It's been 89 years since 119 men were killed in the Benwood Mine Disaster of April 28, 1924, and Joey Tellitocci said he always wondered why there was no statue or marker in Benwood memorializing the mine's explosion.
As a result, he started an effort to record and list the names of all those killed and to raise money for a monument honoring the victims.
On Thursday, ground was broken near Boggs Run in the city for a memorial to those killed in the disaster - as well as the five miners killed in the Hitchman Coal and Coke Disaster that happened May 18, 1942. The memorial is to be located at 31 Roosevelt Ave. on property donated by Consol Energy, and a drive-off space and walkway to the monument also are to be constructed on the property.
Photo by Joselyn King
Benwood Mayor Ed Kuca, from left, Joey Tellitocci and Police Chief Frank Longwell stand at the site of the future Benwood Mine Disaster monument, located at 31 Roosevelt Ave. in Benwood.
The effort has taken about a year thus far, and $21,461 has been raised for the project, according to Tellitocci. It is expected to be completed by April 28, 2014, the 90th anniversary of the explosion.
The memorial is to consist of four separate slabs of granite, according to Tellitocci and his father, Joe Tellitocci Sr. The elder Tellitocci is leading the committee to build the monument.
One of the slabs will show the five names of those killed in the Hitchman Mine in 1942. The other three slabs will feature the names of the 119 men lost in the Benwood Mine in 1924. When listed together, the names show the wide range of ethnicity among the men, who were mostly new immigrants. Most of the names are of Polish, Italian, Greek or Serbian descent.
Tellitocci Jr. noted the Benwood Mine Disaster was the third worst to ever occur in West Virginia, behind the Monongah Mine Disaster in 1907 that killed 361 and the Eccles Mine Disaster in 1914, where 183 died.
He said his interest in learning about the Benwood Mine Disaster was sparked by his own family's history. His great-grandfather, Istvan Varga - who later changed his named to Stephen Vargo - was killed in the blast.
Also dying in the Benwood Mine explosion were Carlo DiGiorgio, the great uncle of current Benwood Police Chief Frank Longwell, and Kazimierz Kocur, the great uncle of current Mayor Ed Kuca.
"Eighty-nine years ago, many hard-working men lost their lives," Kuca said. "We've talked about this memorial for years. Now it is becoming a reality."
He said the city has pledged $11,000 to the project and will assist with needed excavation work for the monument.
He also expressed gratitude to members of the Shoemaker Mine Local 1473, who gave $2,500 for the monument.