259 Dead from Fire
November 13, 1909
The Cherry Coal Mine Disaster is also known as the “Great Cherry Coal Mine Disaster.” This disaster took place in 1909. Cherry, Illinois was home to the Cherry Mine, a mining facility opened by the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad.
On November 13, work proceeded as usual. The electricity had failed inside the mine and apparently this was a common issue. Workers were given kerosene lanterns to take into the mines with them. Work was paid based upon production as opposed to by-the-hour. This meant that any attention to safety or preventative measures was little thought of.
It is reported that 500 men and boys (boys could work the mine by 11) were in the mine around noon. A coal cart was beneath one of the torches and caught fire. The fire spread before the workers realized what was going on.
The surrounding kerosene, coal, and attempts to smother the blaze only made it burn faster. Someone attempted to blow the blaze out with the massive mine fan, but the oxygen only fanned the flames.
A total of 200 men escaped the mine before fire consumed them. A remaining 21 were able to wall themselves into a portion of the mine before the toxic gases could kill them. A total of 259 never came out of the mine alive. There were 12 who attempted to rescue the miners, however the seventh time they entered the mine, they never returned.
The Cherry mine was permanently sealed around a month after the explosion.
- Cherry Coal Mine Disaster Website
- The Illinois Labor History Society