Ter­ror down be­low

Fortean Times - - Contents - THEO PAIJMANS

Mines have of­ten suf­fered hor­rific dis­as­ters and many be­came haunted places. In 1901, an Amer­i­can en­gi­neer pointed out that of all el­e­va­tor ac­ci­dents each year very few re­sulted from the break­ing of ca­bles or brakes. The vic­tims stepped into the shaft, think­ing they saw the el­e­va­tor car. This was plagu­ing the min­ing re­gions of Colorado. It be­gan in one of the deep sil­ver mines of Leadville. A miner had stepped into a shaft where there was no cage. Be­fore he died, he told the doc­tor that he ‘saw’ the cage in the shaft. This started an epi­demic of sim­i­lar ac­ci­dents in mines out West. “I have talked to old min­ers and they said they dread noth­ing more than the ‘ghost of the cage’.” 1

Tales like this hin­dered the ex­ploita­tion of Amer­i­can mines, chemist and min­ing ex­pert John Finn Jr pointed out in 1936. He had just re­turned from an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of 30 mines in the Western states and had found that each one had a ghost leg­end. 2

Other mine dis­as­ters gave birth to new tales. When a ter­ri­ble ex­plo­sion took 200 lives in the Win­ter Quar­ter Mine in Utah in 1899, min­ers soon con­cluded that it was haunted. Strange and un­usual noises were heard at times; oth­ers had seen a head­less man walk­ing about, and even climb­ing into a coal car and rid­ing with the driver to the mouth of the tun­nel – where he dis­ap­peared. Mys­te­ri­ous lights were seen in the grave­yard where many vic­tims of the ex­plo­sion were buried. “These lights are al­ways fol­lowed by a death…” 3

In 1889, a mine near Bar­nesville, Ohio, was plagued by the sud­den ap­pear­ance of a ‘daz­zling star’. “The other day two of the min­ers were out in the main en­try of the mine… when a bright ball of fire, in the shape of a star, sud­denly ap­peared be­fore them. In a mo­ment the star be­came in­tensely bril­liant and fairly daz­zled their eyes. Now it swayed back and forth, up and down, with great ra­pid­ity.” The star-like light played hide-and­seek, go­ing in­side the mine for a dis­tance of about 300 yards, to dis­ap­pear and sud­denly reap­pear be­hind the star­tled min­ers. This went on for some time. When a cave-in fol­lowed, the light was seen as an omen. 4

When dis­as­ter struck the Cour­rières mine in France in 1906, a jour­nal­ist from the

Petit Parisien in­ves­ti­gated min­ers’ lives and their sto­ries. He found that although the min­ers in the Loire basin were the least su­per­sti­tious, they still be­lieved that there were places in the mine they were for­bid­den to en­ter, “based on a com­pact with the Earth”.

Min­ers re­fused to work af­ter “the fig­ure of a woman bear­ing a lamp had been seen in the work­ings and the screams of a woman heard...”

The re­porter was also told about sud­den ap­pear­ances of vic­tims of ear­lier dis­as­ters and of mys­te­ri­ous ham­mer­ing sounds emerg­ing from de­serted gal­leries. It was re­mem­bered that Emile Zola al­ready recorded, in his novel Ger­mi­nal, the be­lief held by many min­ers in the North­ern basin in a ‘black man’, a mys­te­ri­ous in­hab­i­tant of the mine, and of how every ex­plo­sion was an­nounced by strange por­tents; white bats would sud­denly ap­pear or white specks would fill the air. 5

Min­ers also of­ten com­plained of hear­ing un­usual sounds. In 1871, min­ers work­ing in the pit at Cwm­nant­ddu col­liery at Abersy­chan, near Pon­ty­pool, Wales, had be­come so ter­ri­fied by sub­ter­ranean noises and sto­ries of ex­tra­or­di­nary ‘sights’ that the min­ing com­pany was forced to con­duct an in­quiry: nat­u­ral causes, it con­cluded, and the do­ings of a prankster, a man named John Har­vey, who was brought be­fore court. 6

In 1890, the news­pa­pers men­tioned a re­mark­able story in con­nec­tion with an ex­plo­sion at the Morfa col­liery in Wales that killed 87 peo­ple. Weeks be­fore the dis­as­ter, there was talk among the min­ers of in­ex­pli­ca­ble noises and shouts, “spir­its and noises and slam­ming of doors”. Min­ers re­turn­ing to the sur­face told of be­ing ac­com­pa­nied by an in­vis­i­ble pres­ence. Such was the at­mos­phere of su­per­nat­u­ral fear and fore­bod­ing that a num­ber of min­ers were said to have stayed away from work in the days be­fore the ex­plo­sion. 7 Twelve years later, some 300 min­ers re­fused to work at Glyn­cor­rwg col­liery near Port Tal­bot in Wales, be­cause “the fig­ure of a woman bear­ing a lighted lamp had been seen in the work­ings and the screams of a woman heard”. 8

