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February 5, 1924: Forty-one miners perish on the Cuyuna Iron Range

On this day near Crosby, Minnesota, in 1924, 41 miners lost their lives inside the Milford Mine. Experts believe the disaster was touched off shortly after 3 p.m. when the surface caved in at the mine’s easternmost end, creating a connection with a nearby pond called Foley Lake (and sometimes referred to as Lake Milford). Water began pouring in on the 48 men in the mine, and there was just one vertical shaft from which they could escape. One survivor said the water came with a “roar like a thousand automobiles speeding toward me.” He and six others made made it to the surface; the water was said to be licking at the seventh man’s heels as he found daylight. There was no hope for the others, most of whom had been working (depending on the report) from 100 to 175-feet below the surface. The mine filled with water and mud within 15 minutes of the collapse. Would-be rescuers who had rushed to the scene could do nothing. Many of the dead were young married fathers, and mining officials estimated it would take thirty days of pumping out water and debris before their bodies could be retrieved. The dead included Captain Evan Crellin and Ronald McDonald, a mining engineer from Duluth who just happened to choose that day to inspect the mine. The mine was only a year old. Its shaft was first sunk in 1918 but it didn’t produce anything until 1923, after George Crosby purchased it. The first year of operation saw a yield of 70,000 tons of manganese-rich iron ore. The mine was reopened and operated until 1932. The Milford Mine disaster is the worst mining accident in the history of Minnesota. The mine site is now Milford Memorial Park.

Workers at the Milford Mine near Crosby, year unknown. (Minnesota Historical Society)