Farmington Mine Disaster Undergrad Research Project

Wed, 06/05/2013 - 09:06 -- sewm02

Farmington Mine Disaster Undergrad Research Project

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The 1968 Farmington Mine disaster...what happened?

Web links about the Farmington Mine Disaster.

WV Division of Culture and History [1]

Wikipedia [2]

NPR [3]

Mine Rescue Association [4]

YouTube [5]

The Project

Transcripts of oral history interviews.




Play Treatment


Devising the performance


Brainstorming - A place to put your ideas...your dialogue....


Script Draft -- Act I


Script Draft -- Act II


AATE Presentation

Below is the working draft of the information presented by Celi Oliveto and Samantha Huffman at the American Alliance for Theatre and Education Conference in Atlanta in July 2008.

Introduction Play 30 sec. clip of Mr. Bonasso to introduce piece

Introduction: Hello, my name is Celi Oliveto, I am a [explain major] at Fairmont State University. [then I will introduce myself]-Is Fran going to be presenting with us? If so introduce her here, even if she isn't we should introduce her.- Thank you for joining us today as Samantha and I explain our undergraduate research project entitled “From Mouth and Memory: Stories from the Farmington Mine Disaster.” What you have just heard is a recorded clip from one of the project participants, Mr. Russell Bonasso. Mr. Bonasso and the other participants of our project each had something in common- a memory or story from the event that took place in 1968. 78 miners of the Consol Operated number nine mine were killed on November 20. This profound disaster was to leave a mark on the small town’s psyche for years to come. This is why we as researchers have chosen to use the method of ethnographic research to preserve the emotions, memories, and stories from that experience. Many of today's mine safety requirements were born from this disaster through the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969. We feel that it is important from a historical as well as artistic perspective to preserve the personal accounts of this event in not only our community's but our nation's history.

Sam delivers monologue 1

Thesis statement: [SAM/CELI] has just performed a monologue written from the actual words of a person effected by the disaster. This method of creating theatre and performance pieces from interviewed transcripts has many names such as documentary drama and ethnographic research. Ethnographic Research is a very applicable and meaningful form of research for theatre practitioners and educators.

Attention Devise-

monologues poem from news paper photo story 30 second snippet of Mr. Bonasso Historical background - names, dates, places. Give the audience a context.

Connect to audience- My father is a coal miner. I know what it feels like to say goodnight to your father and know that he may not come home that evening. I also know how terrifying it is when your father doesn't come home because he is working a double shift, only you dont know this is why he hasn't come home because he is unable to call home due to the fact that he is thousands of feet below the earth's surface and unable to reach a telephone. I know what this feels like, but I am also aware that many people outside of this community may not understand what emotions these events create. Our community has strong ties to the coal industry, and due to this our research is fraught with powerful emotions. We felt that ethnographic drama would be the best way to present our data, and accurately portray the raw emotions the research has revealed. All communities are not connected to the coal industry, however every community has an event, or maybe many events that shape the community, and these events are worth preserving. This preservation is made possible and is feasible through ethnographic drama. It is something that can be conducted in the classroom by students or on the stage by theater professionals

Application of ethnographic research to personal projects Preservation of home community history


Today we will be discussing our Undergraduate Research Project awarded by Fairmont State University entitled "From Mouth and Memory: Stories from the Farmington Mine Disaster." We will first answer what exactly is ethnographic research then we will explain our materials and the resources that we employed for this purpose. Finally we will address the process and the value of collecting stories, and memories that will eventually be turned into a piece of devised theatre, sponsored by the Masquers of Fairmont State University and available for community viewing.

Point one -

According to Dr. James Spradley- one of the forefather’s of modern ethnographic research- ethnography is "the work of describing a culture" (p. 3). And he claims the goal of ethnographic research is "to understand another way of life from the native point of view" (p. 3). The North Central Educational Laboratory says, “Although this approach is commonly used by anthropologists to study exotic cultures and primitive societies;… it is a useful tool for "understanding how other people see their experience" (p. iv). Spradley emphasizes, however, that "rather than studying people, ethnography means learning from people" (p. 3). The value of ethnographic research for theatre practitioners is clear upon reading this definition of the practice. Theatre is a powerful media which allows diverse groups of people to begin to understand the experiences of others totally unlike themselves. We seek to understand and empathize with a character’s story through watching monologues, scenes, and plays. By implementing ethnographic research, theatre practitioners can take the stories of their own communities and cultural regions not only for historic and cultural preservation, but to allow others to empathize and share the experience with those who might seem very different or incomprehensible at a surface glance.

