Cherry, Illinois was a company town. Named after James Cherry, the superintendent of the St. Paul Coal Company, mining operations had begun at Cherry, in the Illinois River Valley of north central Illinois, in 1904 in order to produce coal for the steam engines of the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad.
The Cherry operation was considered a safe, modern mine by the day’s standards, but on November 13, 1909, a fire started in the mine when torches used to light the mine after it’s state-of-the-art electrical lighting system had broken down set fire to a coal car full of hay that was being taken to feed the mules living down in the mine. There were 481 miners in the Cherry mine that day; 259 died. At the time it was the most deadly mining disaster the country had ever seen.
What follows is a description of what happened in the mine that day, based on first-hand testimony, excerpted from The Report on the Cherry Mine Disaster, published by the State of Illinois’ Board of Commissioners of Labor in 1910.