The Bone Mine of West Virginia

The Bone Mine of West Virginia

Boone County, West Virginia (1925): In the early twentieth century, speculators voraciously bought up swaths of land in the Appalachian region of the United States. Drawn by the promise of large fortunes, they inaugurated the so-called West Virginian “mining boom” that witnessed the creation of new stock companies and railroad lines, not to mention the growth of new towns throughout the state. For Charles Fassey Turner, a Harvard graduate turned business-savvy coal man, Boone County was to be his El Dorado.

In 1921, Turner established the Boone Coaling Mine, a large complex with multiple subterranean shafts that became locally referred to as the “Bone Mine” due to the number of worker fatalities that occurred annually at the site. A popular refrain sung by miners in the region went “We work hard and slave away, so Turner can bury us at the end of the day.”  While stock holders expected to turn a quick profit, the mine failed to meet expectations in its first three years of operation. Turner found it difficult to keep a steady workforce. Laborers complained of being forced to work at night and of hearing strange noises within the mining complex. Rumors soon spread that the mine was not being used for coaling at all, with miners telling stories of carting livestock and wheelbarrows full of mud into the caves on a weekly basis. According to Turner’s biographer, these rumors were concocted by trade unionists attempting to organize the miners of the Appalachian region. Demonizing Turner and the other coal barons was part of this strategy. For his part, Turner began to use more hardline tactics to enforce discipline, resorting to freezing wages, blacklisting and in some cases threats of violence.

This state of affairs continued into 1925 when stories began circulating of a large worm-like creature inhabiting the Bone Mine. In the spring, miners refused to work, staging what unionists declared a “trade strike.” Oddly, workers did not vocalize any demands during this supposed strike other than refusing to enter the mine. Various miners gave written testimonies claiming to have seen a vermiform monster slithering through the caves feeding on animal and human remains. References to “Turner’s brood” and “Mr. Wiggles” pepper these accounts, phrases which have since worked their way into the local folklore of the region.

In the end, investors pulled out of the mining operation, citing Turner’s incompetent management and the confrontational tactics of union leaders as motivating factors. The Bone Mine closed shortly afterward and has since remained abandoned. A geological study of the mine undertaken in 1996 found traces of folded marine sedimentary and volcanic rock dating from the middle Ordovician Period in the mines. This evidence suggests that the location of the Bone Mine was quite old and the mines may have contained sections of rock once belonging to the ancient oceanic floor. Geologists noted that the depth of mines measured 2.4 kilometers below surface level in certain places, far exceeding the depth needed for coal extraction. In these lower caves, fragments of bone and “other detritus” were also discovered.

The Bone Mine remains in Boone County, West Virginia to this day. As of yet, there has been no effort to incorporate the abandoned site into the region's current industrial heritage projects.