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Coal & Coal Mining
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Grundy County, Illinois

Featuring Coal Mining
February 16, 1883
Diamond Coal Mine Disaster
Braidwood, Grundy County, Illinois
      Diamond Coal Mine No. 2 1 was operated by the Wilmington Coal Mining & Manufacturing Company for some time prior to February of 1883, when a flooding disaster caused the mine to be closed. Located near Braidwood, Grundy County, Illinois it is listed as having the main shaft at Township 33 North, Range 9 East, Section 31, NW SW SW; and an air shaft at Township 33 North, Range 9 East, Section 31, NE SW SW; and with an air and escapement shat at Township 33 North, Range 8 East, Section 36, NE SE SE.
      The mine was shallow, and the mine had had trouble with water accumulating in the workings previous to this disaster.
The story of the tragedy
The Aftermath
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Grundy County, Illinois
Coal in Grundy County Fatalities Sources

The Diamond Mine Disaster At Braidwood 2
      The most conspicuous event which has occurred during the year, or which has ever marked or marred the annals of coal mining in this State, was the calamity which befell the Diamond Mine, and the miners in it, at Braidwood, in February last. At this place, by the sudden precipitation of a sea of surface water into the workings of the mine, in the middle of the day, 69 men were engulphed and miserably perished; 39 women were made widows; 93 children were made fatherless, and the mine itself and its owners were involved in common ruin.
      The history of coal mining in all times and countries presents a deplorable record of sudden death and disaster to coal miners.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
There is said to be ten square miles of this level and marshy tract upon which the Diamond and other mines are located, and it is all so flat that no natural drainage is locally possible, and ordinarily all accumulations of water lie upon the surface until absorbed or evaporated. Even when thrown out of the mines with pumps it has no alternative but to find its way through the soil back again. Another feature of the situation is that all of the coal in this field is worked on the long-wall system, and as fast as the mineral is removed the surface comes down with the roof, and consequently makes a loose, irregular break all along the face of the workings, particularly susceptible to the action of water, and leaves in general and uneven and treacherous surface for water to stand upon.
      For several days prior to the 16th of February, 1883, there had been a general thaw in the vicinity of Braidwood, accompanied by warm rains, which reduced the winter's snow to water and swelled it to a flood, which overspread the entire surrounding country. That this was an unusual condition of things, is not claimed. Water in similar quantities had accumulated and stood upon the surface there before. On several occasions in former years, surface water had found its way into the mine, and two years previously it had broken through in such quantities as to create general alarm. In this case it is stated only that the volume of water was not greater than usual. Its depth is given as from one to three feet, but whether it were more or less would seem hardly to affect the gravity of the situation. It was spread like a sea over the entire face of the country, and constituted an open menace to every mine in the vicinity. That it was regarded as an element of danger, is shown by the action of the superintendent of an adjacent mine, who prohibited the men from going into his works, and ordered out those who had gone down before his arrival. Yet the men of the Diamond Mine went below that morning as usual, and with only 54 feet of sand and surface drift between them and an untold weight of water, began the day's work which they never finished.
