|St. Paul Coal Company - Cherry, Illinois Mine.|
There were three veins, with most of the work at this time in the second, about 360 feet down. On Saturday the 13th, work proceeded as usual, with the sounds of picks, men chatting and rumbling mule-driven cars echoing through the tunnels. Because a power line had broken a month earlier, the mine was lit by open kerosene lamps, which cast a flickering light through the underground passages.
|Typical Coal Mining at the turn of the 20th Century (circa 1910).|
Somehow, the hay caught fire — either because of oil dripping from one of the lamps or a fallen lamp itself. At first, no one thought much of the fire, and attempts to put it out were somewhat disorganized. In minutes, however, the beams overhead had caught fire, and flames licked outward at an ever-growing rate. The burning hay was then dumped down the shaft, but it became jammed there and did not fall to the third level. There was no underground alarm system in the mine, and although miners nearby soon realized that the blaze had gotten out of hand and that the only course left was to flee, men in distant tunnels worked on, unaware of what was happening.
Some 200 men and boys made their way to the surface, some through escape shafts, some using the hoisting cage. Soon, the corridors were filled with smoke, flames, crashing timbers, and men running frantically to the one escape shaft that remained open.
Above ground, puffs of smoke rising from the shaft were the first sign of trouble. The alarm was sounded, and a crowd of anxious relatives and other townspeople soon collected.
|Crowds begin to gather as the alarm sounds!|
|Crowds gathered around the mine.|
In later years, one miners boy recalled that he had wanted to go down to help but had been admonished by his mother who was at his side says, "Don't you go over there — your father's got his hands full." He never saw his father again.
Dr. L.D. Howe, also of Streator, a physician for the mining company, went below to help but was soon raised to the top and forced to remain there to minister to the injured.
|A general view of the mouth of the shaft shows smoke escaping.|
When he finally yielded, the hushed onlookers saw, to their horror, only twelve blackened, twisted bodies — men who had given their lives for their friends.
|Waiting for another victim to be brought to the surface.|
|CLICK THE DIAGRAM FOR A FULL-SIZE VIEW|
|John Passco, the lad who came up through the fire|
at the Cherry mine, November 13, 1909
The town reached the brink of a riot when those with relatives below realized that some men might manage to climb to the surface only to find their escape cut off.
|Wrecked Air Shaft at Cherry Mine.|
|Sunday, November 14, crowds gather in the afternoon.|
|When mine officials decided to seal the shaft, with miners still trapped below, the Illinois National Guard was called out to control the crowds.|
|Sixth Illinois Infantry Company "K" from Galesburg, Illinois.|
|Passenger train with Sixth Illinois Infantry Company "K" boarding.|
|Group of anxious women waiting to identify their Husbands who were entombed in the Mine disaster, November 13, 1909.|
|Firefighting resumes. Note the Newsboy without shoes.|
Left: Oxygen Tanks for Mine Descent. -- Right: Volunteer Henry Smith of Peru, Illinois and R.Y. Williams, Director of Mine Experimental Rescue Station at Urbana, Illinois.The shaft was uncovered on Thursday, November 18, and fire fighting resumed, but those who went below returned to the surface only with the dead as mute evidence of the tragedy below. As the bodies were placed in tents to be identified by sobbing wives and children, the death toll mounted above 200. (It would finally total 259.)
One event brought relief to some and hope to many more. On November 20, rescue workers exploring a remote tunnel came upon a few enfeebled miners who led them to a small group of men who had managed to live through a week of deprivation and despair.
The group, totaling twenty-one men, was led by George Eddy of Streator, who later described how he had been on the surface when the fire started and had gone below as soon as he saw smoke. After he and several others had notified as many men as they could, they approached the mouth of the entry but found that they could not get out.
"We were blocked in on account of the black, damp smoke; we went back up the entry and tried to go out another road, and we found the black damp was stronger there than it was where we were, so we went back into the main entry again. Then we tried two or three times to get out on Saturday and Sunday, but we couldn't get out; every time we would try it, we were further away from the bottom, so we saw that we were not going to get to the cage because the black damp was pressing us in from both sections. We knew it would fill up the face and smother in there. We built a wall across the second west entry and the first west entry of dirt, and we were inside there for seven days."
Of the twenty-one rescued, one of whom later died, John Lorimer and George Stimac (or Stimez) were from Streator and Thomas White from Kangley. Another survivor, Antoniese (or Antenore), recalled: It was strange to see how the different races acted. The English sang, the French talked, the Italians prayed, and the Austrians and Lithuanians swept. Often, the English and the Italians would join in singing hymns. At last, John Lorimer, a Scotchman, was the leader — 'Abide With Me" was his favorite song. We all learned it.
