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Digital Subscriptions > Skeptical Inquirer > May June 2019 > The Trapped Miners’ Holy Visions: Investigating the Sheppton ‘Miracle’

The Trapped Miners’ Holy Visions: Investigating the Sheppton ‘Miracle’

Joe Nickell, PhD, is CSI’s senior research fellow and author of some forty books, including The Science of Miracles.

On August 27, 1963, two Pennsylvania coal miners were rescued after two weeks of trapped underground. The pair would soon relate how, confined in the pitch black, they had witnessed humanoid figures, bathed in strange light, and saw a door that opened onto marble steps leading to a great celestial city with angels playing harps. Pope John XXIII, who had died just ten weeks before, smiled down upon the two.

Skeptics of these supposedly miraculous “visions” branded them “delusions” and “hallucinations,” but defenders of the claims observed that “both men had independently corroborated the other’s story” (Furek 2015, 128). As one of the two stated, “They now tell me these were hallucinations but the crazy thing is that Davey [the other miner] would see the same things I did” (Throne quoted in Furek 2015, 129). Even when both were interviewed separately, they still related in detail the very same story (Budd 2013). How could this be? Were the visions indeed proof of heaven, evidence of life after death, or at least substantiation of near-death experiences? If not, then how do we explain these reported claims of the inexplicable?


The remarkable story of the trapped miners and their “supernatural” visions began on Tuesday, August 13, 1963, at the village of Sheppton, Pennsylvania, with the collapse of the roof of the anthracite coal mine operating there. The cave-in was triggered when a cable hoisting a heavily loaded coal buggy snapped, sending the vehicle careening downward and ripping out support beams. Three miners— David Fellin, Louis Bova, and Henry “Hank” Throne—were trapped. Fellin and Throne had been on the opposite side of the railway tracks from Bova, who was only heard from briefly. Subsequently, the others lost all contact with him, and his body was never recovered.

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