Cherry Coal Mine Disaster

TRAPPED: New book from Karen Tintori
Home
Cherry Mine Disaster Story
Story of Disaster by Steve Stout
The Fatal Day
Story in a Nutshell
Mine Site photos
Description of Cherry Mine
James Cherry
page two mine pics
Page Three Mine Pics
Page four Mine photos
Page Five Mine Photos
Page Six Mine Photos
Page Seven Mine Photos
Page Eight Mine Photos
Page Nine Mine Photos
Bell Signals etc.
Page Ten Mine photos
New Mine photos
Aerial Views
Cherry Mine Artifacts
Sunday Morning Crowds
Nativity/Nationalities
Cherry Mine Model
Model Pics Set Two
Twelve Heroes Story
John Flood: Hero
Alex Norberg (Hero)
Read about Eight-Day Men
John Thomas Brown
Which Story Deserves Movie?
The Memorial and More
Miners Tombstones
Cherry Depot
Soldier Trains and more
Morgue Tent
Names of Victims
Names of Victims section two
Coal Mining Words
Map Diagrams
No Respect For History
The Day the Tipple Fell
Farewell letters
Sam Howard's Letter
More on the Subject
"Oneness" Press release
TRAPPED: Karen Tintori's new book
MODEL RAILROADING MAG
Ray Tutaj Model Projects
Last Days of The Milwaukee Road
Milwaukee Road Car
St. Paul Coal Mine Office
Remembering the disaster.
100th Anniversary/Car Show
100th Anniversary Photos
100th Anniversary photos by Candy Brown
100th Anniversary pics from Karen Tintori
We need Your Help (1909 song)
Cherry Word Puzzle
Favorite Links
About me
Tour of Mine Site
Contact Me
100th Anniversary Documentary Available and More!
Cherry Mine Disaster Historical Society
T-Shirts, Sweatshirts etc.(100th anniv.)
STORE
Train Photo CDs Available
Train Video DVD's Available
Train -e-books NEW!
Workers Compensation
Cherry MIne Enthusiasts Remembered
How You Can Help

TRAPPED The 1909 Cherry Mine Disaster
    by Karen Tintori   
   
    "Your grandfather survived the Cherry Mine Disaster."

    Grandma Tintori's simple declaration -- my single childhood
"memory" of
my dad's father -- planted the seed. 
 
    I never knew Grandpa Tintori. In January of 1948 my mother stood
beside
his hospital bed and told her father-in-law she was carrying his first
grandchild. "I won't live to see the baby," he told her. That was my
only
moment with him -- he died the next day.

    Grandpa Tintori was the hollow in my heart I hungered to fill and
my
quest to know him sucked me straight into the story of the Cherry Mine
disaster. Grandma's unembellished sentence when I was about seven
became the
clue I pounced on to begin unraveling his history as an adult.

    Since she and my father were both dead when I began my genealogical
sleuthing a decade ago and my mother knew scarcely more than I did
about the
disaster, I turned to my grandfather's cousin Lester. He told me his
father
and uncles were among the last men to escape the burning mine and that
his
eighteen year-old uncle Johnny, my grandfather's first cousin, perished
in
the fire. He gave me disaster photos, an Italian survivor's diary and
pictures of Grandpa Tintori as a young man. I didn't know it then, but
my
research for TRAPPED had begun.

    It continued with letters to Cherry and to the United Mine Workers
of
America, hoping to find John Tintori somewhere in the Cherry story. As
one
clue led to another, my search intensified. I became a detective
hunting down
a man.

    I searched through documents for my grandfather's name and found
instead
a story that riveted me. With each new piece of the puzzle, I was
struck by
the conflux of ironies, the twists of fate. Two hundred and fifty-nine
men
and boys should not have died in one of the safest coal mines in the
country,
yet the worst mine fire in U.S. history had consumed a mine declared to
be
fireproof. The novelist in me was caught up in a human drama rife with
heroism and cowardice while the journalist in me recognized a story of
historical import -- the disaster was the impetus for the first
worker's
compensation laws in the U.S. and for sweeping changes in mining and
child
labor laws.

