Saturday, December 27, 2008

Save the Victor Miner's Union Hall

Here's a recent article from Colorado's Woodland Park Courier Gold Rush. It's a worthy effort to preserve a piece of working class history.

Miners Union Hall Revival

by Pat Hall

Bullet holes and history, the Miners' Union Hall in Victor harbors a story of glory and defeat. In its heyday the union hall was a gathering place for the city's miners, a time of peace between labor and management.

"You could almost see this as a symbol of the success of miners and miners' organizations, at least for the West, if not for the country and, to some extent, miners all over the world," said Katherine Sturdevant, a professor of history at Pikes Peak Community College who is leading a campaign to restore the crumbling hall.

Flyer from the Western Federation of Miners
"Is Colorado In America?"

An architectural gem built in 1901-1902, the hall on 4th Street in
Victor was a source of pride for the miners as well as the city. Today the building shows little sign of its former majesty yet retains its hold on the imagination, the optimistic people like Sturdevant. Never mind that the cornices at the top of the building have disappeared. "We're hoping that, if someone has pieces of it, they may turn up," she said. "There's a lot to the exterior that would be brought back to this beautiful old building."

The story of Sturdevant's ancestors mirrors the history of the hall. Her
great-grandfather, John Harper, followed the gold rush of 1894 to Victor where he joined the Western Federation of Miners. As a result, Harper was part of the union's first successful strike in the district.

"That gave the miners a position; it wasn't the kind of strike that was the uglier side of this industrial war. It was a success because they were able to negotiate," said Sturdevant, who is named for her great-grandmother Katherine Harper. "From 1894 through 1903 there was a balance of power when the miners could have their own homes," she said.

At one time, Harper managed the Gold Coin Mine and enjoyed the respect
of the miners as well as the owners. The family lived on Lawrence Street in Victor.

From peacetime to the uglier side, the labor wars in the districtstarted with the strike of 1904-05 when the miners quit work in support of other unions, the smelters' in Pueblo, for instance.

"For the owners and other business people in Victor and Cripple Creek,
that support was an opportunity to weaken the power of the unions," Sturdevant said.

The strike exploded when a bomb went off at the Independence Depot in
Victor, killing 13 scabs (strike-breaking miners) and wounding several others. The Western Federation of Miners was blamed for the attack. "It has never been proven who set the bomb," Sturdevant said. "It could have been the union or somebody who wanted the union to look bad."

When the bomb went off all hell broke loose when mine owners staged a
riot on 4th Street, threatening to expel the miners. About this time, Gov. James Peabody, who was sympathetic to the owners, sent in the state's militia and arrested the miners.

"The militia fired on the union hall; the bullet holes are still there,"
Sturdevant said. "The hall has been the symbol of the miners' hard work and success but then it was being fired on as a symbol of labor's organizing power which the owners didn't want."

The militia wreaked havoc on the hall, destroying the vital historical
records. "My great-grandparents had to sell the house and leave after the strike," Sturdevant said.

"The building is a symbol of the destruction suffered by the miners, the
abandonment of the building as the failure of the strike. That's why I think it could be a nationally- and internationally-known center."

Barbara McMillan, part-time Victor resident, owns the building but is prepared to sell the hall to the nonprofit organization, the Victor Heritage Society, for $37,000.

As a member of the society, Sturdevant has applied to the Colorado
Historical Society for a $545,000 grant for stabilization and acquisition. The grant would require a 25 percent match, $136,000, from the society. "That's why we have a fundraising campaign," Sturdevant said. "Suppose we don't get the grant; then we're going to apply for other grants. Each one might only give a little but we still need the money. This is only phase I. Any amount would help."

Checks made out to the Victor Miners' Union Hall are tax-deductible. The checks can be mailed to Wells Fargo Bank, 5360 N. Academy Blvd., Colorado Springs, Colorado 80918: Attn: Deborah Clark-Cooper.

Copyright (c) 2008 - Colorado Community Newspapers Online

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

New Documentary : West Frankfort Mine Disaster

Independent producer/reporter Chris Yoars has just completed a 16 minute piece on the West Frankfort Mine Disaster.

You may listen to the documentary by clicking here.

Life magazine image: Rescue workers watch silently as a
corpse comes up the shaft that had to be carried two
miles underground through debris - December, 1951.

Here's the description:

"This documentary tells the story of the 1951 West Frankfort Mine disaster in which 119 men were killed in an explosion on the last shift before the Christmas holiday. On the evening of December 21st, 1951, citizens of West Frankfort, Illinois were shocked when the word 'explosion' echoed through the streets of their humble mining community. Just hours before West Frankfort’s Orient #2 mine was to close for the Christmas holiday, an underground blast killed 119 mineworkers during the second shift.

Over the next few days the blackened and charred bodies of miners were carried up from the depths of the mine and moved to the West Frankfort Jr. High School gym floor for identification.

The explosion garnered national attention and resulted in the passage of the Federal Coal Mine Safety Act of 1952. The West Frankfort disaster is the worst of its kind since 1940, leaving 111 widows and 176 fatherless children in its wake. Those who died at the Orient #2 Mine are still remembered by the town of West Frankfort."

Thanks to Chris for sharing this impressive doc.