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Memorial service to mark 80 years since Nelms Mine disaster

COFFEE BREAK — This photograph from 1940 shows Lois Campbell of Martins Ferry serving coffee to coal miners William Owens and Bus Richards. The men are taking a break from their search and rescue efforts after the Nelms Mine explosion occurred on Nov. 29, 1940. (Contributed photo)

SCIO — As the 80th anniversary of the Nelms Mine explosion nears, the Harrison County Historical Society and Puskarich Public Library will hold a memorial service early next month in honor of those who perished.

Jack Kibble, treasurer of the historical society, said the event will be held at 7 p.m. Nov. 6 at the Barr Gymnasium in Scio. The program will commemorate the 31 lives lost in the Nelms Mine Disaster that occured on Nov. 29, 1940, outside of Cadiz.

On that date, 135 workers were in the mine at the time of the explosion. Of those 104 escaped uninjured, but 31 died.

“There were 31 men killed. Most of them were from the Amsterdam, Cadiz and Scio areas. We just felt as though there should be some type of memorial set up for these men who lost their lives 80 years ago, so the historical society decided to do this (memorial service),” he said.

Kibble said the historical society wants to commemorate the anniversary of the mine disaster as a tribute to those who perished and also those who risked their lives in the rescue attempts that followed the disaster.

The Gillespie Funeral Home in Cadiz aided with the ambulance services and funerals after the explosion occurred in 1940. Kibble said he later purchased the funeral home from its founder in 1970.

“Gillespie told me a lot of stories because he had the initial call during the Nelms Mine explosion. He did all the ambulance work back in the day as funeral directors did. He relayed a lot of stories to me, including of the disaster,” he said.

This was just one of the reasons Kibble wanted to aid in commemorating the miners who died that day. He said he will use some of the memories he gained from Gillespie and information from articles that ran in newspapers to have a slideshow memorial regarding the disaster.

During the event, the two organizations will conduct a memorial service then the historical society will present a bronze plaque to the library that includes the names of the 31 men who perished in the explosion. Kibble said the plaque will be housed in the Harrison County History of Coal Museum, located in the lower level of the library.

Kibble said he is also hoping to gather 31 volunteers to stand in for the 31 men who died as their names are read aloud during the service.

“We may try to get 31 volunteers of coal miners from the Ohio Valley and we’ll give them a card with a name on it. When their name is called during the memorial, they can come up and stand. I don’t know if that’s going to happen, but we will read the names of the 31 men who perished,” he said.

All are invited and welcome to attend the free event.

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