Miners used duplicate brass tags that, in theory, registered every worker present in the mine. As miners went underground, they placed one tag on a board with numbered hooks. That told managers who was in the mine. The other tag was put in the miner's pocket, to identify the miner in case of an accident.
But, McAteer reports, "The numbering system did not include men and boys who were brought in as subcontractors for the miners who were being paid per ton of coal loaded out." Many of these workers were "off the books," he says.
To make matters worse, the Monongah explosion blew everything in its path to bits, including both boards containing tags for nearly all of the miners inside the No. 6 and No. 8 mines, McAteer says.
And after initial reports put the number of possible dead at between 400 and 500, mine officials "began an effort to downplay the number of miners killed," McAteer found. McAteer describes the way that one mine official, fireboss Lester Trader, "was used to publicly assert a lower number to the media in return for a promotion."
But in his investigation, McAteer compared various lists and public records to come up with a more comprehensive count.
"The official number of 362 was clearly a count of located bodies, identified victims that were matched with names from a company survey," McAteer writes. "Thirteen others were recorded in newspaper accounts or as visitors, railroad men, and so on, making the total 375."
At least another 58 bodies of boys and men "working off the books," also were found, McAteer discovered, bringing the total to 433.
"Using a conservative estimate, the approximately 50 bodies that were never recovered results in a total of 488," he writes.
And two early estimates from mine officials put the number in excess of 500, and as high as 550 or 578.
Independent surveys by the parish priests of Italian and Austro-Hungarian members of the two immigrant churches in Monongah came up with a count of 410.
"When added to the 'Americans,' both black (11) and white (74), and the Turks (5), the total comes to 500," McAteer concludes. "So it is reasonable to conclude that the disaster at the Monongah mines certainly claimed in excess of 500 lives and probably more than 550 men."
To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., use e-mail or call 348-1702.
The WVU Press is taking advance orders for McAteer's book through www.wvupress.com, or by calling 293-8400. The price for pre-ordered books is $25 plus tax and shipping. After Jan. 31, the price will be $30.
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.
Following the program, a Mass will be celebrated at Holy Spirit Catholic Church.