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Barnes-Hecker Mine Inundation 1926

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Barnes-Hecker Mine


The Cleveland-Cliffs owned Barnes-Hecker iron mine was started in 1917 some five miles west of Ishpeming. By 1925 it was 1,067 feet deep and as safe as they made them. Upon opening a great quantity of water was encountered and mining had to be discontinued until mining operations drained most of the water from the ore stratum.

At 11:20 on the morning of Wednesday, November 3, 1926, the back of one of the stopes caved to the overlying glacial drift. The subterranean chambers of hard rock suddenly shook, accompanied by the loud rumbling that could only mean one thing and everyone down there knew it. Twenty-three year old Wilfred Wills, working on the second level, felt the rush of air that blew out his light and heard the rumbling from deep down in the mine. Yelling out a warning he made a mad dash for the shaft with Jack Hanna, Joseph Mankee and Thomas Kirby, Jr. close behind. Wills, the only man to survive the disaster, made the 800 foot climb to the surface in 10 minutes, the rising water chasing up close behind him. The others were swept off the ladder by the furious inrush of water. The inrush of water was so rapid that it disabled any emergency escape methods or routes, claiming the lives of fifty-one men. It only took about fifteen minutes to completely fill all the workings of the mine with water rising to the 185 foot level. Although recovery efforts were put into motion immediately, with Cleveland-Cliffs determined to bring the miner's remains to the surface for proper burial, only ten bodies were recovered. Included were the remains of Jack J. Hanna, Joseph Mankee and Thomas Kirby, Jr.

The disaster left 42 widows and 132 orphans in it's wake. The mine was never recovered and the shaft was sealed with a slab of concrete. At the bottom of mine, entombed forever in the tightly sealed pumphouse, are likely the remains of pumpman Peter Deroche.

The back side of the memorial plaque located at the Cliff Mine Museum in Ishpeming bears the following names:

  • Herman Aho
  • Peter Carlyon
  • Raymond Carlyon
  • William Carlyon
  • Edward Chapman
  • Herman Chapman
  • Peter Deroche
  • Thomas Drew
  • Earl J. Ellersick
  • Gust Frendi
  • Joseph Gelmi
  • James Green
  • Henry Haapala
  • Jack J. Hanna
  • Arvid Heino
  • Nels Hill
  • William E. Hill (Inspector of Mines for the State of Michigan)
  • William Huot
  • Frank Jokinen
  • William Kakkuri
  • Arvid Kallio
  • Thomas Kirby, Jr.
  • Thomas Kirby, Sr.
  • Uno Koskinen
  • Theodore Kuiri
  • Ed Laituri
  • George Lampshire
  • Richard Lampshire
  • Jacob Louma
  • Emil Maki
  • Joseph Mankee
  • Walter Mattila
  • Soloman Millimaki
  • Peter Mongiat
  • Sam Phillippi
  • Harry Quayle
  • Elias Ranta
  • John Santi
  • James Scopel
  • Clement Simoneau
  • Nester Soloman
  • Ed Temo
  • Walter Tippett
  • William Tippett
  • Louis Trudell
  • William Toumela
  • Nick Valenti
  • Soloman Valimaa
  • Albert Vickman
  • Harvey Wepsala
  • John Wiljamer


  The MacMillan Company, N.Y., 1939