On This Day #22 – Springhill Disaster

On this Day ……..

On November 7, 1958, Bill Clifton recorded Springhill Disaster, a song that he adapted from a poem written by a survivor, Maurice Ruddick.

The Springhill disaster took place on Thursday, October 23, 1958.

Actually there were three disasters in the different mines within the Springhill coalfield, near the town of in Springhill, central Cumberland County, Nova Scotia. The one that inspired this song resulted from an underground earthquake, or bump, which can occur when so much coal is removed from a seam that it weakens the supporting rock that holds the mine shaft open. It was the most disastrous event in North American mining history.

The quake affected No. 2 colliery – one of the deepest coal mines in the world. 174 miners were underground at the time, 74 were killed, and 100 were trapped but eventually rescued after more than a week underground.

Bill CliftonThe event created much interest from onlookers, as well as reporters through local and global sources of media. Virginia bluegrass singer Bill Clifton was personally touched by a remark made by one of the miners, Maurice Ruddick, when his rescuers reached him. Clifton made a phone call to Ruddick, who was in the Springhill Miners Hospital, asking him if he would write his story. Within 24 hours Clifton had received a poem from Ruddick.

Springhill Disaster
(Maurice Ruddick, Bill Clifton, Paul Clayton and Pembroke)

The twenty-third of October, we’ll remember that day;
Down the shaft underground in our usual way.
In the Cumberland pit how the rafters crashed down
And the black hell closed ’round us ‘way down in the ground.
Now when the news reached our good neighbors nearby,
The rescue work started; our hopes were still high.
But the last bit of hope like our lamps soon burned dim;
In the three-foot high dungeon we joined in a hymn
In that dark, black hole in the ground.

Only God will ever know all that happened down there.
How we watched Percy Rector die gasping a prayer,
And young Clarke had his birthday, he thought, in his grave;
After days of cruel torture we’d no hopes to be saved.
We sang altogether, though racked through with pain.
When they broke through we knew that our prayers weren’t in vain.
I crawled through the tunnel, they helped me along.
I said: “Give me some water and I’ll sing you a song
Of that dark, black hole in the ground!”

I’ll sing you a song of the bravest of men,
Of those who remained to go digging again
To bring the coal up from ten thousand feet deep,
And the others who stayed there forever to sleep.
Oh, be thankful you fellows brought back from the dead,
And pray for your friends who have gone on ahead.
And you boys up in heaven as you look on down,
Don’t forget to remember Springhill mining town
And that dark, black hole in the ground!

Copyright reserved.


The recording session took place in the RCA Victor Studio, 1610 Hawkins Street, Nashville, Tennessee.

The Bluegrass Sound of Bill CliftonParticipating musicians were producer Bill Clifton (guitar and vocals), Jimmy Selph (guitar), Johnny Clark (banjo), Joseph Zinkan (bass), Tommy Jackson (fiddle) and Tommy Vaden (fiddle).

The recording of Springhill Disaster was backed with The Girl I Left In Sunny Tennessee and released on Kapp K-251 later in 1958 and on the Starday LP The Bluegrass Sound of Bill Clifton (SLP 159, released in March 1962).

During the same session the Dixie Mountain Boys also recorded The Girl I Left In Sunny Tennessee, You Don’t Think About Me When I’m Gone and I’ll Wander Back Someday.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.