A new memorial, which honors Irish immigrants who died while building a railroad tunnel connecting Massachusetts to the West, was unveiled in Florida, Mass., on Saturday.
The granite memorial pays tribute to 13 miners who were killed on October 19, 1867, the deadliest day in the 27-year construction of the Hoosac Tunnel, which created a gateway from New England to the rest of the country.
The miners, who were mostly Irish immigrants, were at work 580 feet below ground at the base of the Central Shaft, one of two vertical ventilation chutes leading from the surface to the tunnel, linking the town of Florida and North Adams, when the structure built over the shaft at the surface burst into flames.
"The ashes completely closed the mouth of the shaft -- shutting the helpless miners from all chance of escape and sealing them up as in a bottle," the North Adams Transcript wrote at the time.
It took more than a year to recover the miners' bodies from the flooded shaft, said Stanley Brown, a member of the Florida Historical Commission.
The granite is engraved with the names of the 13 men who died, and sits within a semicircle of stones taken from the Central Shaft, the Telegram reports. The stone was purchased with funds from the town of Florida's cemetery repair and expansion account.
Last month, members of historical societies in Rowe, Florida and North Adams, along with rail enthusiasts, a folk band, town officials and a reverend unveiled the marker for the memorial on Central Shaft Road.
"The history of the Hoosac Tunnel never ends," Brown said. "We gather to pay respect to those who died 146 years ago this day."
Construction of the 4.75-mile long train tunnel - the longest in America until 1916 - began in 1875. Designed by A. F. Edwards, the tunnel cost an estimated $21 million, about $446 million today.
The construction, which served as an experiment in modern tunneling techniques, including blasting using nitroglycerine, claimed an estimated 193 lives.
Charles Cahoon, of the North Adams Historical Commission, said he's identified by name more than 100 of the men who were killed during construction. He found most of them by looking in old editions of The Transcript at the North Adams Public Library and he plans to dig into Florida's records and find more.
"We'd like to eventually honor all of them," Cahoon said.
Before reciting a prayer for the 13 men at the dedication ceremony, Rev. Roy Burdick of the Florida Baptist Church said, "This is not the end of the story. About the Hoosac Tunnel and Central Shaft, there's always been stories. There's a lot still going on and there will be more to continue until long after we're gone."
There is already a memorial in North Adams which commemorates all who died during the Hoosac Tunnel construction.
No Irish Need Apply? Not anymore