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State grant to help mark site of Minnesota's worst mining disaster

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A state grant will help Crow Wing County shed some light on one of the darkest days in Minnesota mining history.

The Brainerd Dispatch reports the County Board this week agreed to accept up to $279,000 from the Department of Natural Resources to help develop Milford Mine Memorial Park.

The site north of Crosby is where 41 miners were killed in 1924 when a shaft 200 feet deep collapsed, filling with mud and water from neighboring Foley Lake.

The area is already a park but the county's agreement with the DNR will allow for restoration of the mine shaft, a trail leading to it, a historic marker and monument, and interpretive signs.

The Dispatch says half of the grant will pay for construction of a boardwalk across the marshes that keep the mine site inaccessible by foot except when winter ice is thick.

An article published by MinnPost last year recounted the Milford Mine collapse.

It says the manganese mine owned by George Crosby opened in 1917 and reached its peak of production in 1924 – the year of the collapse – shipping 70,000 tons of ore. The mine continued operating until 1932, when the Depression idled most of the country's steel mills.

Newspaper accounts from the time of the Feb. 5 collapse said the miners had no warning anything was awry. Within 15 minutes the bog water and mud had filled the shaft to within 15 feet of the surface. Seven miners were able to escape.

This past February the Dispatch posted video from a ceremony at the site that marked the 90th anniversary of the disaster.

An application to list the Milford Mine site on the National Register of Historic Places was accepted by the National Park Service in 2011.

The mine is also well-known among those who collect ghost stories from the Cuyuna Range. The website Ghosts of the Prairie relates the tale of the first group of workers to return to the Milford Mine when production resumed after the collapse.

There to meet them at the bottom of the shaft, the story goes, was Clinton Harris. Clinton, they say, might have escaped from the tragedy but instead chose to stay at his post, sounding an alarm whistle to warn those working on the mine's higher levels to evacuate. Miners in that first post-collapse crew insisted they not only saw Clinton still at his post but heard the whistle, as well.

The Brainerd Dispatch reports plans for developing Milford Mine Memorial Park include planting 41 trees to honor each of the victims of the collapse. The schedule calls for completing the work by September of next year.

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