Friday, March 27, 2015

Ohio Order for the Preservation of Storytelling Conference This Weekend, and the Beginnings of a Story

It's here! The OOPS Conference is just around the corner. It will be such a pleasure to see storytelling friends again, listen to stories and talk about stories. And present my workshop, Seeking the Spirits, all about finding and telling ghost stories.

I am ready--my bags are packed, my resources are priced and packed, my handouts have been emailed so that copies will be made for participants, my van is cleaned up and all that is left is to get on the road.

I'll be back with stories and adventures, I'm sure. Meanwhile, here's the bones of a story I am researching. It's the story of one of WestVirginia's worst mine disasters, and of the strange appearance of a woman in white who appeared to a trapped miner.

Was it an angel Bill Derenge saw in the tunnel that night? Or an apparition trying to lure him deeper into the mine? She was dressed all in white and carried a light, and she beckoned him to follow her into the darkness.

William Derenge resisted the specter. Perhaps she was an omen, perhaps he dreamed her as he and 46 other men began to drift in and out of consciousness as they waited for rescue. Derenge would never know for certain just what he saw that dark hour.

The explosion had been terrible, shattering windows all over the small coal mining town of Layland, WV. Tunnels filled with rock, dust and deadly gas. Some men escaped; some perished almost immediately while others died lingering deaths waiting for rescue that never came. And 47 holed up, blocked off an area where the air was still good, and hunkered down. Surely they would be found. Surely.

Derenge, oddly enough, had only been on the job in this mine for a few minutes. He'd been a miner in the Eccles, WV mine the year before when that mine also exploded, killing over 180 men. And now he was once again trapped below ground. It was March 1, 1915.

One of the trapped miners was an Italian immigrant named Tony, or Antonio Abbate. There were many immigrants working this mine, men referred to in the news accounts of the day as "foreigners." Tony laughed and joked with the men and talked about his girlfriend Angel, who he was sure would be waiting for him when they were rescued. His confidence never waivered although some of the men, including Derenge, wrote out wills and last letters to their families.

So what did William Derenge see in the gloom of the mine? An angel, or something more ominous?

...and that is as far as I have gotten with this story. But it's beginning to take form and perhaps, one day, it will be one of the stories I tell.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

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