Murray City Man Keeps Mining Museum’s Lights on

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MURRAY CITY, Ohio –  The little white building on the edge of Snow Fork is easy to miss – then again, so is Murray City. The town, about a half-hour from Athens, houses little more than a fire station, an American Legion hall and, inside a white building that leases for $1 per year, the Murray City Coal Mining Museum and History Center.

When I arrived, Donnie Cook had already parked his brown truck along the side of the building, flung up the garage door and was surveying the artifacts that line the walls.

He sighs.

“I just don’t know this stuff like Jack did,” said Cook, a 61-year-old retiree and lifelong Murray City resident who curates the museum.

“Jack” is Jack Shuttleworth. Shuttleworth, 85, has spent a lifetime collecting mining equipment and town memorabilia. The rusty-metal and obsolete tools hanging on the wall look like just that to the untrained eye, but to Jack everything has a story and a purpose. His passion is infectious as he speaks about his collection and his town – that passion repeatedly expressed before audiences of Ohio University students on class field trips.

“Jack would demonstrate these tools for college students and everyone would show up, but he had never worked in the mine,” Cook said. “In the evenings he would leave school and help load up coal but he never was employed by the mines. He was just an enthusiast.”

Last year a car accident erased any memory Shuttleworth had of his collection. So he entrusted Cook, his lifelong friend, to care for his items and maintain the museum. Cook keeps the exhibit open to help his friend and educate the public about local coal mining and, like Shuttleworth, he doesn’t charge entry into the museum.

“He doesn’t even mention it anymore, but he used to live for this place,” Cook said. “It was his passion”

The collection isn’t limited to just mining relics. High school basketball uniforms, family scrapbooks and even a water fountain from the Murray City gymnasium can be found among the collection.

High up on a shelf, right above the church pews, are two birdcages. Their purpose was to detect “bad air” in the mines. When the bird started acting strange, the miners knew that toxic gases were present and conditions were dangerous.

One group of photos hung up in a backroom are different from the others. They were taken in Germany during World War II by Murray City resident Gene Six. After returning from the war, Six put the undeveloped photo negatives in a canister and forgot about them for 50 years. Shuttleworth purchased the photos from an estate sale in 2009 and had the unseen photos developed.

“Gene never even got a chance to see his own pictures,” Cook said.

If not for Shuttleworth’s keen eye and devotion to his town, relics like these would have been lost forever. His commitment to keeping the museum open has helped educate the next generation about mining.

For now, Donnie Cook said he is happy to help his friend, especially with the $1 lease the town gives him on the building every year.

“I’d try to buy the building,” Cook said with a laugh. “If it weren’t for the deal I’m getting on it.”