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Tough day for county’s Italian miners

Robert Zarlingo
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At the end of the 19th century Italian immigrants in western Colorado were working the railroads and the dark, dangerous passages of the coal mines. By 1896, there were 457 miners working in Garfield County’s 10 coal mines, many of them Italian immigrants. The money earned in the mines afforded many families like Robert Zarlingo’s the opportunity to buy land and eventually become farmers and ranchers. But for some immigrant miners their first job in the United States would be their last. Here, Robert Zarlingo recounts a dark day in 1913.Gallacher: Did both of your grandfathers work in the coal mines?Zarlingo: Oh yeah. Grandpa Zarlingo even worked in the mines up the river. I was lucky because both of my granddads were out of the mines in New Castle before the big explosion, the biggest one actually. It killed for some. The 1913 explosion was on my dad’s birthday, December 16, 1913.Dad and one or two of his sisters and his brother Sam and Grandma and Grandpa were at the ranch. And Grandpa was the only one, at that time, that happened to be outside. He came rushin’ to the house and told two of the kids, “Hitch up the spring wagon,” and he told Grandma, “Fix me a bedroll and a grubsack.” He was excited.”Where are you goin’,” they said. And he said, “Didn’t ya hear? The mine blew up.” And, of course, they rushed outside and by that time you could see the smoke and the dust. And he said, “I gotta go and see what I can do.”You see, his oldest daughter Jenny and Mike Manuppella had gotten married on December the 10th, 1910, and they were livin’ in New Castle. Mike was a shotfirer [one who sets and detonates explosive charges]. He had been minin’ quite some time and he had two brothers and two cousins in that mine. And he was supposed to be in the mine. He got up early that morning to go to work, but he was really sick. In those days you could get the flu and just die. His wife, Jenny, just finally told him, “You gotta go to bed.” No sooner did she get him into bed when, BOOM. And he lost four family members just like that. After that explosion somebody said, “Half the women in New Castle are widows.” Of course that was an exaggeration. But when you figure that the Vulcan explosion in 1896 took 49 and this one took 37, you’d have to say that there was more fact than fiction in it.Gallacher: What percentage of the casualties were Italian?Zarlingo: I think about half of them were. I was told that in those days 60 percent of the men in the coal mines between New Castle and Carbondale were Italian.


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