CELI perform piece 2

Both of my grandfathers worked in the coal mines. My father’s father was murdered working to help form the union. My father was about fifteen when my grandfather died. The only thing my father ever said about it was that my grandfather had been hit over the head with I believe a shovel. Something large like that and he probably had a fractured skull. He said that my grandfather was carried home. He was placed in what was called the back bedroom and he said how hard it was to be a young boy and go into the room and see his father and his father didn’t know who he was. I think my grandfather lived for probably three or four days and then he died. My grandmother had six children which she raised all alone. My father studied at night and loaded coal cars. He was the, I think, only one in his family of six children that graduated from high school. The explosion that happened in 68 my father had been called out that morning. At that time he worked as a mechanic. He worked outside so we always felt much safer. I think he was working on one of the fans and if you are familiar with the engine system the fans pull in good air and get the bad air out. My father talked about when the mine explosion occurred he was walking away from the fan. He was probably fifty or one hundred yards away when it exploded. Flames came out through the fan and he was knocked down. I don’t think my father was ever quite the same. I guess still lying down he looked around and he could see it. All this smoke and even flames I think. I think I know that smoke was coming out and I think he was probably just so stunned that he laid there for a while and when those things happen you don't know what to do. Everything sort of stopped. That went on for probably a year that he relived that moment of running, hearing that noise, and when he would talk about the noise... about the explosion it was just something that was incredibly loud, just a huge boom! I think, he even felt like a tremble. The ground trembled because when he fell flat on his chest he just lay there at first and didn't know what happened. I'm sure he replayed this. That he kept hearing it. He kept hearing it over and over and over and over again. Reliving it... It must have been very sad to relive something like that that's so painful. That's when he would cry. The tears would just come and that was very unusual because the just did not cry. My father was a very strong man. My father did not believe that men cried and men of his generation felt that way. You see it now with older men. Elderly men maybe in their 80s will tell you that men don't cry. It's just not a manly thing to do, but he would relive and when he would tell you about driving away hurt, running, and getting in the truck and driving away then we would start again with coming out you know and it was almost like he could see this on a tape player and it just played over and over and over. For the longest time he couldn't get away from it. He did not go out of the house. He stayed in and when he went back to work it really became his salvation. My father loved working. He really did. He never would admit that but he truly did. He was a workaholic and a bit of a curmudgeon. He was a grumpy man and he gradually came out of this and I think going back to work helped. It was a wonderful place to grow up. I would not change a thing. I would not change a thing. Those people were very good to me and it was like having a hundred set of parents. People who genuinely celebrated each others happiness or sadness. It was just a horrible time, but you know sometimes the worst of times brings out the best in people. When awful things happen that's when we find out what's really important and that people are really what matters and the people that we love and sometimes don't appreciate until it's gone. That's why remembering these folks who have died is so important. They don't die. When we talk about them and we remember them they're not dead. They're not just a name on a list. They belong to someone. They're someone's child, brother, husband. They mattered and they're lives ended so quickly and without any notice at all. When Sago happened I sent an email to their minister. I said sometimes it's difficult for people to say I know how you feel ,but I do. I really do. I know how helpless you feel and you wonder why these things happen and why good people died. I don't know if there's anything else I can tell you. I can say I'm pleased to be here and to add anything that I can add.

Point two -

[So, how does one begin to just take the stories of their home communities? Unlike most children my parent doesn’t go to the office every day. My father is a coal miner who literally faces mortal peril everyday to put bread on the table. When my dad doesn’t come home because he is working a double shift I go into crisis mode. He is, however, unable to call home only because he is underground and unable to reach a telephone. Even though I’ve never lost anyone I still have that fear and am able to empathize with my interviewees. I know what this feels like, but I am also aware that many people outside of this community may not understand what emotions these events create.]

