners who died in the explosion.

As you walk along reading the plaques, you see that many last names are repeated. For example, brothers Arnold and Armond Wagers were both killed in the explosion. Another Wagers is listed along with them, but doesn’t include any possible relation.

All in all, 65 children were left without fathers at the end of the day. Thirty-eight families were changed forever.

The most interesting thing about this memorial, besides its size and detail about the men who died, is that it sits at the site of the sealed mine.

The whole time we were at the memorial, we were the only ones there. It was a very serene place to spend some time honoring these men who perished just trying to make a living for their families.

If you get a chance to visit this or other memorials, we encourage you to do so.

Happy Shunpiking!

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes by clicking on the photo. You will be taken to the gallery website where you will see a big blue "BUY" button. Or to see all photos available, click on the "Browse Galleries" button on the menu at the top of this page. Thank you for your interest!

Thursday, January 3, 2019

New Year's Snowfall

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

On New Year’s Eve Day, it started raining early here in southern Wisconsin. Then, as a cold front moved through, the rain changed to snow and by late afternoon, the trees were coated in snow creating a winter wonderland…not only briefly for the eyes as dusk fell over the land, but also for the mind. I wondered how long it would continue to snow. I wondered if the trees would hang onto their coats of snow through New Year’s Day. And I wondered how quickly the roads would be cleared so I could go photographing.

When I got up the next morning, the trees and bushes were totally coated in snow and it was indeed beautiful. I wanted to head out immediately to photograph, but the road I live on hadn’t been thoroughly plowed and neither had my driveway. So, I waited, impatiently, until around 10:00 a.m., hoping that the trees would hang onto the snow for a while longer. I decided not to go too far because the roads were still snow-covered and slippery. The hillsides along the road to Indian Lake County Park were a feast for the eyes.

I thought I would stop first at Halfway Prairie, which is across from the park. But as I approached, I could see that the road into the wildlife area hadn’t been plowed, so I turned into the park and immediately pulled to the side of the road. The view of the stone barn and stone house ruins at Halfway Prairie was beautiful from there.

I then proceeded to the parking area, stopping along the way to check out the view. In one direction, was Indian Lake, which hadn’t totally frozen over yet, so the middle of the lake was a deep blue.

In another direction, looking across the snow-covered landscape, I could see a barn that I had passed on the way to the park. It was nestled between snow-covered sumac bushes and a wooded hillside coated in snow.

I proceeded to the parking lot, parked the car, and then decided that I would attempt the long, steep climb to the top of the bluff. I had hiked to the top numerous times in my life, but never in winter. I wondered how slippery it would be. I hadn’t exactly thought this through, so I hadn’t brought a walking stick or cleats for my boots. But I started the ascent anyway. You can always turn around, right?

As I hiked up the hill, I saw a few other hikers, cross country skiers, and families pulling sleds and carrying snowboards. And I could hear the sound of laughter. The higher I got, however, the quieter and more peaceful it became and I was the only person on the trail for at least an hour.

As I reached the top of the hill and the trail leveled off, I could see St. Mary of the Oaks Chapel. According to the historical sign I had passed at the start of the trail, “the structure was built in 1857 by John Endres in fulfillment of a religious vow he made in return for protecting the lives of his family during a diphtheria epidemic. Aided by his son Peter, Endres hauled several tons of stone to the hilltop with an ox team.”

Beyond the chapel, the trail leading to the scenic overlook was beautiful and magical. It drew me down the trail and I photographed my way to the overlook.

When you reach the overlook, at any time of the year, it’s so beautiful that it almost takes your breath away.

You can see for miles from that overlook, but I was also drawn to pull the lake in closer. From there, you could see just how much of the lake was still unfrozen.

On the way back from the overlook, I stopped once again at the little chapel. I wanted a close-up with the wire fence and gate covered with snow. But the trail is pretty close to the gate and the hillside drops off quickly beyond the trail. So, I set up my tripod and began to carefully back up to the edge of the drop-off. I was so busy watching my feet that I didn’t watch my head. Before I knew it, I had bumped into a low-hanging branch causing lots of snow to fall off and land on my head, down my back (inside my shirt), and even inside my gloves. Oops!

I started my long descent down the hillside and was thankful for the steps and railings on the steepest part of the trail.

I continued to enjoy my peaceful hike down the hill and when I was nearing the bottom, two hikers approached and we had a short conversation in which I encouraged them to hike all the way to the top. The woman turned to continue hiking, but the man hesitated as he looked at a snow-covered bench. And then he stuck out his index finger and wrote “2019” in the snow on the top part of the bench. After they left, I decided that a photo of this bench was an appropriate ending to my New Year’s Day hike.

Happy New Year and Happy Shunpiking!

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes by clicking on the photo. You will be taken to the gallery website where you will see a big blue "BUY" button. Or to see all photos available, click on the "Browse Galleries" button on the menu at the top of this page. Thank you for your interest!