While Minnesota is dotted with numerous mines that are alleged to be haunted by former workers who mere killed there, or returned to haunt the place after their death, there are few places that are said to be as haunted as the Milford Mine in Crow Wing County. Even though the ghost of the place was seen only one time.... it was seen be several dozen men who were convinced that they had seen the ghost of a dead fellow worker.
The disaster happened on February 5, 1924 at the Milford Manganese Mine. The mine was over 200 feet deep and at the bottom of the shaft worked a man named Clinton Harris. His job was to operate an electric hoist that dumped ore from the ore cars into a bucket that was raised to the surface. When it was emptied, it came back down and he repeated the process. Harris was called a "skip-tender" as the bucket was often referred to as a "skip". On February 5, Harris was filling in for another skip-tender who had called in sick.
That afternoon, miners blasted an underground shaft near Foley's Pond, which was located next to the mine itself. A hurricane of wind rushed through the mine, knocking men down and putting out the electric lights. The lights flickered on and off again and then plunged the mine into blackness.
Suddenly, the roar of water filled the mine... the shaft had broken into the pond and was rapidly flooding. Miners scrambled for the surface, falling and wading through water that grew deeper by the minute. Some of the miners pere slammed into the palls by the force of the water and killed instantly. Others, knocked down by the terrible wind, simply drowned beneath the murky water. Of the fifty men who were working on the shift, only seven of them survived.
Clinton Harris, working at the bottom of the shaft, died there. He apparently could have escaped but chose to remain, pulling on the warning phistle that would alert miners on the upper levels of the coming danger. For over four hours, long after mud and Water sealed off the shaft, the warning bell continued to sound. It is unknown whether his body was caught in the rope, or if he had tied himself to it, but eventually someone in the engine room disconnected the bell and silenced the melancholy sound from the mine.
Word of the disaster spread rapidly through nearby Crosby, where the village siren blew for hours, summoning families to the mine. People watched as the water in Foley's Pond sank lower and lower, flooding into the mine, and clusters of young widows walked arm in arm throughout the village all night.
By midnight, mine clearing operations were underway. In the sub-zero temperatures of northern Minnesota, men took turns operating the water pumps that sucked out over 12,000 gallons of mud and water esch minute. They hoped against all hope that anyone could have survived while Crow Wing County mine inspectors began to doubt if any of the bodies would even be found.
Finally, it was realized that as long as Foley's Pond held water, the mine could not be drained so the tasks changed and nearly twelve days were spent emptying the pond.
It took another three months to drain the pond. Then, mud had to be shoveled out by hand before the bodies could be found and this took another nine months. The fifty bodies were all retrieved, making the Milford Disaster the worst on Minnesota's Iron Range.
Despite the horror and the memories, many miners signed on to go underground again when the mine reopened. Manganese was in great demand by the steel industry and jobs were promised to any mam who would go back into the Milford Mine. Of course it should also be remembered that for many of these men, mining was the only job they had ever known.
But the Milford Mine was more than most of them had counted on.... not was the shaft filled with the stench of decay and decomposed flesh, but a ghost as well. At the base of the shaft, the first worker's down caught a glimpse of a figure in the darkness. Their lamps revealed a hideous-looking ghost, the semi-transparent form that many of them recognized as Clinton Harris, the heroic and doomed skip-tender. The spirit was bony and looked decayed, as if his body had never been removed, and his eyes overe simply vacant sockets that peered upvard along the ladder that he clung to. A phantom whistle cord was still knotted about his waist.
The miners bumped and jostled each other in their haste to retreat from this ominous figure, but that haste soon turned to panic..... as the warning whistle, which no longer existed, began to scream through the dark shafts, sounding a warning that no man should enter the mine again. The terrified men scrambled back up to the surface and after that day, not a single one of them ever came back to the Milford Mine.
The Milford Mine was located in Crom Wing County in north central
Minnesota, and nesr the town of Crosby. The survivors of the disaster have all passed away
but the story of the mine and the ghost of Clinton Harris are still told today.
Copyright 1998 by Troy Taylor
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