CROSBY-Just 15 minutes more and the men in the depths of the Milford Mine would have been at the end of their shift, but that kind of luck wasn't on their side 95 years ago-Feb. 5, 1924, the date of Minnesota's worst mining disaster near Crosby.
When disaster swiftly struck, 48 miners were working on the 165-foot and 175-foot levels of the Milford Mine. The mine was 200 feet deep.
Little time passed between the first sign of trouble and the death of nearly all those working below as a moving inky mix of mud and water filled the Milford Mine. Their first warning something was wrong was a sudden gust of warm wind. Then a second gust and a liquid, roaring sound. The wind was so strong it blew out the carbide gas lamps on their hats or knocked hats off altogether.
The disaster fell upon them with incredible speed. Men ran for their lives. Others were trapped in mud where they stood. Survivors recalled men who lost their lives when they went back to help others. For those farther from the only way to the surface, it was a desperate race.
"It was dark and cold. The wind hit me again. I knew what it was. I was in a time like that once before, down in Michigan. So I knew if we lost a minute it was too late. I yelled. Then I ran like hell. We can't save our life no more if we don't run. I know. So I run.
"No time for the gates. No time for the cage. No time for anything. I just run and fall down and run some more. I get to the ladder. I reach for it. I miss it. I grab it and start up. I am all in. But I am damned if I stop," said Mat Kangas, Milford Mine disaster survivor in an interview with a Duluth News Tribune reporter as recalled in the book "The Milford Mine Disaster."
Only minutes later, 41 men were dead. Seven survived. All the mine's levels, including the 200-foot deep shaft, were filled to within 15 feet of the surface in less than 20 minutes.
In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, the Dispatch reported the wives and children who lived in the town that sprang up around the mine crowded to the shaft. "But aid was in vain. Up came the slime ooze, licking the sides of the shaft until within a few feet of the surface. It sloshed the sides and gurgled and then retreated a distance until at 11 o'clock at night it was 20 feet from the collar or top of the shaft.
The disaster is believed to have begun when a surface cave-in of 6 or 8 feet at the mine's easternmost end tapped into mud with a direct connection with Foley Lake. The mine had a single vertical shaft to the surface. Seven men made it to the top with the water rising nearly as fast as they did.
Now the Milford Mine Memorial Park, 26351 Milford Lake Drive, about 4 miles north of Crosby following Highway 6, offers an opportunity to visit the site. The park concept was first approved in 2007 with the first phase completed in 2010. The following year, the Minnesota Historical Society listed the park as a site on the National Registry of Historic Places. Work in 2016 and 2017 added trails, boardwalk, interpretive displays, covered shelter, a canoe landing and more.