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 Post subject: Bomb spree by disgruntled coal miner marks 75th anniversary
PostPosted: Sun Apr 10, 2011 1:47 pm 
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Joined: Thu Apr 02, 2009 7:16 pm
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Location: Anthracite Region of PA
Mail bomb spree by disgruntled coal miner marks 75th anniversary
By William C. Kashatus (correspondent)Published: April 10, 2011

Thomas Maloney, once president of the United Anthracite Mine Workers of Pennsylvania was killed on April 10, 1936 by a mail bomb that was sent by coal miner Michael Fugmann of Hanover Township. Fugmann's motive is believed to be his disillusionment with the United Mine Workers of America and the UAMP's failed bid for recognition by the coal companies.

On Good Friday, April 10, 1936, Thomas Maloney, once president of the defunct United Anthracite Mine Workers of Pennsylvania, went outside his house in Wilkes-Barre's Georgetown section to collect his mail.

When he opened the mailbox, Maloney found a neatly wrapped package bearing the word "Sample" on top. Returning to his house, he placed the package on the kitchen table where his 4-year-old son Thomas Jr. and his 16-year-old daughter, Margaret, were seated.

Maloney took a pen knife and removed the wrapping paper to discover a box of expensive cigars. Believing the cigars to be an Easter gift, the former union leader pried open the lid unknowingly detonating a bomb.

The explosion ripped through the back of the Georgetown house leaving Maloney and his two children unconscious. They were rushed to the Wyoming Valley Homeopathic Hospital where they fought for their lives.

Thomas Jr. passed away the following day and Maloney died five days later on April 16. Only Margaret survived, but she was so badly injured by the explosion she spent the next two months in the hospital recuperating.

The incident was part of a mail bomb spree initiated by a disgruntled coal miner, Michael Fugmann of Hanover Township. Known as the "Good Friday Bombings," the crime claimed the lives of three people and severely injured two others.

Questions still remain about Fugmann's motives, but circumstantial evidence points to his disillusionment with the United Mine Workers of America and the UAMP's failed bid for recognition by the coal companies as the primary reason for these heinous acts.

During the Great Depression, consumers of anthracite began shifting to oil, natural gas and electricity increasing the hostility between labor and ownership in an already declining industry. Coal operators held on to their profits by reducing labor costs and leasing operations to small non-union operators, while failing to explore new markets or technologies for anthracite.

As the Great Depression shook the country, Northeastern Pennsylvania had already fallen on hard times. The annual production of anthracite had already dropped from a high of 100 million tons in 1917 to just 69 million in 1930.

As the industry continued its long decline, operators cut costs by reducing the work shifts of their employees. Some men were reduced to just three days of work a week; many received none. The older, more skilled miners, usually those with larger families to support, were fired first because they earned more.

Angered by failure of UMW president John L. Lewis to challenge management, some miners accused the union's leaders of working in collusion with the coal companies. In 1933, the dissident workers joined with Thomas Maloney to establish the United Anthracite Miners of Pennsylvania (UAMP) as a rival union.

During the next three years, the UAMP conducted wildcat strikes for job equalization in which companies would spread out the work across their mines rather than operating only one colliery where the coal was easiest to reach. The renegade union also pushed for recognition as a legitimate bargaining agent and participated in "Unemployed councils," a grass-roots initiative that provided food and aid to the needy and called for unemployment insurance legislation.

The UMW joined the coal companies in resisting these reforms. Tensions reached fever pitch in the Wyoming Valley, which became the scene of on-going labor violence. When the UAMP went on a three-week strike against the Glen Alden Coal Company beginning on Feb. 2, 1935, the coal companies lost an estimated $5 million dollars in profits.

The operators appealed to the courts for help and Judge William A. Valentine issued an injunction against the rebel union. But Maloney and 28 other UAMP leaders refused to call off the strike. Valentine cited them for contempt on March 16 and kept them in jail for more than a month.

With the government and the courts on the side of the coal companies and the UMW, Maloney had no choice but to dissolve his rebel union. Returning to work on April 2, Maloney was fired by the Glen Alden Coal Company. Now jobless, the former union leader sought help from his friends, one of whom was a 52-year-old German immigrant named Michael Fugmann.

Fugmann, who worked at the Buttonwood Colliery, was a former artillery sergeant in the German Army during World War I. When the United States entered the war in April 1917, he deserted and eventually immigrated to this country with his wife and daughter.

Maloney, who was married to a German woman, befriended Fugmann, often inviting the German immigrant and his family to his home so his wife could socialize in her native language. But the relationship soured when Maloney allegedly made advances to Fugmann's wife and later reneged on paying back a $550 loan. After Maloney agreed to dissolve the UAMP, Fugmann, a member of the insurgent union, sought revenge, believing that his friend gave in to the coal companies.

According to court records, Fugmann mailed six cigar boxes wrapped in paper to six different addresses on April 9. The boxes contained dynamite and were electrically wired so that they would explode when the lids were pried open. All of the recipients were connected in some way to the UAMP's failed bid for recognition by the coal companies.

In addition, to Maloney, Luther M. Kniffen, the former Wilkes-Barre sheriff; Harry Goulstone, a coal official, and Michael J. Gallagher, a Hanover Township school director and sexton of St. Mary's Cemetery, also received mail bombs.

Fugmann had reason to be angry with all of these men. Kniffen, as sheriff, took strong action against UAMP demonstrators. Goulstone was superintendent of the Glen Alden Coal Company's Buttonwood Colliery, where the German immigrant worked. And Gallagher, as sexton of St. Mary's Cemetery, caught Fugmann stealing dynamite from the graveyard, presumably to implement his mail bomb scheme.

While Kniffen narrowly escaped death because his mail bomb failed to explode, Gallagher was instantly killed by the explosion of his mail bomb. Goulstone never opened his package because his son, Dr. Ray Goulstone, became suspicious. After placing the package in a bucket of water, he phoned the Kingston police.

Once postal officials learned of the explosions, they intercepted two other similar packages intended for Luzerne County Judge Benjamin R. Jones of Wilkes-Barre and James A. Gorman of Hazleton, a mediator of the Anthracite Conciliation Board who ruled that the UAMP could not be recognized by the coal companies due to their contract with the UMW.

With few leads, the police investigation of the Good Friday bombings focused on Fugmann, who was arrested for the crimes on July 1. On Aug. 25, he was indicted by a grand jury for the slaying of Thomas Maloney Sr.

Fugmann went on trial on Sept. 21. The proceedings lasted 14 days. Fugmann, calm, cool and collected, denied any knowledge of the bombs. But the prosecution presented an extensive array of circumstantial evidence, including handwriting, wood, nail, glue and wrapping paper samples; all of which had been examined by experts who connected Fugmann with the mail bombs.

On Oct. 7, after 29 hours of deliberation, the jury found Fugmann guilty of first degree murder and he received the death penalty. His counsel asked for a new trial, but their appeals were denied.

Originally scheduled to die on May 9, 1938, Fugmann received two stays of execution before he went to the electric chair at Rockview State Prison on July 17, 1938. He insisted that he was innocent to the very end.

William C. Kashatus teaches history at Luzerne County Community College. He can be contacted at

Scott K
"Watch Your Top"

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