Thornton is a writer, journalist, and teacher. A version of this essay is included in Reflections on the New River: There the water falls feet into the turbines of a hydroelectric power plant that powers a smelting plant in the West Virginia community of Alloy.
The same water power that today attracts recreational enthusiasts from over the world was, at the time, attracting the attention of hydroelectric engineers. They built a massive tunnel that channeled water from the New into the Gualey to generate over megawatts of electricity between and Bynews of some kind of disaster was beginning to emerge.
Hundreds of men — now estimated atmost of them African American -- died simply because they were not given protective gear. Most of the victims were buried in common, unmarked graves. Dust masks were not used because, the company claimed, they did not know about silicosis. Even so, white engineers who took rock samples in the tunnels were using dust masks.
Apparently, the lives of African Americans were hardly thought to be worth the cost of the masks. The racism, arrogance and cruelty was so astonishing, even in the s, that a full scale Congressional investigation was set in motion. The investigation also uncovered a horrific pattern of secret cemeteries, subversion of the law and threats to witnesses by Union Carbide and its contractors.
A few families of the victims received settlement checks for a few hundred dollars at most.
But most significantly, the laws regarding occupational disease and labor safety were rewritten during the New Deal era with the Hawks Nest incident in mind.
Aside from that book, the companies successfully suppressed information about the incident. Even a novel called Hawks Nest by Hubert Skidmore was pulled out of print by the publisher, and Skidmore himself died in a mysterious fire. As late as the s, historians said they were receiving death threats and facing legal action for trying to uncover the truth about the incident.
To this day, many of the grave sites have not been found. Physician Martin Cherniak was the first historian publish a book on the Gauley disaster.
Cherniak said he struggled to maintain his objectivity while writing The Hawks Nest Incident: Along with a summary of events, Spangler published hundreds of full original documents surrounding the incident. This valuable work allows us to objectively analyze the disaster while, at the same time, sense the outrage and horror behind the witness testimony and committee reports of the first Gauley disaster 75 years ago.
Today, the tunnel from the New River to the Gauley still generates megawatts of electricity, like it did 75 years ago. Since it uses a public resource, the project was originally to revert in ownership back to the state of WV in the s.
However, the state exchanged it for land that was not worth a fraction of the value of the Hawks Nest electrical complex.
And the tunnel itself, as a point of fact, was never worth the lives it cost. An Unabridged History, by Patricia Spangler.Comprehensive National Basketball Association news, scores, standings, fantasy games, rumors.
Governor Conley Attends Tunnel Celebration. West Virginians, both prominent in private and public life, joined Wednesday afternoon with the personnel of power and contracting companies organizations in a celebration of the practical completion of the water diversion tunnel between Hawks Nest and Gauley.
The Hawks Nest tunnel is considered a marvel of modern engineering. Completed in June , the tunnel is 16, feet in length and drops in elevation a total of feet.
Along with a dam built at the same time, the tunnel funnels water from the New River just below Hawks Nest, bypassing two riverbends to a hydroelectric plant downstream. Shannon Nevin laughs and plays with her two stuffed animals, a pink Peppa Pig and Rory the Tiger.
She beats them against an empty chair. The 4-year-old is the only one in her family full of energy. Discover the top things to do in Atlanta today!
From shopping to outdoors to free and cheap, explore our top 50 fun things to do in Atlanta for the whole family! Shannon Nevin laughs and plays with her two stuffed animals, a pink Peppa Pig and Rory the Tiger. She beats them against an empty chair.
The 4-year-old is the only one in her family full of energy.
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