    The more I learned, the more I sought. I became obsessed with the
disaster, with the accounts of the life and death struggle of the
miners
below ground and the terror of the women and children thronged at the
entrance to the mine, praying for the men and boys they loved. It was a
multi-layered story that had dominated the nation's newspapers in 1909
but
was now virtually unknown outside Illinois. It was a story that begged
me to
be told.

    From newspaper accounts, primary documents and government reports,
I
segued to correspondence with descendants of both victims and survivors
and
gathered the family stories handed down orally. The stack of research
material grew and I began to write.

    Yet, like my grandfather's place in the story, one important
primary
document eluded me -- the transcript of the coroner's inquest on the
bodies
of the victims. I couldn't locate those nine hundred pages of testimony
I'd
seen referenced in numerous reports and they were as crucial to
completing
the story as was a trip to the Illinois coal fields my ancestors had
worked.
I'd gathered all the armchair research I could manage. It was time to
walk
the streets of Cherry, examine the artifacts in the library and to
visit the
cemetery and the mine.

    In September 2000 I finally stood at the ill-fated mine shaft,
culminating a weeklong research trip to Illinois. I had saved the mine
visit
and the Cherry cemetery until the last, each packed day of final
research
building toward the moment I would walk the ruined mine property for
the
first time and then visit the miners' graves. My mood shifted, my body
tensed
and I fell silent as our tires rolled toward Cherry and the giant slag
heap
marking the tiny town loomed larger, greener, with each mile.

    What remains of the ruined Cherry Mine property sits fenced in the
shadow
of cornfields beneath the abandoned slag heap now overgrown with
vegetation.
The shafts, long cemented over, poke out like rubble in a mine yard
patchy
with grass and wildflowers. I watched as my husband and other visitors
began
their climb to the top of the hill-like slag pile and imagined instead
stooped little boys with scratched and sooty hands sorting from the
coal cars
each scrap of shale and rock that had gone to build that huge hill.

    While the group climbed I stood alone in the silence at the shaft.
I
closed my eyes and imagined myself in that same place nearly one
hundred
years before, with the women and children above ground, with the men
below.
With my nose, with my ears, with my heart, I worked to evoke the people
who
had lived and died the story I was writing and promised them I would do
my
best.   

    At the eleventh hour, minutes before my research trip came to an
end, the
elusive coroner's inquest transcript I'd doggedly sought suddenly
materialized. Photocopied by archivists years before, the leatherbound
sheaves of onion skin carbon copies had been left with Bureau County
genealogists for safekeeping. One of them ran home, suddenly
remembering some
sort of report stashed in her basement. The rest of the story fell into
my
hands. The inquest pages were copied later for future genealogists and
this
historical treasure is now housed in the Illinois State Archives.

    On the trip to Illinois I finally found my grandfather in the
Cherry
story. I spotted him in a photograph, peering out at the camera from
the back
row of mourners at his cousin Johnny's funeral. I'd had it all along.
It was
one of the disaster photos my cousin Lester had handed me on that very
first
day.

    As I completed the manuscript, my mother suddenly told me for the
first
time how my grandfather had survived the Cherry Mine disaster. No hero,
he
was saved, it turns out, by an accident of fate.  Despite his legendary
expertise as a wine maker, he was a only a moderate drinker -- except
for one
Friday night, November 12, 1909. John Tintori, single and 22, awoke the
next
morning with the sole hangover of his life, and 481 miners dropped down
into
the bowels of the St. Paul Mine that Saturday instead of 482.  By the
end of
the day, more than half of them were buried, dead and alive
-- trapped in the burning Cherry Mine.

Karen also has another new book out (Jan 07), called "The book of names" Go to:www.karentintori.com for more info.

Cherry

Illinois

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