Quecreek artifacts make their way from Windber to Somerset

| Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, 12:56 a.m.

A replica of the iconic yellow steel cage and other artifacts from the 2002 rescue of nine miners trapped for 77 hours in the Quecreek Mine near Somerset have come full circle.

“It was certainly meant to be,” said Bill Arnold, executive director of the Quecreek Mine Rescue Foundation, which operates a museum near the rescue site. “Very few artifacts not related to that aren't here.”

Thousands of mining artifacts — including many from Quecreek — recently were donated to the Quecreek foundation by the Windber Coal Heritage Center, which closed last month because of rising costs and fewer visitors. The Windber collection covers 117 years of Pennsylvania bituminous coal-mining history.

The mine rescue played out almost 12 years ago on Arnold's 212-year-old dairy farm, where a permanent memorial to the miners and rescuers has been built. The nine miners were trapped on July 24, 2002, when they broke through an abandoned, water-filled mine that flooded the Quecreek mine with more than 150 million gallons of water.

Officials at The Progress Fund expected to tap into the area's “heritage tourism” when they opened the Windber Coal Heritage Center, which sits between the Flight 93 National Memorial and the Quecreek site in the mining town of Windber. It was touted as “the only interactive bituminous coal museum in the eastern United States that tells the story of miners and their families.” But the number of visitors declined during the years, from 32,000 annually to just 7,000, said Chris Barkley, executive director of the Windber center and a visiting professor at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown..

A Hollywood version of the yellow steel capsule used to pull the men to the surface in a movie about Quecreek will join the actual capsule used in the rescue, which was donated to the Quecreek foundation in 2004 by the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

The center amassed more than 8,300 artifacts during the past 15 years. The process of moving the artifacts, which include tools, lunch buckets, helmet lights, augers, mine maps and other documents, is ongoing. Some larger relics are in crates.

Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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