An old southwest Virginia mine operator visited a historic tavern in Richmond. He loved the hustle and modern life in the city. It was the 1890s and he was well into his golden years. He ordered a drink and soon curious regulars directed the conversation to life in the mines. The story he told brought the tavern to silence.
He befriended two immigrant miners when he was young, an Irishman named Barney, and an Englishman named Bob. The two were new to America, but developed a strong friendship while they worked in the same stretch of mine. Regardless of their differences, they became best friends.
Unfortunately, Bob and Barney fell in love with the same girl. They were always civil towards each other, but the conflict strained their friendship. Like all love triangles, it came to an end when he girl chose Barney as her beloved. Bob quietly walked away and nothing more was said. The two never openly fought or argued, but coworkers noticed a subtle change between them. Bob grew more impatient and hostile towards Barney.
Time passed and most of their coworkers were certain Bob’s reserved English acrimony had faded. Weeks passed and the tense relationship returned to normal. One day, Bob bolted from the mouth of their mine. He yelled about a horrible accident. The workers rushed to where the two had labored. The Irishman was crushed beneath a massive pile of rubble.
No one suspected anything, at first. Rock slides were an occupational hazard in the mine. The miners pulled Barney’s body out and wiped the dust from it, but something was wrong. He had a strange, deep wound in his forehead. It was nothing like the typical injuries sustained from falling rock. Whispers began immediately, and so did talk of how strange it was the Englishman didn’t have a single bruise from such a slide. Usually, the rocks fell too quickly for anyone to fully escape.
The death, deemed “accidental,” initiated a chain reaction. Many of the mine’s regular workers quit that day. They declared the death was suspicious and something terrible would happen because of it. Many believed Barney was dead before the rocks ever fell on him. They suspected divine retribution was on its way.
The tavern storyteller claimed to be one of the men who remained with the company after Barney’s death. The Englishman changed afterward. He developed an intense fear of that particular spot in the mine. Bob went everywhere the company assigned him, but hesitated when it came to that particular spot. He told everyone he couldn’t take the grief of losing such a dear friend.
A month eventually passed and the Englishman was placed in another part of the mine, with a new group of men. This new group worked much deeper in the mine, and their work required torchlight.
Work proceeded as usual for a few days, but soon after a gust of wind snuffed the flames. One brave soul volunteered to get the replacement light, so the rest of the group waited in the darkness. Several workers grew steadily apprehensive. The wind wasn’t natural. Something was wrong with it. It was absolutely frigid, and much stronger than what they normally encountered so deep within the earth. They suffered in silence. Even the most frightened still held onto their pride.
Bob claimed he saw a light just down the tunnel, but no one else could see it. He said a man walked in the corridor ahead with a torch. He said he would go light his torch and took off.
His coworkers didn’t like it. A few followed him from a distance. They still didn’t see any indication of the man he mentioned. The mining company operated bituminous mines, which meant frequent open shafts in the ground. The miners didn’t want him to fall. A few seconds later, they halted. The Englishman screamed and begged Barney to be merciful. They heard another shriek and seconds later, a tremendous splash in deep water.
The miner who’d first gone to retrieve light came running when he heard the screams. The group of men reached the spot where Bob had been, on the cusp of a deep shaft. They looked down into the test-hole. Bob floated in the dark water with a large and bloody gash on his forehead, just like the one Barney had. They also noticed a bloody pickaxe lay across the hole from them.
From that point on, Bob’s spirit wandered that portion of the mine until the company closed its mining operations forever.