There were thankfully numerous recourses at our disposal to help us with our project. Our advisor Dr. Francene Kirk introduced us to a couple of professional oral historians, Micheal and Carrie Kline whose work has been featured on National Public Radio. The Klines have unique system of interviewing which involves total silence on the part of the interviewer and most surprisingly the asking of one question, “Tell me about your people and where you were raised.” While reading the memoire Living Justice the making of the play The Exonerated, a documentary drama, by Eric Jensen and Jessica Blank they described writing over two hundred questions to ask their participants and only needing one or two because of the interviewee’s need to finally have the opportunity to tell their own stories. Blank and Jensen speak about their experience interviewing a man who served on death row for a number of years stating that, “questions like what foods did you miss in prison... served no purpose beyond soothing our own nerves. [it] had little significance next to the incredible things that started coming out of Neil’s mouth.” The Klines also taught us not to fear “moments of silence.” This generally means that the participant is thinking or trying to process the information in his or her own time. We as the interviewers shouldn’t interrupt this flow of information. It was very hard at first, because we are communication majors and want to sound polite by giving verbal and non verbal cues that we are indeed listening closely. However results of this polite silence, or “shutting up” and letting the interviewee do the talking was extremely rewarding. Now we would like to try an experiment with you! Please turn to your neighbor and ask them the question, “Tell me about your people and where you were raised.” One partner will listen for five minutes and then reverse the process. Not only was it much easier to edit the raw tape because of the moments of silence forming “paragraphs” of information we also didn’t have to edit out our own voice or even worry that our voices would cover up an interviewee’s piece shaping statement. –possible cut- I [Celi] learned this the hard way when after a brief moment of silence she spoke out of turn and her voice unfortunately covered up a meaningful and valuable statement from her participant.

[play possible mistake]

With this information about the benefits of silence in mind we would now like to try an experiment with you! Please turn to your neighbor and ask them the question, “Tell me about your people and where you were raised.” Remember, don't be afraid of moments of silence if nothing comes, just be there as an active, but silent, listener for your interviewee. At the end of five minutes we will switch. Get a moment to choose your partner and we will begin the clock.

Even though we plan on making a piece of theatre from the original transcripts we still used several technical elements to help our research. Because this is a work in progress we do not yet know what the final product will contain we want to keep as many option as possible open to us for the final performance piece which includes the overlapping of original recorded voices into the play itself. For this project our technical tools that were implemented were the Sony digital voice recorder and the free Microsoft program Photo Story. Any kind of digital voice recorder will work but we found that this particular brand eliminated background noise most effectively and came equipped with a USB slot with cable for easy access to any compatible PC. All of this information is provided in the packets you received upon entering. None of us are MAC users so unfortunately for those of you who use Mac exclusively we don’t have information regarding that type of technology. We would now like to play the photo story that we presented at our University’s Celebration of Student Scholarship.

[play piece]

Point three -

Summary When we were approached by Dr. Kirk with this project the first concern, among many was funding; we knew we needed recorders, source material, and travel money. Dr. Kirk, suggested the Undergraduate Research Program, having mentored several students in the past. The Undergraduate Research Program began at Fairmont State in 2005. It was designed to give students an opportunity to independently further their education. The Undergraduate Research Program is actually comprised of three separate initiatives: 1. the Undergraduate Researcher Grants Program, 2. the NASA Space Grant Scholars Program and 3. the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience Fellows Program. The three student researchers currently developing this project all have theatre backgrounds so it was a little difficult trying to convince a board of traditional research professors to fund our idea. These differences meant that we had to very clearly define how our research could be used to further our studies in our dicipline.We had to convince them that ethnographic drama and the collection of personal narratives is indeed a legitimate form of research. The only difference between our fine arts team and a group of historians is the publication of that research. We want to make our findings available to a wide audience to we choose to publish our stories and poems in the form of a play, instead of a research paper. We did this by following the appropriate proposal procedures just like any other research team. Because this research utilized live subjects a consent and waiver form was also developed by our team. Copies can be found in the document section your CD. The actual proposal to the board, however, included a cover sheet, a precise description of the project, an explanation of the benefits we as students would learn from the project, a timeline displaying how we would have the grant money spent by June 1, a statement of support from Dr. Kirk, and an itemized budget. After we completed all of the proposal requirements we had to wait and see if we would be funded. Our proposal was actually submitted to the board twice. Jason Young, the third member of our team and who is unfortunately unable to attend this conference due to previous work commitments, was instrumental in helping us. Because of his senior status our project was given preferential treatment and we wee awarded the grant money. When we found out we were funded, we began to train with the Klines and also to contact leads within the community. One such lead was Russel Banasso, who if Marion County's foremost authority of underground mining and the author of Fire in the Hole. From this interview we were able to connect to other in the community with a story to share. Dr. Kirk also sent out a press release across the campus and community and was able to find some leads. Once we had done a few interviews we found that we were being given name after name, originally we thought we would have about five interviews each, after about the first month of interviewing it became apparent that we would be doing more. One of the other requirements of the Undergraduate Research Program is that every project must submit something to the Celebration of Student Scholarship. The Celebration of Student Scholarship is an annual event at Fairmont State that allows students who have been awarded research grants to share a glimpse of their on going research, it also gives us the opportunity to receive feedback from individuals outside of our project. For our presentation to the Celebration we presented an explanation of our research and a few examples of the media we would be using in our production such as the Photo story we shared earlier, as well as a monologue and a poem we found buried in newspaper clippings that had been donated to our project by one of our interviewees. We have almost finished our interviewing process, the next step for us is to have the interviews transcribed and find the common theme throughout the research. As you have heard we have already crafted a two of our earlier interviews into monologues. One of the tools that we employ in this process is to try to honestly keep true to the words of the interviewee. Our job as ethnographic dramatists is to edit these transcripts « down to the juicy parts » as BLAH BLAH- DR. KIRK REFERENCE HERE says. The Klines told us, and we have found it to be true that if we simply listen long and quietly enough to a person then that person will eventually express something beautifully poetic, even if it is just a simple phrase. For example Mrs. Mildred G. Hardman, Celi's first interview stated that, « you think that I have all the answers. You think that I know all this, but I just don't. I don't know. » This project is a work in progress, and our final production is scheduled to make its debut in the final slot of the Masquers of Fairmont State University's theatrical season. Having this deadline is a great motivator for us to finish what we have started. We now have a place to display our research and give something back to the community and people who made this project possible. After this project is finished we intend to donate our recorded interviews, transcripts, and monologues to The Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center, part of the college of liberal arts, at Fairmont State University. This center is dedicated to the identification, preservation, and perpetuation of our region's rich cultural heritage, through academic studies, educational programs, festivals and performances, and publications.

