Posted By Norman Gasbarro on August 2, 2013
One hundred years ago, on 2 August 1913, two explosions occurred in the East Brookside Colliery near Tower City, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, resulting in what was the worst mining disaster in the area and the eventual loss of life of twenty miners and laborers. The connection of this disaster to the family of Josiah Hand, Civil War veteran, was not immediately noted by the news reports that came out of the region. However, when Josiah Hand died a few months later on 26 August 1913, his obituary did make the connection.
WAR VETERAN DIES AT MUIR
Josiah Hand died at the home of his daughter at Muir, Schuylkill County, after an eight month illness with dropsy, at the age of 79. He is survived by three brothers, three sisters, ten children, twenty nine grandchildren and fourteen great grandchildren. Deceased was born in Porter Township and lived there the greater part of his life. He was a private in Company F, 173rd Regiment [173rd Pennsylvania Infantry], and was the grandfather of the two Hand brothers who list their lives in the mine explosion at Tower City, 2 August. Funeral services were held last Friday.
Previously on this blog, the grave of Josiah Hand was featured in the post on Civil War veterans buried at one of the cemeteries in Muir, now the United Methodist Cemetery, but previously the Grace Evangelical Cemetery.
The information previously reported was sketchy:
Josiah Hand, was a Private in the 173rd Pennsylvania Infantry, Company F. He married a woman named Jane and was living in Porter Township in 1890. The approximate birth year of 1833 that was mentioned in prior posts needs to be corrected to reflect the birth year on his grave marker – born in 1834 – and his death year of 1913 can now be added as indicated on the stone.
Since last reported, readers have contributed the following additional information – that Josiah Hand was married to Jane Osman, also found in the records as Emma Jane Osman. Finding his obituary helped make the connection to the East Brookside Mine Disaster, and has also helped fill in some of the other missing family information.
The two grandsons of Josiah Hand who were killed at East Brookside Colliery were named in the news reports and a portion of one report is shown below from the Philadelphia Inquirer, 3 August 1913:
In the first explosion it is supposed that thirteen men were killed and in the second one all but six of the rescuers who went into the relief of the victims met their death.
The Known Dead
The known dead are:
HOWARD HAND, aged 21, laborer, single.
HARRY HAND, aged 24, laborer, wife and three children. They are sons of a widowed mother of Reinerton, a village nearby….
Howard Hand and Harry Hand were the oldest sons of Ellsworth Hand and his wife Kathryn R. “Kate” [Long] Hand of Porter Township. As stated in the mine disaster reports, Kate was a widow. Ellsworth Hand, the oldest son of Josiah Hand was born 6 February 1865 and died on 6 April 1912, just more than a year prior to the mine disaster. Thus, the family had experienced a tragedy when Ellsworth died in 1912, forcing the oldest sons, Harry and Howard to help support the widowed mother Kate Hand. But Harry already had started his family, and with a wife and three young children, had his own responsibilities. Thus, the responsibilities of taking care of the mother and younger siblings fell heavily upon the 21-year-old Howard Hand.
Ellsworth Hand was buried in the family burial plot at Fairview Cemetery in Muir and according to the cemetery list for that cemetery, his stone confirms the death date of 6 April 1912 and his life span of 47 years and one month. When the two brothers were killed in the mine disaster, the decision was made to bury them with their father. The funeral was described by the Philadelphia Inquirer of 6 August 1913:
SEES HER TWO SONS BURIED THEN DIES
Mother of Mine Disaster Victims Follows Her Boys to Grave. Nine Funerals Held.
The funerals of Harry and Howard Hand, brothers, were held from the home of the former at Reiner City with interment in the Orwin Cemetery [Fairview].
Mrs. Hand after attending the funeral of her two sons died tonight of shock. The aged woman had borne up well under her bereavement, but today at the funeral she broke down when the two caskets which contained her sons ware placed in the graves.
While the above story appears to be about Kate [Long] Hand, who was the mother of the two boys, the cemetery list does not bear out that she died the day of the funeral. In the same plot as Ellsworth Hand and the sons, Harry and Howard, there is a Kathryn R. Hand, wife of Ellsworth, and mother, who reportedly died on 11 December 1932, at the age of 62 years, 3 months, and 7 days.
Did someone die as a result of the funeral? Or, was this one of many exaggerated reports that came out of the mine disaster?
On the day of the disaster, a Wilkes-Barre newspaper initially reported that 100 milers had died:
One day later, when more accurate accounts could be taken of the dead and missing, the count of dead had only reached 19. The 20th and last to die was Harry Schoffstall, who lingered for six days and died, according to a 9 August report from the wire services:
Harry Schoffstall was buried at the Greenwood Cemetery, Tower City, Porter Township.
As for Josiah Hand, the tragedies that surrounded him may have been too much for him bear. His wife had died in 1892, about a year after he applied for an invalid pension based on his Civil War service. In 1910, his was living in the household of his daughter, Hattie [Hand] Seiler, the place where he died in 1913 after suffering from apoplexy (“stroke”). Hattie’s husband, William L. Seiler (1875-1921), was also a miner at the East Brookside Colliery, and died in 1921, leaving his widow Hattie with at least four minor children. At this time, it is not known if William L. Seiler was in or around the mine at the time of the explosion and/or whether he was injured. Hattie died in 1961 and is buried with her husband William at the Grace Methodist Cemetery in Muir.
More information is sought on Civil War veteran Josiah Hand and his family, particularly as it relates to his war record, his children, and the effects on the family resulting from the East Brookside Mine disaster. Also sought is any information that would connect any of the other victims of this disaster to Civil War veterans. Comments can be added to this post or can be sent via e-mail to the blog.
The 1913 East Brookside Mine Disaster will be re-visited this evening, 2 August 2013, at 7:00 p.m. at the Tremont Borough Building, 139 Clay Street, Tremont, Pennsylvania. The presentation, by Perry A. Pillar of the Tremont Area Historical Society, will reconstruct the chain of events that caused the accident, and discuss the aftermath – including a possible rush to judgment and potential cover-up. For further information call 570-695-3674.
News articles pictured above are from the on-line resources of the Free Library of Philadelphia and from the obituary collection of the Gratz Historical Society. The picture of the East Brookside Colliery is from the Lykens-Williams Valley History, available as a free download from the Internet Archive. Cemetery information in the Tower City area is from three separate resources: (1) Muir Cemeteries: Grace Methodist Cemetery, Muir, Porter Township, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania; and Fairiew (Schwalm/Tallman’s) Cemetery, Muir, Porter Township, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. (2) Greenwood Cemetery (1896): Tower City, Porter Township, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. (3) St. Paul’s Lutheran Church Cemetery, Tower City, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania.