|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 from 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 become 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.|
Some miners who had already escaped returned to the mine to aid their coworkers. Mine superintendent John Bundy, of Streator, was one of the first on the scene. (In later years, one of his sons recalled that he had wanted to go too, but had been admonished by his mother, "Don't you go over there — your father's got his hands full." The boy never saw his father alive again.) Dr. L. D. Howe, also of Streator, physician for the mining company, went below to help but was soon raised to the top and forced to remain there in order to minister to the injured.
|General view of the mouth of the shaft showing 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 DIAGRAM FOR 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 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 14th 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 Mine disaster, November 13, 1909|
|Fire fighting 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 18th, 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 too many more. On November 20th, rescue workers exploring a remote tunnel came upon a few enfeebled miners who led them to a small group of men that 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 and 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 and we knew it was going to fill up the face and that we would smother in there. We went in and built a wall across the second west entry and we built across the first west entry of dirt and we were inside there seven days."
Of the twenty-one who were rescued, one of whom later died, John Lorimer and George Stimac (or Stimez) were from Streator, and Thomas White from Kangley. Another survivor, named 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."
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 time bodies were being taken from Cherry Mine.|
|St. Paul Coal Company, Cherry Illinois Mine Managers.|
|The Morgue where the victims bodies were first laid.|
|The small shed that was first used to house the dead bodies was quickly replaced by a large tent set-up as the Morgue.|
|Property found on the victims.|
What mattered was that there were 630 survivors — 160 widows and 470 fatherless children — who somehow had to be provided for. Private contributions started pouring in immediately from all over the nation, with Streator alone contributing almost $5000 by the end of November. These, together with donations from the United Mine Workers, Red Cross, and other organizations, eventually totaled over $444,000.
|Funeral of Mr. Smith, a Cherry Mine victim.|
|The Cherry Cemetery, located 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 made orphans by the Cherry Mine disaster, 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|
|Cherry Mine Disaster, funeral procession of victims, Main Street, Ladd, Illinois - April 1910|
|End of funeral procession with nine hearses. Main Street, Ladd, Illinois - April 1910|
|Knights of Pythias funerals. Circa April 1910|
|Three caskets ready for transport. Circa April 1910|
|Relatives viewing remains of Davis at the Morgue. He had worked in the Mine only two days at the time of the disaster. his body was taken over land to Peoria, Illinois.|
|Cherry School, Room 1, 22 children made fatherless by Mine disaster. Circa 1910.|
Into this tangle of legal complications and aroused public opinion stepped John E. Williams of Streator, who had been 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 big tent, used as a morgue, February 20, 1910|
|81 bodies taken out of the Cherry Mine and placed in makeshift morgue, March 4, 1910|
|Recovered 5 months after accident with $200.00 on his person, April 11, 1910|
The men who died, especially those who gave their lives for others, would never be forgotten. And Streator had special cause for pride because of its own John E. Williams. His skill, humanity, and hard work played a major role in preventing the Cherry mine disaster from creating bitterness and hatred among the thousands of persons whose lives it 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.
When the long, long train on 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
than 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.
THE 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||Garletti, J.|
|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||Perbacher, 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.||Tonnelli, Emilia|
|Tonner, John||Tosseth, Frank||Turchi, Nocenti|
|Urban, Leynaud||Waite, Charles||Walcainski, (Unknown)|
|Welkas, Anthony||White, George||Wyatt, William|
|Yacober, Frank||Yagoginski, Frank||Yannis, Peter|
|Yearly, 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, in my Digital Research Library of Illinois History®
Cherry, Illinois Mine Disaster Report, by Illinois Bureau of Labor Statistics, published in 1910, in my Digital Research Library of Illinois History®