Death Underground: The Knox Mine Disaster

On January 22, 1959, a tragedy so corrupt and catastrophic occurred at the River Slope Mine in Port Griffith, Penn., that it changed the future of the anthracite coal industry forever. The disaster occurred when workers were ordered to dig illegally under the Susquehanna River without proper safety precautions, creating a hole in the riverbed which caused the river to flood into the many interconnected mine galleries in the Wyoming Valley between the town of Exeter, Pennsylvania and the town of Port Griffith in Jenkins Township, near Pittston. Twelve miners were killed. Plugging the hole in the riverbed took three days, and mitigation efforts created several new islands between the two towns and altered the western-side flow of the Susquehanna River around them. The coal industry in northeastern Pennsylvania had already been in decline at the time of the accident, as fuel oil and natural gas had become more popular forms of energy. The Knox Mine disaster is considered to have been the proverbial nail in the coffin that virtually destroyed the coal mining industry in northeastern Pennsylvania. In the aftermath mine superintendent Robert Dougherty, owners Louis Fabrizio and August Lippi, and three union officials were indicted. The widows of the victims didn’t receive death benefit payments for more than four years. The property was purchased in 2009 by Susan and John Baloga, grandchildren of John Baloga, one of the miners who perished in the event. The property is now the site of Baloga Funeral Home.