A First Responder

West Kentucky Coal Company letter, 1927

West Kentucky Coal Company letterhead, 1927

On August 4, 1917, an early-morning explosion at the West Kentucky Coal Company’s Mine No. 7, near the city of Clay in Webster County, killed 62 miners.  It was the worst accident in more than 20 years, but James W. Meyers was lucky enough to be pulled out alive.  Meyers’ luck ran out, however, on August 3, 1927, one day before the tenth anniversary of the tragedy, when another explosion rocked Mine No. 7 and he was counted among the 15 dead.

A fellow worker, Earl Hamby of Earlington, responded to the call for volunteers to help with the rescue and recovery mission, and the letter of thanks he received from the company is part of the collections of WKU’s Special Collections Library.  “There was no scarcity of men who were ready to risk their lives,” wrote vice president Thomas E. Jenkins to Hamby.  “Your name is numbered in this list.”  Then he made an observation that has been sustained countless times since, in any number of circumstances: “Every disaster which takes a toll of human life brings forth its heroes.”

A finding aid for Jenkins’ letter to Earl Hamby can be downloaded here.  For more resources at the Special Collections Library relating to coal and coal mining, search TopScholar and KenCat.

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