In 1870, the coal mining town of New Straitsville, Ohio, was founded. Within ten years there were more than 4000 people living there. Disputes over wages prompted the miners to prove how dissatisfied they were. One day in 1884, they loaded up a coal car with wood, poured oil over the whole thing, lit it, then sent the burning car down into the mine. It seems they had no idea that their actions would not only be known over a hundred years later, but the smoke and heat from the fire could still be seen and felt -- it is still burning strongly. The burning coal car struck a coal seam that goes deep into the earth.
The underground coal fire is a rather odd tourist attraction, but still people visit the area just to see if they can find where the smoke creeps out from several crevices in the grounds around the town. One thing they like to look for is lush green areas in the woods even in the middle of a cold winter. The heat from the ground creates tropical-like settings here and there. There was a time, early on, when folks would draw water from wells hot enough to brew coffee with, or fry eggs over a hole in the ground.
Needless to say, the miners were very upset over the labor disputes -- yet, one wonders of those miners knew that their anger would be so obviously apparent over a century later. When a family cannot bring in enough money to feed their kids and themselves, people will do radical things in the heat of anger.
It has been estimated the fire has burned over more than 200 square miles of coal underground. Robinson's Cave is where the miners held their labor meetings. It is now an outdoor museum and popular tourist attraction.
Another interesting thing in the history of New Straitsville is the legends of Shep Tinker, a notorious horse thief back in the late 1800s. During his illegal career, Shep stole over 4000 horses. He would hide the horses in a cave located on his property, have them disguised by painting on different markings, or altering the brands on the horse. He would then sell the horses in other counties.
In the 1930s, New Straitsville was famous world-wide as the moonshine capital. The moonshiners set up their operations in hard to find caves throughout the local area. During prohibition, New Straitsville turned out more jugs of moonshine than any other place in America. The townspeople celebrate this notable distinction every labor day weekend with their annual Moonshine Festival, a five day event that fills up the town with tourists. It is held on Main Street in town and admission is free.
You can contact the Perry County Chamber of Commerce for more information on the Moonshine Festival, the coal fire, and Robinson's Cave.
A picture gallery of some very interesting photographs in and around New Straitsville can be viewed at the following link:
1890s Picture Gallery of New Straitsville
There is a very interesting article from The New York Times which was published June 27, 1880, in which the story of Shep Tinker and how he and his gang members worked is well documented. The gang was really quite organized.
Deeds Of Horse Thieves-Shep Tinker