On today’s episode, Rachel heads to Crested Butte, CO to discuss a mining disaster. Then, Emily heads to Dublin, Ireland to share the legend of Dorcus “Darkey” Kelly and the possible new findings about her true past. Hopefully, you’re horrified!
Story 1: Jokerville Mine Explosion
It’s January of 1884. Crested Butte is not yet a haven for tourists – it’s a mining town. And on January 25th, the sleepy little town woke up to some tragic news. And I’m going to read you some of the horrible headlines:
“A Coal-Mining Horror.”
“Buried in a Mine.”
“Coffined in a Carbon Cave.”
And, on a lighter note, “Coal Mine Calamity.”
In case you haven’t guessed what is going to happen, I’m about to tell you about the Jokerville Mining Explosion.
But first, let’s set up some context. In 1880, coal was the main source of fuel in America, and legit coal beds were found in Crested Butte. William Jackson Palmer, an industrialist, had recently formed Colorado Coal and Iron, or CC&I, and he heard about the sweet sweet coal beds in Crested Butte, so he decided to extend his railroad, the Denver & Rio Grand Railroad, to Crested Butte in 1881. It’s like a real-life Monopoly.
By November of 1881, the Jokerville Mine was opened about a mile outside of Crested Butte. It was incredibly productive: Great for the production of steel, not so much for the health and safety of the workers.
Now, I can’t hear the phrase “black lung” without thinking about Derek Zoolander and his one afternoon in the coal mines, but it is a common disease among miners, due to their constant inhalation of coal dust. I did a quick google, and found that some of the symptoms of the black lung include: shortness of breath and decreased tolerance for exercise, which honestly… who among us – but even worse, chronic cough, coughing up phlegm, and the inability to breathe while lying flat. Not great.
In addition to the risk of disease, there were geographical risks. Mining shafts could collapse or flood, trapping the miners inside. Also, methane gas, which is super flammable, was released from coal beds and could build up in the mines. Because of this risk, every morning, an inspector would go down into the mines and check the air quality. His okay would signal the start of the workday.
Once the mines were declared… safe enough…. Coal miners would work for 12-14 hours. Want to know how much money they made? $2 a day. That would be about $54 a day now – about $4.50 an hour if it’s only a 12-hour day. And if that isn’t heartbreaking enough for you, this is the 1880s, meaning a time before child-labor laws. So there were children working at Jokerville – the 2 youngest being William Neath and Tommy Lyle… who were 12 years old.
In December of 1883, John McNeil, the State Mine Inspector, stated that Jokerville was well-ventilated and that “everything was in proper order,” however, even after giving this mine the green flag he stated that he considered the mine to be “a very dangerous one.”
Now, we’ve arrived on January 24, 1884. Luke Richardson, Fire Boss, which, aside, would look really cool on a business card, completed his daily inspection. Remember, he was looking for a build-up of methane, which he didn’t find… except for in one chamber; Chamber number 18, which was on the second level of the mine. Luke noticed that the partition in Chamber 18, the one that would keep the gas from permeating into the rest of the mine, needed to be repaired before everything was super safe, but he figured he could do that while the miners started their work for the day – no reason to halt an honest day’s work. So Luke gave the green light and left Jokerville Mine to grab the stuff he’d need to fix the partition.
As he was leaving, Luke heard the most traumatic sound he would probably ever hear: An explosion. One so violent that it instantly killed 12-year-olds William Neath and Tommy Lyle, who had been working near the entrance to the mine, as well as William’s older brother Morgan, who was only 17.
Although Luke Richardson didn’t realize how big the explosion was. I’m guessing that small explosions were fairly common among coal mines, so Luke ran back into the mine, holding up his lamp to see through the dark tunnels and, I’m assuming, smoke from the explosion. Immediately upon entering the mine, Luke stumbled across the body of another miner, John Rutherford. At this point, 10 miners came faltering out of the mine. These 10 workers survived the blast; however, they were choking on the lingering gas. These men are seriously amazing – even though they had just survived an explosion, they started working on the ventilation fan that had been damaged in the explosion. No one could go back into the mine to recover bodies or search for more survivors until all the toxic air was cleared out, and they couldn’t do that without a working fan.
It would be a full day before the recovery could take place. John McNeil, the state mine instructor I mentioned early, took over the cleanup/recovery mission. And trigger warning, I’m going to describe what he saw.
On the first level of the mine, John found the bodies of miners who had been ravaged by the full force of the explosion. Bodies had been thrown against the jagged walls of the mine, and many of the bodies were found independent of arms and legs, which were found broken and scattered from their whole.
As he ventured deeper into the mine, John McNeil found 18 more bodies, huddled together, most likely trying to escape the mine, however they were probably impacted by the same toxic gas that the previous day’s survivors had been choking on.
59 men died in the mining explosion, and it took almost a week for all of their bodies to be recovered.
William Jackson Palmer, the owner of the mine, immediately allotted $1000 for the families of the men who died in the explosion, which would be a little over $28,000 today. This sounds like a lot – but it’s only about $450 per family. He also paid for the transportation of the bodies and their burial.