Many of the others wrote notes to their families, and on the back of one was found this testament, signed by all twenty-one men: "We the undersigned do not blame anyone for the accident that happened to pen us in here, and we believe that everybody has done all in their power to relieve us."
One of the 21 men who managed to survive eight dreadful days trapped, 315 feet below, in the second vain of the Cherry Mine, and who was rescued on Saturday, November 20th, was 45 year old Daniel Holofcak [born Dyonisius, son of Mary Hovanca and Petr Holovčak, of then Austro-Hungarian Empire]. Daniel was aka Dyons Holovcak, when he married his beloved Marija "Mary" Fedor, in 1888 by civil authority in Livingston County and then again in 1889, in a religious ceremony in Streator, Illinois.After being rescued, Daniel returned home to his loving wife and their nine children. Of which his eldest, was the newlywed Mrs. Mary Seman when he left for work with his son-in-law, [Andrew?], but had become a widow by the disaster, and left in mourning upon his return home, alone.Daniel, overwhelmed by what he had survived, spared from death at his age, while his 24 year old son-in-law had lost his, plus his supposed complications of Asthma, he also died at end of the following day. Having passed on Sunday, November 21, 1909 and was laid to rest in the Miners' Memorial Cemetery, in Cherry, Illinois.His Headstone inscribed with yet another version of his name, Deonis Holofcak... and an incorrect date of death. Presumably, his burial date, although the Slavic inscription states it as his death date.Comment by Nash Rodovid, August 28, 2022
Although the rescue attempts continued until November 25, no more survivors were found. Since the fire could not be extinguished with water, the mine was sealed with cement. This cover was removed on February 1, 1910, and body recovery resumed; the last body was brought up on July 7. The mine then resumed work and continued in operation for some ten years.
|Men who did heroic work below at the time bodies were being taken from Cherry Mine.|
|St. Paul Coal Company, Cherry Illinois Mine Managers.|
|The Morgue where the victim's bodies were first laid.|
|The small shed first used to house the dead bodies was quickly replaced by a large tent set up as the Morgue.|
|Property found on the victims.|
Among the mementos on display at the presidential library: a pocket watch that belonged to one of the dead Cherry miners, 20-year-old Joseph Yerly of Spring Valley. The watch has been passed down in his family over the generations.The watch owner’s body was burned beyond recognition. He was identifiable only because of his distinctive timepiece, which has an image of a church engraved on the back.The watch appears to be in good condition, but its protective crystal is gone, and no one knows exactly why.The glass could have been shattered somehow during the commotion of the fire, or the watch might have been damaged deliberately. As trapped miners waited in the inky darkness for their hoped-for rescue, they sometimes broke the crystal on their watches so they could keep track of time by feeling where the watch hands were.—The State Journal-Register, November 5, 2009
What mattered was that there were 630 survivors — 160 widows and 470 fatherless children — who somehow had to be provided for. Private contributions started immediately nationwide, with Streator alone contributing almost $ 5,000 by the end of November. These donations from the United Mine Workers, Red Cross, and other organizations totaled over $444,000.
|Funeral of Mr. Smith, a Cherry Mine victim.|
|The Cherry Cemetery on the community's southern edge filled quickly after the disaster.|
|Cherry Cemetery Some Mine Disaster Victim Headstones.|
|Miners houses in the background - running west from Cherry Mine. 1909|
|"Death Row." In this row of 30 cottages, only 4 men returned from the Mine disaster.|
|Miners Homes, Cherry, Illinois. November 26, 1909|
|A group of children that was made orphans by the Cherry Mine disaster on November 13, 1909|
|American - 11||Austrian - 28|
|Belgian - 7||English - 8|
|French - 12||German - 15|
|Greek - 2||Irish - 3|
|Italian - 73||Lithuanian - 21|
|Polish - 8||Russian - 3|
|Scotch - 21||Slavish - 36|
|Swedish - 9||Welsh - 2|
|Funeral of Mine victims passing through Cherry, Illinois. Circa April 1910|
|End of the funeral procession with nine hearses. Main Street, Ladd, Illinois - April 1910|
|Knights of Pythias funerals. Circa April 1910|
|Three caskets are ready for transport. Circa April 1910|
|Relatives view the remains of Davis at the Morgue. He had worked in the mine for only two days during the disaster. His body was taken overland to Peoria, Illinois.|
|Cherry School, Room 1, 22 children were made fatherless by the Mine disaster. Circa 1910.|
Into this tangle of legal complications and aroused public opinion stepped John E. Williams of Streator, serving as vice-chairman of the Cherry Relief Commission. He volunteered his services as a disinterested mediator, spent many hours analyzing the situation, and conducted negotiations.
