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Workers install granite slabs for UBB memorial

Associated Press Modified: July 18, 2012 at 1:00 pm •  Published: July 18, 2012

WHITESVILLE, W.Va. (AP) — Rob Dinsmore takes a bittersweet pride in his pet project.

The landscape architect said he's grateful for the opportunity to create a memorial for the 29 miners killed in the Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster.

Dinsmore just wishes there were no disaster to memorialize.

Workers from Beckley Crane and Construction installed the first three of six giant granite slabs at the memorial site Tuesday. They plan to finish the job Wednesday and cover the stone with a tarp until a dedication ceremony July 27.

After the monument is unveiled, passing drivers on W.Va. 3 will see the silhouettes of 29 coal miners, their arms locked around one another's shoulders.

As visitors walk behind the 10-inch-thick wall, they will see etched in stone a history of West Virginia's coal industry and the names of the 29 men who died in the April 5, 2010 explosion.

Dinsmore, 27, was a month away from graduation when the tragedy occurred. He was pulling long hours in a West Virginia University landscape architecture studio, preparing his final project. He didn't find out about the explosion until he returned home that Monday night and turned on his television.

Like other West Virginians, he was glued to news coverage of the disaster for the rest of the week until mine rescue crews confirmed the 29 men left inside all had died.

Months later, he was working at Chapman Technical Group in St. Albans. Dinsmore's boss, Joe Bird, was in discussions with the town of Whitesville to create a monument for the Upper Big Branch miners at a local park.

"Initially I felt the magnitude of what happened ... it was a disaster on a national scale. I felt it needed something more prominent," Dinsmore said.

He sat down at his computer and without a word to anyone started laying down ideas for a monument.

Though Dinsmore studied monuments as part of the landscape architecture program at WVU, he never had designed one. He experimented with several ideas but kept coming back to the same basic shape: a wall shaped like an Appalachian ridge.

"I just started building models of these monuments. From the beginning, they all seemed to have that theme," he said.

He decided to include silhouettes of coal miners on the mountain ridge. Although the monument would feature the names of the men who died at Upper Big Branch, Dinsmore did not want to include pictures of their faces. "What you want to avoid is designing a tombstone," he said. By using silhouettes, the monument would not just reflect the Upper Big Branch miners but any person who ever worked a shift in a coal mine.

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