On December 30, 1970, an explosion at the Findley Mine on Hurricane Creek killed 38 miners and changed the small community of Hyden, Kentucky, for a generation.
“I was getting ready to go to basketball practice,” remembers resident Fred Brashear. “When the explosion occurred, it sounded like a rifle shot. I went on to practice, and the coroner came in and practice was canceled. And for good reason, because unfortunately [the gym] was where the morgue was and where the victims were brought.”
The explosion occurred when a primer cord ignited coal dust inside the mine shafts.
“The coal dust in the air burned just like gas would,” says former miner Al Collett. “It blew mining timbers, rock dust, and all that across the street. And it blew one man out. Didn’t kill him. He was back in there about 50 feet, but he survived.”
That sole survivor was A.T. Collins. Decades later, his son started the effort to build the memorial to the miners that stands in Hyden today.
“His son came to me in 2008 and said, ‘come down to the courthouse and I’ll show you the monument down there,’” says former state representative Tim Couch. “He said, ‘my dad’s name is nowhere on it,’ because obviously he was a survivor. We put together a bill that gave the county authorization to go ahead and use coal severance money to build the monument.”
Prior to that, the site of the disaster had been neglected.
“For years, when you would go down Hurricane Creek Road, you’d look over and all that was there was a big mound of dirt kind of pushed up to the mine opening,” says Fred Brashear.
“When I was growing up, the mine disaster had turned into a literal ghost story,” says local resident Joel Brashear. “Nobody talked about what actually happened—it was just spectral miners walking up and down that road.”
The memorial at the site was completed in 2011 and provides locals with a place to remember the lives lost in their community.
This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #2503, which originally aired on October 19, 2019. Watch the full episode.