|The Cherry Mine Office - 1909|
|Cherry Mine Disaster, Interior of the big tent, used as a morgue, February 20, 1910|
|81 bodies were taken out of the Cherry Mine and placed in a makeshift morgue on March 4, 1910|
|Recovered 5 months after the accident with $200.00 on his person on April 11, 1910|
The men who died will never be forgotten, especially those who gave their lives for others. And Streator had a particular cause for pride because of its own John E. Williams. His skill, humanity, and hard work significantly prevented the Cherry Mine disaster from creating bitterness and hatred among the thousands of people affected.
When the dead have all been recovered
and silently laid away.
When men have returned to their labor,
and the children have gone back to play.
When the last reporter has vanished
and the soldiers, too, have gone.
The long, long train of sleepers
has crept away into the dawn.
When they awake from their nightmare of horror
and realize all they have lost.
When they understand the full disaster,
and all of its frightful costs.
Then will come days of anguish
and nights when hearts will break.
When grief-dimmed eyes are sleepless
and tired, brains throb and ache.
Then they will need your pity,
and the help your purse will permit,
for then they will suffer a thousand times more
then the men who died in the pit.
Bureau County Record, December 22, 1909
|Miners' Memorial Cemetery, Cherry, Illinois, 1909|
A marker to those who lost their lives in the Cherry, Illinois Mine disaster was erected in 1986 by the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Illinois State Historical Society. The marker is located in Cherry, in Village Park on the north side of town on the west side of IL 89, at the intersection of Main and North Streets.
NAMES OF THOSE WHO PERISHED.
|Adakosky, M||Agramanti, Foliani||Alexius, Joseph|
|Ambusautis, J||Amider, Alfio||Armelani, Charles|
|Armelani, Paul||Atalakis, Peter||Atlalakis, G|
|Bakalar, George||Barozzi, Antone||Bastia, Mike|
|Bauer, Milce||Bawman, Frank||Bawman, Lewis|
|Bayliff,Thomas||Benossif, J||Bernadini, Charles|
|Bertolioni, Tonzothe||Betot, John||Bolla, Antonio|
|Bolla, Peter||Bonesbeger, Joseph Ermakra||Bordesona, Joseph|
|Bosviel, Adolph||Boucher, Jerome||Brain, Oliver|
|Bredenci, Peter||Brown, John||Brown, Thomas|
|Bruno, Edward||Bruzis, John||Buckels, Richard|
|Budzom, Charles||Budzon, Joseph||Bundy, John|
|Burke, Joseph||Burslie, Clemento||Butilla, August|
|Cagoskey, John||Calletti, Giovanni||Camilli, Frank|
|Canov, Canivo||Casolari, Diminick||Casollari, Elizio|
|Casserio, John||Castoinelo, Chelsto||Cavaglini, Charles|
|Chebubar, Joseph||Ciocci,Peter||Ciochina, Costanbin|
|Cioci, Canical||Cipola, Mike||Clark, Robert|
|Cohard, Henry||Compasso, John||Conlon, Henry|
|Costi, Angelo||Costi, Lewis||Davis, John G.|
|Debulka, John||Deman, Anol||Demesey, Fred|
|Denalfi, Francisco||Detourney, Victor||Donaldson, John|
|Dovin, Andrew||DovIn, George||Dumont, Leopold|
|Dunko, John||Durand, Benjamin||Durdan, Andrew|
|Elario, Miestre||Elfi, Carlo||Elko, George|
|Eloses, Peter||Erickson, Charles||Erickson, Eric|
|Erminlano, Charles||Farlo, John||Fayen, Peter|
|Filippe, Ugo||Flood, John||Forgach, John|
|Formento, Dominick||Francisco, August||Francisco, John|
|Freebirg, Ole||Garabelda, John||Galletti, Giovanni|
