By Sarah Plummer
Ninety-eight years ago on March 2, 112 miners lost their lives in the Layland Mine Disaster. But although this tragedy was nearly a century ago, the community is working to ensure the site of the mine and the memories of the victims as well as survivors are never lost.
During Saturday’s groundbreaking ceremony in the Layland Baptist Church, just 25 feet from where the mouth of the mine once was, Ray Crook, president of the Layland Miners Memorial Committee, explained the group began the quest to build a memorial three years ago. They became inspired after an annual memorial service when a descendant of one of the victims found a photo of her grandfather displayed.
“It was so moving for someone who had lost a grandparent 98 years ago and who had never seen a picture of him to finally see him in his miner’s uniform. We realized this was something that needed to be done,” he said.
Kimberly Gross, regional representative from Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s office, thanked the group for their work in preserving the miners’ memory.
“Unfortunately, I know all too well the loss of miners. I’m very touched the community has gone forward and built this memorial. None of us ever forget our coal miners, regardless of what disaster we lost them in,” she said.
Former State Sen. Shirley Love and Delegate Dave Perry, D-Fayette, commended the memorial committee on their work and pledged their support and assistance.
“Think about how the Layland Mine Disaster changed the lives of so many people forever. Generations will look back at the disaster that took their grandfathers and great-grandfathers,” said Love.
Next to speak, Delegate Margaret Staggers, D-Fayette, said, “I hope those organizing the memorial are blessed and loved by God and that He sends a special angel to sit with this memorial and with this congregation to bless you all the days of your lives, and to solidify in our memories forever those men who gave their lives.”
The group recognized Christi Bailey and Pat Church of the National Coal Heritage Foundation for providing more than $8,000 in matching funds to help the memorial get under way.
In addition to celebrating the early state of memorial construction, some who spoke at the event talked about the disaster’s importance in mining and labor history.
“These victims were not members of the union. They were just poor folks trying to scratch out a living,” Crook said.
After the 1915 disaster, families received a mere $20.
Joe Carter, president of the United Mine Workers Local 1473, explained, “These 112 who lost their lives did not have any representation and not many laws and regulations to protect them. The union has been able to give miners a voice to help make their job a lot safer. Today, miners have a good expectation when they pick up their lunch bucket in the morning that they will return home in the evening.”
Statements from Sen. Joe Manchin and Rep. Nick J. Rahall were read just before the group sunk in the shovels.
Crook said gathering funds has been a slow process with such a small and remote community.
The committee is still seeking funds to complete the project and donations can be made to the Layland Miners Memorial Committee, P.O. Box 62, Layland, WV 25864.
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