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Mine Disasters in
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Williamson County Coal Company
Williamson County Mine Explosion

Johnston City, Williamson County, Illinois
September 24, 1897
No. Killed – 4



1897 Illinois Annual Report excerpt  PDF Icon

Successful Rescue

Fifteen wounded miners, two of whom later died, were rescued from the smoke and flames after an undisclosed period.


Mine Explosion in Illinois
The New York Times, New York
September 25, 1897

Marion, Ill., Sept. 24. -- An explosion occurred in the Williamson County Coal Company’s mine, four miles north of here, today.  Fifteen wounded miners, two of whom have since died, have been rescued from the smoke and flames.  One was found dead.  Several of the wounded will also die.

There are said to be five or six miners imprisoned in the burning mine, but they cannot be reached on account of the smoke and fire.  These men no doubt are dead.

The force of the explosion was tremendous, as it blew one of the mine mules over 200 yards along the main entry and into the big dump at the bottom of the shaft, which is 180 feet deep.

The explosion was no doubt caused by natural gas being ignited by the miners’ lamps.


Four Miners Dead, Seven Wounded
St Louis Republic, St. Louis, Missouri
September 25, 1897

Marion Ill., Sept. 24. - One of the most terrible mine explosions that ever occurred in this part of the state took place in the mine of the Williamson County Coal Company, located four miles north of this place and one mile south of Johnston City, on the track of the Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad, about 7:30 this morning, soon after miners had gone down the shaft to commence their day’s work.

The result of the explosion is four killed and seven wounded, one of whom cannot possibly recover.  Many others were shaken up and slightly injured, but they were able to assist in the work of rescue.

From the best information attainable at the mines, it seems that an unusually large amount of natural gas, of which there is more in this mine than generally is found in the mines in this locality, had accumulated during the night in one of the cross entries about 200 yards from the foot of the shaft, which is 175 feet deep, and when the men reached that ill-fated part of the mine the gas was ignited by the miners.  It is known certainly that soon after the descent of 45 men into the mine an explosion terrible in its result took place.

The force was so great that one of the cages resting at the bottom of the shaft was blown upward 50 feet, while a volume of smoke and gaseous vapors was sent high into the air from the mouth of the shaft.  A pit mule that was standing on the track in the main entry is said to have been hurled 50 yards through the entry and into the large swamp which has been dug at the bottom of the shaft to assist in draining and keeping the mine dry.

The list of killed and wounded undoubtedly would have been much greater but for the fact that a large number of Americans who work in this mine had taken today for a holiday and were attending the county fair at this place.

Immediately after the explosion, the surviving miners below gathered around the foot of the shaft and signaled to the man at the top, thus notifying him that all of them had not perished in the flames, and the work of rescue was begun.

Surgeons were summoned from this place and Johnston City, and they were soon at the scene of the awful disaster, doing all in their power to relieve the sufferings of the wounded, while the heroic miners who had escaped went bravely to the work of rescuing their comrades.

Coroner May of this city, as soon as the news of the explosion had been brought here by the passengers on an incoming excursion train that stopped at the mine for coal a short time after the disaster, went at once to the scene to investigate the cause of the explosion and hold an inquest over the bodies.

From the number who came out of the pit with the first hoist of the cage it was hoped that none of the men were hurt by the explosion, but their drawn faces told a different story.  Soon the bodies of the dead and dying were brought to the surface and the cries and moans of the wounded miners assisted in making the scene one that few men care to witness.

Before any of the victims were brought up, Superintendent Davis showed the metal he is composed of by going down into the poisonous atmosphere where death seemed sure to overtake him, and this in despite of the warnings of the surviving miners.  When he reached the bottom of the pit he rushed, unheeding this warning of the more discreet men, to that part of the mine where it was known that at least one unfortunate was left behind by those who escaped.  The poisoned air was too much for him, and his insensible form soon was brought from below.  As soon as he was restored to consciousness, he again descended the pit with other rescuers and aided in the futile search for the body of the missing miner.  After remaining below as long as possible the search was abandoned until the atmosphere of the mine can be so purified that existence below may be a possibility.

So strong at times has been the accumulation of gasses in this mine that it could be gathered in pipes and used for lighting the entries in that part of the mine.

The dead:
  • Frank Fanaro, aged 45, and single
  • John Geneli, aged 38, single
  • Charles Schiller, (died on September 25, 1897), aged 34, single
  • Peter Casper, (died on September 26, 1897), aged 37, single
The wounded:
  • Joe Barlow, lad of 16 years; left leg broken twice; right leg crushed and head badly cut; cannot recover
  • Robert Britton; arm broken
  • M. Owens; badly burned about the face and on the arms
  • Dave Richmond; head badly cut
  • H. Smith; severely burned on face and shoulders
  • Robert Richmond; bruised and hurt internally
  • J. Higgins, a driver; cut on the head and body; badly bruised



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