Eight Days In A Burning Mine
Told by Thomas White, and set down by Louis Murphy.
Illustrated by Steven Spurrier
(From The World Magazine - October 1911)
The Cherry Mine, located at Cherry, in Bureau County, Illinois, was owned and operated by the St. Paul Coal Company, Illinois, been in operation for about four years, and was considered one of the best mines in the Central Illinois Coalfield. There were two veins, or levels, being worked, and two shafts descended to the upper one of these, which was known as the "Second Vein." Only one shaft communicated with the lower or third vein, and this fact was in large part responsible for the loss of life in the fire. The latter shaft was called the escapement shaft, and the one which terminated in the second vein was called the main shaft. The men, coal, and waste matter were raised out of the mine on a cage operated by a hoisting-engine in the main shaft, and from the third vein to the second vein on another cage in the escapement shaft, similarly manipulated.
On the day of the calamity there were about four hundred men working in the mine -- two hundred and fifty in the second vein, and the remainder in the lower level. About half-past one o'clock in the afternoon a car of hay that was being pushed along a track between the shafts in the second vein took fire from a blazing oil torch stuck in the wall there. The men at work near by, with the carelessness born of Iong experience with small fires, at first regarded the conflagration without alarm. The car was run to the escapement shaft, and dumped down it to the third vein, where it was thought it would burn itself out on the bottom without igniting the timbers of the shaft. Left thus unheeded, the fire gained a foothold in the shaft before any effort was made to extinguish it. Then the officials and employees lost their heads, and wasted much valuable time in a futile effort to put out the fire, instead of warning the men and getting them out of the mine. Thus it happened that many of the men did not learn of the outbreak until they finished work after three o'clock and came to the shaft to be hoisted to the surface.