The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

Local News

April 2, 2008

Book explores Hawks Nest tunnel history

Its history is too important to be tucked away in the distant recesses of our consciousness, says Patricia Spangler.

Spangler’s recently-released book, “The Hawks Nest Tunnel,” explores the tunnel construction in the 1930s that culminated in the diversion of water from the New River through Gauley Mountain for hydroelectric generating purposes, as well as the tragic, subsequent deaths of numerous workers involved in building the tunnel.

“I don’t think it’s a well-known history at all,” Spangler says. “It’s so much richer and more complex (than a typical story of, say, a mine cave-in.)

“To me, the whole event is almost like a time capsule. It has elements of economics, sociology, psychology, human suffering, ... It’s a rich part of West Virginia history. There’s no reason to ignore it and act like it didn’t happen.”

Spangler says she originally began writing the book with the hopes of finding “a juicy smoking gun” that would result in assessing further culpability for the disaster. But she says her quest evolved in a different direction as the project advanced.

She readily admits her book is not as thorough as the definitive tome on the subject, Dr. Martin Cherniack’s 1986 “The Hawk’s Nest Incident: America’s Worst Industrial Disaster.” “His (Cherniack’s) book is so much better; he did a lot of analysis,” she said.

Spangler spent nearly a decade researching and compiling the materials found in her book, describing in detail what is known as the worst industrial disaster in United States history. Included are news clippings, personal interviews, Congressional records, archival photographs, eyewitness accounts and more. She called the book’s research “heartbreaking … and very frustrating.”

“Initially, the information was always sort of hearsay,” Spangler said. “I wanted to find out first-hand, to see if it was really that bad, and it was.”

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