Mining Intuition

In 1885,  22 year-old Louis Bouchez, my great grandfather, immigrated to America,  leaving his family in Paturages, Belgium and the mines of the Pays Noir region of France, never to return. He went to live in Pana, a coal town in central Illinois, and gained employment as a laborer at the Penwell Coal Mining Company.

Penwell Mine, Pana IL 1916

In my quest to better understand the life and work of a miner, I came across the book, A Miner’s Life: An Autobiography by John Brophy (1883-1963).

Brophy was a long time labor leader and district president of the UMWA (United Mine Workers of America).

In the book, he notes: “Most miners developed a ‘sixth sense’ that would tell him when the chances were going against him, and never miss that warning, or his career in mining would be a short one.”

Brophy also says: “After a while the timbers begin to splinter and you can hear the roof “working.” This means that the strata of slate in the roof are beginning to break. It makes a sound like thunder, which can go on for as long as two or three days. An experienced miner can tell from the way the roof is “working” and from the splintering of the timbers just about when the roof is ready to fall. Then he gets his mine car and himself out of there, fast. It is a matter of pride to get as much coal out as possible, but nobody gets any credit for foolhardiness.”

Another passage, from Gail Weir’s book The Miners of Wabana: The Story of the Iron Ore Miners of Bell Island, describes incidents where men either stayed home from work or got out of harm’s way just in time because “there’s something wrong somewhere.”

As soon as I read that I thought, “I know that feeling.” And recent research that indicates DNA memory does exist introduces the possibility that maybe I really do know.

There was one incident in particular when I was living in Chicago, where some guy jumped on me. I wasn’t hurt, but that experience (including the cautionary intuitive hit that preceded it) left a pretty heavy imprint on my psyche.

To this day, I can tell you exactly where I was when I got that feeling (one that I would recognize now recognize immediately as a warning). I now consciously open myself to receiving such messages, especially when in an unfamiliar urban setting. This typically results in accusations of over caution from friends but their words do not phase me. For if I have inherited my ancestors’ memories, and with it their intuition, it only makes sense to listen and live long and well with it.

One Comment

  1. Alyssa Penwell

    Dear Helena,

    I married into the Penwell family which once owned the Penwell Coal Mine in Pana. There are still some Penwells left in Pana and others scattered around the US and beyond. My husband’s father grew up in Pana and then moved to San Francisco where my husband and his siblings were born and raised. If you are interested in the mine, I would be happy to send you some material that I have been able to find over the past few years. I would be very interested to hear what you have found out about the mine as well. As time passes, so much has been lost.

    Best regards,

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