Many of the survivors blamed the blast on the negligence of the fire boss, Luke Richardson. Apparently, he had sent in another worker, John Anderson, who didn’t know much about gas leaks or their subsequent repairs, to work on repairing the chamber partition before the blast. And if you’re scratching your head thinking, but didn’t Luke leave the mine saying that he was going to get tools to fix it? Yes, yes he did. So there are some conflicting stories and Luke may need to take “fire boss” right off those business cards.
Overall though, John McNeil couldn’t quite pin the explosion entirely on Luke Richardson. In his final inspection statement, he wrote: “there had been carelessness to cause such an accident, but could not locate it; it is difficult for the most expert miner to locate carelessness after an explosion.” He further noted that “if Anderson had allowed the fire-boss to have preceded him [into the mine], the fire-boss . . . would have done the self-same thing . . . thus the accident might have happened at the fire boss hands.”
Obviously, this explosion went 1880s viral – with articles published in Harper’s and the New York Times about the tragedy, but the media coverage didn’t spur any major reforms to conditions in coal mines. Honestly, I got a vibe about this that is similar to the way people talk about sex workers. Like, well, that’s too bad but they knew the risks when they took the job. I will say, at the very least, this type of disaster did lead miners in Colorado to start to unionize, which probably means better pay and benefits, as well as life insurance, should tragedy befall the workers.
Even after this catastrophe, the Jokerville Mine stayed open until 1891, when a labor strike shut down production and then it officially closed in 1895.
Almost 100 years later, in the early ‘90s, Crested Butte residents put up a plaque with an incomplete list of the names of the fallen miners. And then, in 2017, the town of Crested Butte built a granite memorial with the full list of the victims. I will post a picture of the memorial/victim’s names on our Instagram.
And that is the horrible story of the Jokerville Mining explosion.
Story 2: Dorcus “Darkey” Kelly
Dorcus “Darkey” Kelly, a woman who for centuries has been known as a witch who was burned at the stake in 1746 in Dublin, Ireland. And she is the focus of my story today.
We’ve done lots of talking about burning at the stake of late, haven’t we? Well as we know it didn’t happen in the USA, but it did happen in Hungary to Elizabeth Bathory’s accomplices and it also happened to Darkey Kelly, so let’s talk about her.
Little is known about Darkey Kelly’s early life, in fact, very little is known about her at all. She was born Dorcas Kelly, Dorcas meaning ‘Dark’ in Irish, probably in Dublin and probably in the 1730s, but after that, we don’t much more about her life…
Until we get to the part of her life where things start to hit the fan a bit. One of the few things we are certain of about Darkey is that she was a sex worker who did her business at The Maiden Tower brothel, a place that was infamous for its debauchery. She worked there in a let’s say, “hands-on“ fashion for a while and then retired to buy the brothel and run it.
Even though she had retired from actually taking on and seeing clients Darkey maintained one specific client because he was very high profile and “special“ to her. This was the sheriff of Dublin, Simon Luttrell.
Simon was a nobleman and a member of the House of Commons and the first Earl of Carhampton and apparently a very rude man who is very well known for his debauchery. In fact, he earned himself a sweet ass nickname “King of Hell“ which sounds pretty badass until you realize that it is not just because he was a fuck boy but also because he was a member of the infamous Hellfire Club.
I personally had never heard of the Hellfire Club, so I did a little digging.
Apparently, the Irish Hellfire Club was founded in 1735 by Richard Parsons, a man known to dabble in black magic. Apparently, members of the club were wealthy people who wanted a place where they could go do whatever they wanted – particularly, alcohol and sex. The country clubs of yesteryear, if you will.
There was a lot of secrecy surrounding this club which of course led people to believe that they were Satanist and devil worshipers. I think you can pretty much expect that if you refuse to tell people what your club is about but tell them they are missing out on all the cool shit the Hellfire Club is doing then… they’re gonna label you a Satanist. Obviously.
Now apparently, the King of Hell was the leader of the club and some say that at meetings he would dress like the devil with horns and wings and hooves. Legend also says that they would set a place at the table each meeting for the devil hoping that he would attend. You know, like sad nerdy boys who invited the girls to their party but they never showed up.
So there’s a lot of lore around these Hellfire Clubs. And because it was the 1700s it’s really hard to know what’s true and what’s not… A lot of the legends and lore say that they held black masses and they sacrificed cats and even servants to the devil. One story talks about the devil coming to a card game in disguise but then somebody dropped a card and looked under the table and saw that their strange guest had cloven feet! Another said that there was a young farmer who was curious to figure out what happened at the meetings so he went to the club and they let him witness that nights activity and apparently that he was found the next morning trembling and terrified and he never spoke again for the rest of his life and he never even could remember what his name was.
Basically… It seems that this Simon Luttrell guy was a creepy character who enjoyed expressing himself by way of getting messed up on drugs and drinking and conducting Satanic rituals and then heading down to the brothel for a good time with Darkey Kelly.