|Galletti, John||Geckse, Frank||Giacobazzi, Antonio|
|Gialcolzza, Angone||Gibbs, Lewis||Governor, John|
|Grehaski, Andrew||Grilj, Met||Grumeth, Frank|
|Gugleilm, Peter||Guidarini, John||Gulick, Joseph|
|Gwaltyeri, Jalindy||Hadovski, Steve||Hainant, August|
|Halko, Mike||Halofcak, Dan||Harpka, Joseph|
|Havlick, George||Hertzel, John||Howard, Alfred|
|Howard, Samuel||Hudar, John||Hynds, William|
|Jagodzinski, Frank||James, Frank||Jamison, James|
|Janavizza, Joe||Kanz, John||Kenig, John|
|Klaeser, John||Klemiar, George||Klemiar, Richard|
|Klemiar, Thomas||Kliklunas, Dominik||Kometz, John|
|Korvonia, Antone||Korvonia, Joseph||Kovocivio, Frank|
|Krall, Alfred||Krall, Henry||Kroll, Alex S.|
|Kussner, Julius||Kutz, Paul||Lallie, Frank|
|Lanzotti, Batolomeo||Leadache, Frank||Leadache, James|
|Leadache, Jospeh||Leptack, John||Lewis, Issac|
|Leyshon, Charles||Lindic, Jernel||Lonzetti, Seicomo|
|Lonzotti, John||Love, David||Love, James|
|Love, John||Love, Morrison||Lukatchko, Andrew|
|Lurnas, Mike||Maceoha, John||Malinoski, Joe|
|Mani, Joseph||Marchiona, Archie||Marchiona, Frank|
|Marchioni, Gioanni||Masenetta, Anton||Matear (Mactear), William|
|Mayelemis, Frank||Mayersky, John||Mazak, John|
|Mazentto, John||McCandless, Robert||McCrudden, John|
|McCrudden, Peter||McFadden, Andrew||McGill, John Jr.|
|McLuckie, Andrew||McMullen, George||Meicora, Joseph|
|Mekles, Tonys||Merdior, Arthur||Mezzanatto, Antonio|
|Miller or Malner, Joseph||Miller or Malner, Lewis||Miller, Edward|
|Mills, Arthur||Mills, Edward||Mittle, John|
|Mohahan, James R.||Mokos, Joseph||Mumetich, Hasan|
|Norberg, Alex||Norberg, August||Olson, Charles P.|
|Ondurko, Matt||Ossek, Donaty||Ossek, Martin|
|Paco, Andrew||Palmiori, Albert||Papea, Charles|
|Pardetti, Giovanni||Passenger, Joseph||Pauline, Antona|
|Pavlick, George||Pavoloski, John||Pearson, Alex|
|Pearson, John||Podbregar, Peter||Perono, Dominick|
|Pete, Ben||Pomgener, John||Prich, Joseph|
|Prusitus, Perya||Prusitus, Peter||Pshak, John|
|Raven, Peter||Raviso, Joe||Repsel, Joseph|
|Repsel, Martin||Ricca, Cegu||Richards, Thomas|
|Rimkius, Joseph||Rittel, Frank||Riva, Joseph|
|Robeza, Joseph||Rodonis, Joseph||Rolland, Victor|
|Rossman, Robert||Ruggesie, Gailamyo||Ruygiesi, Frank|
|Sandeen, Olaf||Sarbelle, Julius||Sarginto, August|
|Scotland, William||Seepe (Unknown)||Seitz, Edward|
|Seitz, Paul||Semboa (Sereba), J.||Sestak, John|
|Settler, Harry||Shemia, John||Shermel, Antone|
|Siamon, Andrew||Smith, John W.||Sopko, Cantina|
|Speir, James||Stam, Antone||Stanchez, Frank|
|Stark, John||Staszeski, Tony||Steele, Peter|
|Stefenelli, Dominick||Sterns, James H.||Stewart, Harry|
|Sublich, Charles||Suffen, John||Suhe, John|
|Suhe, Mike||Sukitus, Joseph||Szarbrinski, John (John Smith)|
|Talioli, Eugene||Tamarri, Pasquale||Tamashanski, Joseph|
|Teszone, George||Timko, Andrew||Timko, Joseph, Jr.|
|Timko, Steve||Timko, Joseph, Sr.||Tonelli, Emilio|
|Tonner, John||Tosseth, Frank||Turchi, Nocenti|
|Urban, Leynaud||Waite, Charles||Walcainski, (Unknown)|
|Welkas, Anthony||White, George||Wyatt, William|
|Yacober, Frank||Yagoginski, Frank||Yannis, Peter|
|Yerly, Joseph||Yurcheck, Antone||Zacherria, Giatano|
|Zeikel, Pat||Zekuia, Joseph||Zliegley, Thomas|
Excerpts from the book: Biography in Black, A History of Streator, Illinois, published in 1962.
Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.