In 1930, seeking work and money to send home to their families, fathers, sons and brothers from all across West Virginia and neighboring states rushed to Union Carbide for employment. Two-thirds of these workers were African Americans, young and old, all poor. Unbeknownst to the workers, the mountain was full of silica, a mineral that the company needed to make strong steel alloy. What started as a drilling project to divert water to a hydro- power plant soon became a secret silica mine. Within weeks the illness was consuming the men who were all doomed to die. Union Carbide then buried the laborers in mass unmarked graves near a cornfield, rarely notifying their families.
The beautiful tunnel was completed with the assistance of government funding. Several tons of valuable silica for the production of alloy steel were illegally mined to make loads of money for Union Carbide. And the mountain, which consumed so many lives and created so much grief, was turned into a state park for picnics, swimming and golf. Today, tourists enjoy the splendor of Hawk’s Nest State Park without any knowledge of its countless death toll.
In 1970, the graves were discovered when construction began to expand a nearby highway. Still unable to rest in peace, the bodies were dug up and the original coffins were burned. The skeletal remains were then condensed into a child’s coffin four feet long and sixteen inches wide, three or more to a coffin, and moved into mass graves in a dumping ground with old cars and appliances.