Sunshine Mine Disaster
I wrote on this a bit earlier, but not in detail. I was a Senior in High School when this tragic event happened in the Silver Valley (then the "Fabulous Valley") of Northern Idaho. It was May 2nd and the Kellogg High School Track team had gone to Post Falls for a track meet. It was our last track meet before Regionals. On the way home, our bus was stopped by a police car on the flats near the Cataldo Mission. At first we thought it was funny that the bus driver got pulled over, but then L. Johnson was removed from the bus and put into the police car. All they told us was that she had to go home right away.
When we got to Pinehurst, where I was dropped off with all the other Pinehurst kids at the school, someone told us there was a fire at Sunshine Mine. (How could there be a fire at the mine? It was all rock and dirt - what could burn? I thought.) I walked on home with my track bag in hand, thinking about the absurdity of a fire at the mine.
When I reached the edge of our driveway, it hit me. . ."Where was MY Dad?" My dad worked at the Sunshine, and so did L. Johnson's dad. . .in fact a lot of people's dad's worked there. As I came through the front door I hollered, "Mom - Where's Dad?"
"He's in bed sleeping." Whew! Then I began to discuss the mine fire rumour with her. It wasn't a rumour - there was actually a fire underground somewhere in the mine. Some men had been killed. Later, on the radio, the first victims were identified. One was L. Johnson's dad.
Now, the Johnson girls had been life-long friends of mine. P. Johnson was my age, and had gotten married and dropped out of school earlier in the year. Her husband worked at Sunshine, also. The Johnson girl's dad, was one of my dad's best friends. They met during WW2. Both of them served on the USS Comfort - a floating hospital ship. Dad was a Medic, Paul Johnson worked in the laundry (He may have done other jobs, but I just remember my dad telling me that Paul used to starch the nurses undies - or something like that.)
Paul had been the one who urged my dad to relocate from Utah to No. Idaho to work in the mines. It was great money for a guy who was willing to work. My dad had first gone to N. Idaho in 1948 - to visit Paul and try out mining. Although, I don't know when Paul & D got married, my dad said it was there relationship that inspired him to find a bride. In 1952, Dad married Mom, and and they honeymooned their way back to N. Idaho where Dad had been working again for at least a year.
Paul & D were very good friends of my parents. I'm not sure if it was planned but all their kids, and all of us kids were born within months of each other. P was one month older than I. My brother Steven was born one month before L, and J. Johnson was born 3 months before my sister R. We grew up together, we played together, we went to school together. We were close.
When we heard that Paul was gone. We mourned. We drove up to see the family. We didn't know what to say. How can you comfort someone when you have never experienced what they are going through? How can I know how they felt - when I still had my dad? It was sooo hard - but a thousand times tougher for them.
Fortunately, P. s husband had made it out alive - barely. He said, someone reached out, grabbed him, and pulled him into the last "skip" (elevator) out of the mine. Otherwise P would have lost both her dad and her husband. (Some women did lose more than one family member).
Everyone was in a state of shock. Life continued on. We had school and graduation. I spent my evenings after school babysitting the children of the people who's loved ones were still unaccounted for. I wanted to do something - anything to help.
Another friend lost her step-dad. She was in the hospital with appendicitis when she found out. We still had track practice. I was a high jumper - (and for those who don't know me, I'm only 52" and I couldn't run very fast). I jumped the highest I had ever jumped in practice that week. I cleared 4' - a new record for me. I was looking forward to Regionals, but I set Regionals aside that year for funerals. Except for Steven's, when I was two - my first ever.
Graduation that year was bitter sweet. Some students had been in a car accident at our Senior party up the river. The valley was in mourning for the miners, and so what if we were graduating? Some people wouldn't be there. Some very important people. Somebody's dad would be missing. . .and missing. . .for a long time. . .
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Sunshine Mine Disaster