A coal mine saddled with unsafe conditions. Wealthy mine owners willfully ignorant of safety violations and unventilated toxic gasses threatening miners. And government officials unable to hold the mines to the most basic safety standards. It all led to the deaths of dozens of miners caught in an underground explosion.
But this isn’t the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia. It’s a World War Two era mine explosion in Montana.
“Goodbye Wifes and Daughters,” by Susan Kushner Resnick, is the thorough account of the 1943 coal mine explosion in Bearcreek, Montana that killed 74 miners. Resnick details the events leading up to and after the coal mine exploded, including the lives of the families of miners, the day of the explosion itself, and the aftermath and search for accountability.
While reading “Goodbye Wifes and Daughters,” I kept getting goosebumps, and kept getting angry. To read of the obvious threats to the safety of the miners, to see those in charge of the mine ignore the safety inspector’s recommendations, and to feel the pain of the widows and orphans is quite moving.
To realize that 67 years later, we still haven’t learned our lessons, is just infuriating.
Resnick thoroughly documents the available evidence to bring readers straight into Bearcreek, Montana. “Goodbye Wifes and Daughters” is hardly a dry, historical account of a remote disaster. Resnick brings you into the bloodstream of the town. You meet the miners, watch their love lives develop, and even cheer on the local basketball team.
Resnick then takes you down the deep, dark mine shafts with the miners. She develops the characters into people you think you know. She tells of their habits and their families, what they wear and how they speak. And then she shows you how the miners failed to escape, including the moving segment in which the trapped miners, knowing it’s only a matter of time before they succumb to the thick methane gas, scrawl goodbye notes to their loved ones. “Goodbye Wifes and Daughters,” the notes begin.
I’m excited to introduce Susan Kushner Resnick to the Firedoglake community, and hope to show how the lessons of Bearcreek are so directly tied to the tragedies in West Virginia and Kentucky of the last month. It’s important accounts like these that can bring about needed changes for people who daily put their lives at risk to supply the nation’s energy.