The weird sounds in the Refu­gio mine in the Cluspa moun­tains, 60 miles south­west of Alpine, Texas, may hold the record. A hun­dred feet (30m) down in the mine, Henry Body re­ported that “a noise like the burst­ing of a thou­sand cannons sounded in my ears and was fol­lowed by the most ter­rific rush of air… I was lifted from my feet and thrown against the rock walls of the shaft with such force that I was badly bruised and al­most knocked sense­less…” When he dug a new shaft, it de­liv­ered the same re­sults: “The noises be­came so pro­nounced that the work­men re­fused to go on with it, and the whole project was aban­doned”. En­ter­ing the old shaft, all was quiet at first. Then “the phe­nom­ena sud­denly broke forth in all their fury”. The men were hurled with great force sev­eral feet and thrown re­peat­edly against the rock walls of the shaft. They reached the sur­face bruised and with their cloth­ing torn. Boyd gave up, de­scrib­ing the mine as “an in­ferno oc­cu­pied by hel­lish spir­its”. 9

A year later, strange pol­ter­geist ef­fects be­gan to plague a mine in Sonoma, Cal­i­for­nia. When one man went down the shaft he sud­denly felt he was not alone. “He turned around and for a mo­ment as he peered into the dark­ness, less­ened only by his miner’s lamp, he could see noth­ing; but grad­u­ally his eyes be­held a man of enor­mous stature.” Even­tu­ally, the mine was aban­doned. 10 Some­times the ap­pear­ances were more grue­some. In 1887 a “bent, crushed fig­ure” was seen deep in the bow­els of the Brazil mine in In­di­ana, sham­bling “amidst the sub­ter­ranean cham­bers”. 11

Sim­i­lar anom­alies were of­ten seen as por­tents of doom. An old miner, for in­stance, re­fused to work be­cause he had heard “the mea­sured tolling of the church bell” deep down in the mine: “He was laughed at, but per­sisted in go­ing home, and sub­se­quent events proved his good for­tune in so do­ing, for be­fore night the en­tire gallery caved in...” 12

Venge­ful spir­its haunted the pits as well. In an old mine, a miner had met his death un­der a heavy fall of earth while his com­pan­ion re­mained un­hurt. One day, the light flick­ered out. In the dark­ness the com­pan­ion sud­denly called out the name of the dead miner and then a ter­ri­ble cry was heard. When the lamp was re­lit, they found him dead at the bot­tom of a shaft. “Or­ders were at once given to wall up the fa­tal cham­ber, and now its ex­is­tence is un­known to min­ers work­ing in the col­liery.” 13

Even stranger man­i­fes­ta­tions oc­cur deep be­low the sur­face. One day in 1895, Pa­trick Shea, Vic­tor Dougherty and Thomas Durkin en­tered a Ger­man­town mine as they had been do­ing for the last 30 years. Then things got weird: “…an ap­pari­tion sud­denly ap­peared on the gang­way. The open­ing was trans­formed into a fairy­land and forms flit­ted about. The dark re­cesses were il­lu­mi­nated, spir­its man­i­fested them­selves and the ‘black di­a­monds’ shone bril­liantly. Cars were moved by in­vis­i­ble hands and doors were swung open.” Vil­lagers re­mem­bered the old leg­end that the Ger­man­town mine had been haunted since a cave-in caused the deaths of 13 mem­bers of one fam­ily. 14

Some­thing sim­i­lar oc­curred as re­cently as 1963. Min­ers David Fellin and Henry Throne were en­tombed in Shep­p­ton mine in Penn­syl­va­nia. It took two weeks to dig them out. Throne said that dur­ing their or­deal they saw “lights, fig­ures of peo­ple and a door”. Fellin main­tained it was no hal­lu­ci­na­tion: “We saw what we saw. These things hap­pened. I can’t ex­plain them… on the fourth or fifth day we saw this door although we had no light from above or from our hel­mets. The door was cov­ered in bright blue light. It was very clear, bet­ter than sun­light. Two men, or­di­nary look­ing men, not min­ers, opened the door. We could see beau­ti­ful mar­ble steps on the other side.” 15

But per­haps the most malev­o­lent of all Amer­i­can mine mon­sters is the ter­ri­ble lad­der dwarf, a hunch­backed crea­ture with a short body, large head and enor­mously long and pow­er­ful arms. “In fact, he re­sem­bles an ex­ag­ger­ated go­rilla. His favourite trick is climb­ing the lad­ders by means of which the min­ers leave the mines, rais­ing him­self with his long arms, and, as he passes the rungs, kick­ing them out one by one. He is sup­posed to al­ways do this just be­fore an ac­ci­dent of some kind.” The mines of Mex­ico suf­fered a sim­i­lar de­monic pest. Min­ers en­tered the shafts by means of tree trunks with notches for the big toe of the min­ers to take a brief rest. “The de­mon in such places was be­lieved to have on each big toe a huge nail or claw, with which he would gouge out the pieces on which the feet of the min­ers rested. 16 In Ger­many, the mines were haunted by two su­per­nat­u­ral crea­tures called Kobold and Nickel. Nickel was not so bad, but if Kobold held a grudge against a miner, he would “drag him about by the nose or the hair or even throw him down a lad­der or crush him be­neath a down­fall of rock”. 17

The most in­cred­i­ble tale of a mine haunt­ing is that of the cen­taur roam­ing the Chick­a­saw coalmines in 1913. With a sepul­chral voice it com­manded the min­ers to drop their tools and go. “Ac­cord­ing to the men, the up­per half of the spec­tre was like the body of an ema­ci­ated man, while the lower half re­sem­bled the hind quar­ters of a horse.” In one hand it held an ob­ject from which streamed shafts of light. 18

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