Read Poem


Thank you for being such an attentive audience, we hope we have answered any questions you may have had about ethnographic research, our materials, our resources, and the methods by which we collected the memories and stories. We also hope we have shown the value in preserving these formative events in our communities. If anyone has any questions about our methods, the Undergraduate Research Program, WV Folklife Center, or anything else about our project, we would be happy to take them at this time.

What resources will you give the audience? Burn copies of the photo story copies of the monologue/ edit down to the juicy parts bibliography/ resource page of plays, authors, and websites like photo story, and the Klines page

60 mins 10 min for activity 7 min photo story 5 min monologue 1 5 min monologue 2 33 min speech/ project explanation 10 min per point 3 mins for intro/ conclusion/ questions

Presentation Information/ To be burned on the CD

feel free to add Document Section: Copy of the concent and waiver form

Web Sites of Intrest Article published in the Times West Virginian one month after the disaster The official web site of Michael and Kerri Kline, professional oral historians from Elkins, WV The FSU Wiki Homepage. Track the progress of our project thus far and get a transcript of today's presentation for your reading pleasure! Free sound editing program Information as to what aspects of mine safety the Farmington Mine Disasater improved The homepage of the Frank and Jane Gabor WV Folklife Center

More Information on Ethnographic Research and Documentary Drama

Published syllabus from Professor David Garrison of Noth Carolina State University's PA 765: Quantitative Research in Public Administration class.

Remembering: Oral History Performance Jaquelyn Dowd Hall

The Laremy Project Moises Kauffman

The Vagina Monologues Eve Ensler

The Exonerated Eric Jensen and Jessica Blank

Living Justice: The Making of the Exonerated Eric Jensen and Jessica Blank

Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights Broklyn House Arrest: A search for american character Twighlight: Los Angeles Anna Devere Smith

Media Section:

Photo Story

Russel Bonasso Clip

  • Is there a way we can get together and record our monologues onto the CD too, or am I asking for too much?

Important Research Info:

I added some info about what the disaster actually did to benefit the coal mining industry "Out of the uproar caused by the Farmington explosion came the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, a far reaching document that promised a new day for the men in an industry that had claimed more than 100,000 lives since 1900. The Johnson Administration introduced a measure in the fall of 1968 that would dramatically strengthen the government's enforcement tools. However, it went to Congress too late to achieve action. Then came the explosion at Farmington and there were new converts to the cause of mine safety. The Nixon Administration expanded upon the Johnson Administration proposals of 1968 and addressed the potential for mine explosions in proposed legislation. President Nixon signed the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 on December 30, 1969."

What exactly did this act do???

"Enforcement powers in coal mines increased vastly. The Act required four annual inspections for each underground coal mine, and two for each surface mine. The Act for the first time established mandatory fines for all violations and criminal penalties for knowing and willful violations. The act eliminated so-called "non-gassy" mines from special legal exemptions. All mines were considered gassy and additional inspections were required. The powers of the inspectors were broadened. The inspectors were given the power to close a mine for imminent danger. Miners were given the right to request a Federal inspection. Safety standards for all coal mines were strengthened under the 1969 Act, and health standards adopted. The Act also provided benefits to miners disabled by black lung disease."

Teacher Resources