PLEDGE NOW
Here and Now with Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Remembering The Centralia Mine Disaster

If you look at the list of the worst coal mine disasters in U.S. history, three of them happened in Illinois, where I grew up.

The one we are featuring today on Here & Now took place in Centralia on March 25, 1947.

An explosion killed 111 miners at Mine No. 5 there. Four years later — and just about 40 miles away from Centralia — 119 miners were killed in an explosion at Orient Mine No. 2 in West Frankfort. But the worst coal mine disaster in Illinois history happened on November 13, 1909 in Cherry. 259 miners, men and boys, died in a fire at the mine that day.

Only the explosions in coal mines in Monongah, West Virginia, in 1907 and in Dawson, New Mexico, in 1913 killed more. 362 men died in Monongah. 263 died in Dawson.

The explosion in in 1947 Centralia left dozens of widows and fatherless children.

“When this happened, it took away the husbands and the sons and the grandsons and the uncles,” Robert Hartley, co-author of “Death Underground: The Centralia And West Frankfort Mine Disasters, said. “I think the long term impact was on the women and the children who survived. Some of the stories of the women who went to work, or they went to school to try to find a way to make a good living. It was heartwarming to listen to the stories of the women who made something of their lives and their children and their grandchildren talk about them to this day.”

When I was working on the story about the Centralia mine explosion, I came across some newspaper stories from the time.

Here’s part of an AP story from March 27, 1947:

A heavy snow fell over the grim setting as rescue squads, after working through the early morning hours, brought the second group of dead miners from 540 feet below the ground. The disaster happened on a Tuesday, and it was Saturday before the last 31 bodies were removed from the mine. Rescue workers were surprised to find a message scrawled on the rock walls of the mine that read: “Look in everybody’s pockets. We all have notes. Give them to our wives.”

Woody Guthrie wrote a song about what happened in Centralia 67 years ago. It’s called “The Dying Miner.” He sings:

Dear sisters and brothers goodbye,
Dear mother and father goodbye.
My fingers are weak and I cannot write,
Goodbye Centralia, goodbye.

Guest

  • Robert Hartley, co-author of “Death Underground: The Centralia And West Frankfort Mine Disasters.”

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

May 27 Comment

How Trump, Clinton And Sanders Change Their Voices To Win Over Voters

Charisma is a crucial component of a politician's appeal to voters. But there's more than one way to inspire confidence.

May 27 52 Comments

New York Considers A Ban On Declawing Cats

Some pet owners have routinely had their cats declawed. But opponents say the procedure isn't so simple.

May 27 3 Comments

New Drug-Resistant Bacteria Seen In U.S. For The First Time

The CDC's director has expressed concern, saying it shows that we're close to the "end of the road" for antibiotics.

May 26 6 Comments

As Lethal Heroin Overdose Numbers Rise, Families Find Solace In Organ Donation

Organ banks around the country have noted an increasing number of organs from donors who have died of overdoses.