The morning after an explosion ripped through the Monongah No. 6 and No. 8 mines, the Fairmont Times headline read, "All hope is gone; 425 are dead."
A day after that, The New York Times said it might be even worse. "Loss in mines may reach 564," the paper of record's headline reported.
But to this day, the history books report it differently. For nearly a century, the official Monongah death toll has been listed as 362.
Now, as the 100th anniversary of the disaster approaches, a new book concludes that the long-accepted figure undercounts the dead by perhaps a third.
More than 500 men and boys likely perished in the nation's worst industrial accident, longtime mine safety advocate Davitt McAteer explains in his comprehensive examination of the disaster.
"The number of victims at Monongah will never be known with certainty," McAteer writes. "Clearly it is above 400, more likely above 550. The official number, 362, without question undercounts the dead."
McAteer details how mine operators never kept an accurate count of the workers underground at any particular time, and then set out to deliberately downplay the real number of deaths at Monongah.
He pieces together both old and newly unearthed papers to document a more accurate count of those killed.
McAteer, a Fairmont native who ran the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration during the Clinton administration, has been investigating Monongah for nearly 30 years. He made a short documentary about the disaster in 1986.
His book, "Monongah: The Tragic Story of the 1907 Monongah Mine Disaster, the Worst Industrial Accident in U.S. History," is being published by the West Virginia University Press. The release is scheduled for Dec. 6 — the 100th anniversary of the disaster.
On the anniversary, state and local officials have scheduled a program from 10 a.m. to noon in the Monongah town square. The program will include the reading of the victims' names and the presentation of a special bell by guests from San Giovanni, an Italian town from which many Monongah residents and disaster victims had emigrated.
Following the program, a Mass will be celebrated at Holy Spirit Catholic Church.
In his book, McAteer points out that he is not the first to question the official death figure from Monongah.
After coming to the community as parish priest in 1952, Father Everett Briggs became interested in the victims as he listened to residents tell stories about the disaster.
"Through the years, he has collected information on the accident and especially its victims," McAteer wrote. "By working through local interviews and graveyard records, he has asserted that over 500 men died that day."
And, McAteer found, questions about the accurate number of deaths were raised almost from the start, while mine rescue operations at Monongah were still underway.
Gathering an accurate count would have been difficult, given working conditions and practices at the mine, McAteer explained.
Like most mines at the time, there was no adequate system for keeping track of the number of workers underground.