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The Sunshine Mine

Disaster in Idaho:



Some Primary Sources in Albertsons Library to Accompany the First-Year Read

The Special Collections Department in Albertsons Library was one of the archives author Gregg Olsen consulted in pursuit of primary source material during his research for The Deep Dark, the story of the Sunshine Mine disaster of May 1972.  The Library's primary source materials documenting the fire, which killed 91 miners, are spread across several collections, chief among them the papers of Idaho's Governor, Cecil D. Andrus (MSS 141), and the state's U.S. Senators, Frank Church (MSS 56) and Len B. Jordan (MSS 6).  Their papers chronicle the response to the disaster as the extent of the devastation and loss of life became apparent.  Reproduced here are some examples of primary source documents from the Andrus, Church, and Jordan collections; along with sample photos from the Idaho Statesman photo collection.

Boise's daily newspaper, The Idaho Statesman, chronicled the rescue efforts through photojournalism.  These three photos are a sampling from the Statesman negative collection in the Special Collections Department.  Click on the thumbnails to see larger images; click here to see a diagram of the mine.

Investigations to uncover the causes of the fire and loss of life began almost as quickly as the rescue effort themselves. The first documents investigators turned to were the federal government's most recent safety inspections of the mine.  Senator Len B. Jordan asked the Bureau of Mines for copies of several of these reports.  They are located in Box 190, folder 35 of his Senatorial papers in Albertsons Library.  Reproduced here is page one of the safety inspection report of January 12, 1972, not quite four months before the disaster.

Governor Cecil D. Andrus asked for a declaration of a major disaster from the federal government so the state would qualify for federal disaster relief funds.  This document is the teletyped response from the director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness.  The notation to "File" is in Governor Andrus' own hand. From the Cecil D. Andrus gubernatorial papers (MSS 141.1), Box 13, Folder 41.

Senator Frank Church sent a letter to President Nixon reiterating Governor Andrus' request for a declaration of a major disaster.  This is the carbon copy of the Senator's letter retained in the Frank Church collection (MSS 56), Series 1.1, Box 128, Folder 11.

The closure of the mine after the disaster and the unemployment that resulted brought great hardship to families of the miners.  This is a letter received by Senator Frank Church from a resident of the Silver Valley explaining the hardships her family endured, retained in the Frank Church collection in Series 1.1, Box 128, Folder 10.

Investigators from the U.S. Senate's Subcommittee on Labor looked into the disaster and found fault with the escapeways in the mine.  Their summation was obtained by Porter Ward, one of Frank Church's aides, and passed on to him.  It is retained in Series 1.1, Box 128, Folder 12 of the Frank Church collection.

A memorial to the miners killed in the Sunshine Mine disaster was dedicated in Kellogg, Idaho, on May 2, 1974.  A copy of the program for the dedication service is found in Governor Cecil Andrus' papers (MSS 141.1), Box 131, Folder 45.
Special Collections • 1910 University Drive • Boise, ID 83725-1430 • Phone: 208-426-1204 • Email: Archives