Less than four years after 29 coal miners died in the Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster, the Kings Dominion theme park in Doswell, Va., featured a scary maze based on a coal mine explosion as part of its seasonal Halloween fun.
“Alone in the darkness … the only sound is the pulsing of your heart as the searing heat slowly boils you alive,” read the Kings Dominion pitch last week on its website. “The miners were left entombed deep underground. … [T]hey are searching for the men who left them to die … waiting to enact their revenge.”
The “Halloween Haunt” attraction ended Sunday, when the park closed for the winter, but Kings Dominion is still the target of severe criticism for the mine disaster theme. The park is located about 300 miles from the Upper Big Branch coal mine in neighboring West Virginia.
“It’s very offensive for someone to try to profit off of our loved one’s death and off of our pain, because this is very painful, ” Clay Mullins told The Associated Press. Mullins lost his brother, Rex, in the explosion.
Attorney Rachel Moreland, who was an official “miner’s representative” during the investigation, says the attraction “commits a heartless act of corporate cruelty and desecrates the memory of UBB miners.”
A spokesman for Kings Dominion defends the attraction.
“Miner’s Revenge is not designed, nor intended, to depict a specific situation,” says the theme park’s Gene Petriello. “Rather, it is simply a themed Halloween attraction for the 2013 Halloween haunt season at Kings Dominion.”
That doesn’t appease Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virgina, whose district includes Upper Big Branch and who condemned Kings Dominion for “an appalling lack of sensitivity.”
“Using mine tragedies for profit is an insult to a region built on the backs of miners,” Rahall says. “Mine fires, collapses and explosions are not science fiction, or ghost stories, or the fantasies commonly cooked up for innocent Halloween fun. They are the all-too-real nightmares of miners and their families.”
Phil Smith, a spokesman for the United Mine Workers of America, called the attraction “an insult to the memories of the thousands of miners who have died in America’s mines.”
More than 80 miners have died in explosions, mine collapses, fires and lethal gas infusions since 1992, reports Ellen Smith (no relation to Phil Smith), publisher of Mine Safety and Health News.
“I am all for Halloween fun, but this Kings Dominion ‘attraction’ is absolutely unacceptable,” Smith writes in an editorial. “With families and mining employees still trying to recover emotionally and financially from recent disasters, this ‘attraction’ is outside the limits of integrity and morality.”
Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virgina told TV station WCHS “it’s just beyond my understanding and comprehension that anybody could stoop that low for the all- mighty dollar. It’s unbelievable.”
In an op-ed in The Washington Post last week, writer Peter Galuszka quoted Kings Dominion spokesman Petriello, who said officials at park owner Cedar Fair “express their deepest sympathy” to the victims and their families of the Upper Big Branch tragedy. Cedar Fair did not respond to NPR’s request for comment.