On February 2, 1946, novelist Hubert Skidmore died at age 36. In the late 1930s and early ’40s, the Webster County native wrote several novels featuring West Virginia settings.
A common theme was the endurance of mountain people in the face of adversity. His best-known book never reached the public during his lifetime. Hawk’s Nest is a fictionalized account of what has been described as America’s worst industrial accident.
It depicts the real-life plight of laborers who built the Hawks Nest Tunnel for Union Carbide during the Great Depression. While working on the Fayette County project, hundreds of men died from a debilitating lung disease known as silicosis. It later came to light that Union Carbide’s contractor knowingly exposed workers to deadly silica dust without taking proper precautions. The contractor then tried to cover up the deaths.
Doubleday printed Skidmore’s book in 1941 but never released it. In 1970, Richwood newspaperman Jim Comstock published the novel in his effort to reprint important West Virginia material. Then, in 2004, the University of Tennessee published Hawk’s Nest, bringing Skidmore a measure of literary popularity nearly 60 years after his death.