The Day That Shook Sullivan, Indiana, in 1925

By. P. H.
On February 20, 1925 a normal day began in the small town of Sullivan, Indiana until 10:30 a.m. when the small town shook with the explosion of City Coal MineSullivan was a booming town due to the boom in the coalmining industry within southern Indiana, but on this Friday morning 51 fathers, sons, and brothers perished in one of the worst mine explosions in Indiana history.
Sullivan, Indiana had a population of 4,489 in the year 1920[1]Like many communities in southern Indiana, Sullivan’s economy and livelihood was primarily based on the coal mining industry.
            Although the City Coal Mine was a comparatively small mine it was equipped with modern machineryHuge dynamos generated electricity to run the conveyor on which all coal was moved to the surface as opposed to other mines, which utilized mules to bring the coal to the surface[2].
            On February 20th, Harry Anderson, mine superintendent, was on his way to investigate a reported gas pocket in the northeast part of the mineA man named Elmer E. Davidson saw Harry Anderson just seconds before the explosion occurredDavidson was working along a row of empty cars when Anderson passed by with a lantern to investigate the report, only a few seconds later a rush of air passed by with the roaring sound of the explosionDavidson recalled that moment, “The next thing I knew was pulling something off of me.”[3] Elmer Davidson was one of the seventy lucky men that survived the fatal explosion at City Coal Mine.
            John M. Lowry, president of the City Coal company, was on the bottom at the time of the explosionLike many other men, Lowry narrowly escaped serious injury and a probable fatal dayOnly a short time before the explosion, Lowry left the area of the center of the explosionWhen the mineshaft exploded, Lowry was blown into a rib of coal near the bottom of the shaft, causing him to wander through the rubble for nearly a half hour before escaping to freedom[4]. Mr. Lowry remained at the mine attempting to control the chaos on this day.
            Family, friends, and rescue teams swarmed to the city of the City Coal Mine explosionRescue teams were halted in their efforts to retrieve men from the inside due to dangerous gases consuming the air. Rumors circulated the town of a fire having started, but mine officials denied that a fire had been added to this horrific day.
            When the sun rose the following day, so did people from all directions from news reporters to family memberswhich caused great difficulty for the rescue teams attempting to retrieve the remaining bodies that lay within the mineshaftAt 8 a.m. a large cave – in in the main entry of the City Coal Company’s mine occurred which hindered the recovery of the bodies trapped within the mineshaft[5]Around noon, the rescue workers brought the mine superintendentHarry Anderson’s, body to the surface. He was the seventeenth body to be recovered from the shaftThe Linton Daily Citizen described Harry Anderson’s condition and his face being nearly mashed to jellyindicating that the full force of the blast impacted himDespite the horrific situation and confusion, the site at the mine was not one of chaosbut one of perfect organizationSurrounding towns sent first aid teamswhich were cooperating with federal rescue squads and the Sullivan Red Cross.
            Later that day, Governor Jackson sent a telegram to A.C. Daily, state mine inspectorto extend his sympathy and offer the full extent of the state’s resources for relieving suffering. National Guard units would then be dispatched from Terre Haute to aid in the relief[6]. Henry Baker, director of disaster relief of the American Red Cross, also arrived in Sullivan to take charge of the mine disaster relief work.
            Early Sunday, the last of the fifty-one bodies were recovered from the mineMeanwhile, the state mine inspector, A.C. Dailybegan an investigation to determine the cause of the explosion. Sullivan County ProsecutorNorval K. Harris, also pursued an investigation into the mine explosion to determine if any individual was criminally responsible for the tragedybut discovered no evidence of negligence in the observance of safety rules[7].
            Due to the Sullivan tragedy, stricter safety regulations for Indiana Miners were put into placeSenator George Sims of Terre Hauteintroduced a bill that would bring stricter regulations to the mining industryThe Sims bill provided that all mines would have a second outlet for emergencyalong with other provisions to support miners’ safetyThe Sullivan City Coal Mine had a lasting impactwhich would provide for safer working conditions to prevent from other mining disasters in Indiana.

[2]  Logansport Pharos - Tribune
[3] Logansport Pharos – Tribune, 21 February 1925
[4] Linton Daily Citizen, 24 February 1925
[5] Linton Daily Citizen, 21 February 1925
[6] Linton daily Citizen, 21February 1925
[7] Last of Fifty-One Bodies Taken From Mine Early Sunday, Linton Daily Citizen, 23 February 1925