Now, her association with this man apparently caused a lot of hoopla around town and then, as the story goes, she found out that she was pregnant. A single mom, brothel proprietress would have not been super acceptable back in that time, so a lot of people think that she was probably trying to blackmail Sheriff Luttrell to own up to the fact that he was the father of the baby and pay her child support. Then, when he refused, she went all scorned woman on him and accused him of murdering her child in a Satanic ritual.
Unfortunately, Sheriff Luttrell is the King of Hell so he is not going to go quietly into the night. He counteracts her claims by saying.. yes, I’m the father, but only because she tricked me into loving her and sexing her up with WITCH MAGIC. He continued on by claiming that SHE was the one that killed the baby as a witch ritual.
Now, she was a sex worker and he was a high profile nobleman so he probably didn’t even need to go to these lengths to get people on his side, but he is said to have bribed folks to attest to the fact that they had seen her ritually kill her infant and who do you think society sided with? You guessed it: the guy.
So according to the lore, after all of this finger-pointing by Simon, Darkey was found to be a witch and burned at the stake for her crime. In fact, if you go to Darkey Kelly Pub there’s a plaque on the wall the tells the story and talks about how she was burned at the stake as a witch in the 1740s.
The only problem with that is that it is not historically accurate. She was burned at the stake but it was 1761 and it had nothing to do with Simon Luttrell and everything to do with the fact that Ms. Kelly was one of Ireland’s first serial killers.
So, here’s the cool thing that research helped uncover. In 2011, some researchers made a discovery by reading contemporary newspapers in the National Archives. They were actually looking for the story of Dorcus Kelly being burned at the stake for ritualistically killing her baby, but what they found was that Dorcas Kelly had indeed been burned at the stake, but not for the crime expected.
Newspapers from the time revealed that Dorcas Kelly was actually accused of killing shoemaker, John Dowling and THEN when investigators went to search her brothel for more information/clues, they found the bodies of five men hidden in the basement.
So, Darkey was set to be executed, as I mentioned before – that was all true, it just happened at a totally different time and for totally different reasons. Apparently, at her trial, she claimed she was pregnant to try to get out of being put to death, but a jury of midwives ascertained that she was not, in fact, pregnant; so she did not receive a reprieve.
One interesting side note here is that back in this time in Ireland there were actually gendered approaches to putting a prisoner to death. And by that I mean that there were certain crimes where a man would be hung for committing the crime but a woman would be burned at the stake for it. From what I can tell most of it is extra sexist because they would especially burn women at the stake for crimes that seemed like they had more skills than a lowly woman should have. For example, if a woman is able to counterfeit money, she must be doing it because she’s a witch. Whereas a man it’s just accepted that their brain would be big enough to do that. Can you imagine what they’d think about us today? If those 1700s men were time-traveled to America circa 2021, they’d just shit themselves immediately.
Anywho, Darkey Kelly’s execution was particularly gruesome. According to the newspaper, she was placed on a stool that was taller than normal and a chain was passed under her arms. Then a rope was put around her neck and when her devotions were ended the stool was taken from her and she was soon strangled. But not enough to kill her. Just enough to make her unconscious – they say it took about 20 minutes. THEN they took the rope away and let her be held up by the chains under her arms and then put brush under her feet and lit it on fire.
The reason why they did it this way was because back then attending executions was like going to dinner and the movies on a Friday night. They were all the Michael Jackson meme eating popcorn while a lady was burned to death in front of their eyes, but they didn’t really care for the screaming. So, they wanted her to be unconscious first.
So, once she was officially dead, it was tradition to put the body into a pit by the gallows, instead of allowing for a proper burial. However, after Darkey’s death, women who worked for Darkey brought her body to Copper Alley to be waked. They were like NOT TODAY SATAN, you are not tossing our queen into a ditch grave.
Of course, this wake quickly turned into a RIOT and the Chief Magistrate ordered the arrest of the women, 13 of whom were charged with riotous behavior.
In modern-day Dublin, there are still rumors about Darkey Kelly’s ghost, stalking the streets of Dublin. She is thought to be “the Green Lady” of St. Audoen’s church in Dublin’s city center. A beautiful 12th-century church, there are reports that a spirit of a woman haunts only the outside of the church, never stepping foot beyond the steps at the entrance. The legend is that this is Darkey Kelly’s spirit and, of course, as a woman of ill-repute and sinful ways, she would never be able to rest or even step within the holy sanctum of the church.
On one final note, since we are talking about the 1700s and women being burned at the stake, I think it’s important to state that it’s hard to know what’s really history here. Was she a baby-killing Satan-worshiping witch? Highly unlikely. Was she a serial killer? According to newspapers, yes, but, it’s also possible that she’s just another woman misremembered thanks to history and men running the world. Especially back then. So, I guess we will leave it to each individual listener to decide which way they think the story went!
And that is the short story of Dorcas “Darkey” Kelly, a woman who has long been remembered as a witch burned at the stake and recently earned the title of Ireland’s first serial killer.