Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Carolina Business Center

Photo by Tammy Shriver
Anyone can tell you that West Virginia is synonymous with the coal mining industry.  And, as anyone can also tell you, coal mining was (and still is) an inherently dangerous profession.  There are many ghost stories throughout the Mountain State directly related to our rich coal heritage and the accidents and even violence that undoubtedly accompany this vital but bloody field...but I just simply haven't gotten around to sharing most of them with you!   In order to remedy that, today's blog will be about one of my personal favorite mining ghost stories from Marion County, West Virginia.

The tale of the atheist miner first gained exposure in West Virginia Folklore magazine, Vol. 16, #1-2 (1965).  However, my introduction to this tale was the result of one of the best books on WV ghost-lore out there, A Guide to Haunted West Virginia by Walter Gavenda and Michael T. Shoemaker (2001).

In the book, the two authors relate the tale of the Atheist Miner.  According to the legend, a miner named Anderson worked at the mine in Carolina, a small town in Marion County, WV.  This mine was part of the "Big Vein" that ranged from Pennsylvania to Alabama.  Anderson, who was admittedly an atheist, was NOT liked by his Christian co-workers at the mine, and thus shunned by the rest of the miners.  When Anderson was killed in a gas explosion in the 1890s, not only did the other miners not shed a tear, but one particularly callous man gloated that "an atheist has met his retribution."

However, those that were down in the mine when these callous words were spoken over Anderson's still-warm body, heard something they would never forget.  As soon as the words were spoken, a terrible sound echoed throughout the mine passage, followed by the voice of Anderson vowing revenge.  Terrified, the men in charge of hauling the body out quickly loaded it onto a cart pulled by a mule, but the mule refused to budge so they fled on foot.

Additional mules were then sent down by the more skeptical men at the mine who did NOT witness the eerie curse.  These mules also refused to budge, prompting one of the old-timers to put forth a possible explanation and solution.  According to mining lore, mules could SEE ghosts.  A blind mule was brought in, and meshing with the legend, was able to pull the body out of the mine with no problems.

However, it wouldn't be long before Anderson's Curse would REALLY start affecting the mine and those who worked there.  The mine itself actually had to be closed down because of a fire caused by the explosion that killed the atheist miner.  It took 20 years before the mine was re-opened, but the local miners refused to work there due to the stories about the "curse."  Outsiders were brought in, but the mine continued to be plagued by fires, explosions, and even a flood.

This tale, as it stood, prompted Gavenda and Shoemaker to seek out the mine site and its legends...and apparently, they weren't disappointed!

The mine has since been filled in, but local residents Trudy and Terry Lemley bought the property, including several still-standing buildings built between 1919 and 1941, in 1993.  In an effort to bring businesses and industry to the small town, they opened the property as the Carolina Business Center, which rents space to various businesses.  Trudy also has her own wood-working shop on the site.  Before the Lemley's purchased the property, it was owned by Hamilton Electronics, who operated a glass cutting plant on the site...and apparently did not suffer any hauntings of note.  That would soon change...

Almost immediately, the ghost or ghosts of the Carolina Business Center made its/their presence known, especially in the Boiler Building and the Dynamite Storage Building.

When the Tremley's first took over, they already had a tenant.  Pioneer Hardwood had a workshop in the Boiler Building.  However, the employee working there starting complaining that when he came to work in the morning, his radio had changed stations, and accused the obvious suspects...the living.  However, it was an issue of a power saw that turned itself on that caused Pioneer Hardwood NOT to renew their lease.

In the Dynamite Storage Building, there was a former employee named Freda witnessed an interesting residual event.  On a regular basis, she would hear what sounded like footsteps going up and down the metal staircase.  When she investigated, an old oil cloth that was hung in a doorway would be swaying as if someone had just walked through...but no living soul was there.

It's unknown whether or not the menagerie of weird sounds, power outages, and other ghostly manifestations are the work of the Atheist Miner or not, and a small investigation by Gavenda and Shoemaker only resulted in several optical illusions.  Still, this is an interesting story that I thought needed a closer look.

According to different sources, the mine opened up around 1915 under the Consolidation Coal Company, Mine #86 at Carolina.  In 1941, the Bethlehem Mining Corporation took over operations, and operated the mine until 1949, when it was closed down to a high number of accidents.  I have yet to find any online information about an earlier mine, but I do believe that I have uncovered the identity of the Atheist Miner.

On January 21, 1901, Jessie Anderson, a 30 year old African-American miner was killed in a powder explosion.  He was single and was buried somewhere in Fairmont.

Trudy and her mother have collaborated on a book about the Carolina Mine, which I'm hoping will help shed additional light on the mystery and legends surrounding the mines and its "atheist miner."  The book, Carolina Mine: A Northern West Virginia Coal Camp, is available locally and through Amazon.

Interview with Trudy Lemley, TimesWV
Carolina Business Center Investigation Results, MSSSS

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