The Skip Tender’s Tale
A MsStorian Adventure
Clinton Harris was a night shift skip tender at the Milford Mine. On February 5, 1924, he offered to cover for a sick day tender. Harris was at his post 175’ below ground level when the first rush of air caused the electric lights next to him flicker at 3:45 p.m. A second gust of air took out the power completely. Harris knew something was seriously wrong in the mine, so he pulled the warning whistle’s rope twice to alert miners both above and below ground of danger.
A powerless cage led to the mine’s surface, the only way out for the 48 miners trapped below was a series of ladders near Harris. Seven miners passed Harris as they raced up the shaft’s ladders. They encouraged Harris to follow, but he was concerned men in the far reaches of the mine hadn’t heard the whistle. He tied the whistle rope around his waist and remained at his post as water, mud, and muck entombed him and the other 40 miners.
The warning whistle continued its death moan until the rope above ground was cut four hours later. In April, the last gallons of water were pumped out of the Milford Mine and Foley Lake. Bucket by bucket, the mud and muck were removed so the bloated bodies of the miners could be recovered. Harris was found on July 24, with the warning whistle rope still wrapped around his waist. He was buried two days later at Riverside Cemetery near Brainerd. This should have been the end of the skip tender’s tale, but it wasn’t.
The mine reopened in November of 1924. On November 25, 1926, the St. Paul Dispatch wrote a chilling recount of the specter who met the first twelve miners as they descended shaft. The men took the cage down, the stench of decay and decomposed bodies lingered in the air.
When they reached 175’, they caught the glimpse of a figure in the darkness. Some of the miners had worked with Harris. They were able to identify his transparent form as his vacant eye sockets peered up the ladder which he held tightly in his hands. The phantom whistle cord was still wrapped around his waist. This was too much for the twelve to endure.
The miners jostled one another and tried to return the cage to the surface, but before they could do so…the disengaged warning whistle screamed through the darkness. According to the newspaper article, all twelve left and never returned to the Milford Mine. Some transferred to a nearby open pit mine, others took their families elsewhere. For men that entered the mine, it was a place of unrest.
Men would rush to the surface and inquire about a warning whistle they heard in the dark tunnels. No one above ground ever heard the phantom whistle’s wail, and so the miners were told to return to their work. The skip tender’s tale resurfaced after the mine closed in 1932.
In the taverns at night, grizzled miners started speaking about ghostly moans and groans they heard in the tunnels. A few men occasionally caught a glimpse of Harris watching from the ladder below as they finished their shift. Although skip tender Clinton Harris served his last shift on that fateful night in February of 1924, some believe he still pulls the warning whistle rope, and warns miners to stay clear of the danger that lurks below the surface.