      At about 11 o'clock in the morning the "cager" at the bottom of the main shaft discovered an unusual amount of water flowing to the bottom, and sent word to that effect to the men at the different working places, by the drivers who came to the shaft with their loaded cars. Being still uneasy about it, he came to the top to ascertain if the possible cause of it. Making no discoveries he descended the shaft again, and reaching the bottom found the volume of water already so great that he had difficulty in rescuing a boy, who had charge of of a door near the shaft, with whom he at once ascended again to the top. By this time those, who had taken the alarm were clamboring out by the escapement shaft, and the mine was now filling so rapidly that those who failed to receive the alarm, or were at too great a distance from the shaft, were speedily and hopelessly shut off from all escape whatever. By reference to the accompanying map of the mine, it will be seen that the point
Map of Daimond Coal Mine No. 2
Map drawn by Mr. James Finley
at which the break-through took place, is on the eastern boundary of the workings, while the principal working place was at the western extremity - the main or hoisting shaft being midway between them. In this, as in other mines, the main shaft was located in the dip, or lowest point of the coal, so that all of the water which accumulated could flow to the shaft and then be raised with pumps to the surface. The depth of the old air shaft, near the break, was 68 feet, that of the main shaft was 84 feet, and that of the escapement shaft 75 feet. The first rush of water was consequently to the bottom of the main shaft, that being the lowest point, and all escape at that point would be shut off some time before the outer galleries of the mine would be filled. It is probable, therefore, that no water would reach the working places on the west boundary until it was really too late to make any escape except by the escapement shaft. The bottom of this shaft being nine feet higher that that of the main shaft, it would afford an opportunity for egress after it was no longer possible to reach the bottom of the main shaft. To this point those who did escape made their way, and at this point the last desperate struggle of those who barely escaped was made, and groping for this outlet in despair, having almost reached it, twenty-two men awaited and accepted their doom.
      Unhappily there was a fatal defect in the construction of the roadway leading to this escapement shaft, which proved full of fatal consequences. At a short distance from the bottom of this shaft there was a dip or declivity in the roadway, followed by a corresponding rise, and creating a hollow about fifteen yards in length. Of course this hollow would be filled with water to the roof, while the road on either side of it was still out of water, and thus the advantage of the higher ground at either end would be neutralized and lost. It will be seen by statements made hereafter by those who escaped last by this route, that they had to dive or plunge through this fifteen yards of water in order to reach the bottom of the escapement shaft. Had such an emergency as this been foreseen or anticipated, it would have been a simple matter to have taken down the top and filled up this road to a uniform level, thus affording safe egress, possibly, to the entire working force, before being finally overtaken by the water. Another complication arises in all such cases as this, from the doors set across the roadways for the purpose of directing and controlling the currents of air. One of these doors being closed, with the weight of a body of water against it equal to its own dimensions, would constitute a barrier as impassible as a wall of rock, -- and so, doubtless, many desperate men found it. Those who did escape, had their most dreadful struggle with the doors leading to the escapement gallery, and the location at which the bodies of twenty-two others were found indicate that they may have had a similar struggle in vain.
      It will thus be seen that when this sea of surface water began its headlong rush into the cavities of the Diamond mine, it first closed the exit by the main shaft, the by the east escapement shaft, and then hermetically sealed the doors, and took possession of the more remote recesses of the mine at its own downward nature.
      As soon as the nature and extent of the catastrophe could be realized on the surface, active measures were proposed and taken for the rescue of those who were yet within the mine. These were, however, as brief as they were futile. It was difficult to get into the mine as it was to get out. Mr Skinner, the pit boss, descended the main shaft, but found only water, and the black damp so heavy as to put out his light. Two men, however, Harmon Unger and Blazius Shatzel by name, succeeded in making an entry by the escapement shaft, but they never returned. Their bodies were found afterwards among the twenty-two victims near the bottom of the shaft; and their widows, and children and friends can only lament their fruitless heroism. This closed the chapter, and completed the death roll.
      Some hope was at first entertained that there might be higher points in the mine to which the victims might retire and by some means maintain themselves alive until the water could be removed; but it was a forlorn hope, born of despair, and failed to sustain the most sanguine after a moment's reflection. The probability was greater that those who escaped drowning, if any there were, would perish with deadly gases, forced by the water from every crevice of the mine, within an hour after the mine filled.
      Having thus briefly sketched in outline the circumstances attending this tragic event, we introduce here the written statements of some of those who participated in the scenes, both inside and outside the mine, during the few fateful moments in which the destinies of so many men were being sealed.
      First is the statement of James Glasgow, the weighman, or top boss of the flooded mine:
      "I was on top attending to my usual duties on the 16th of February last. We had had a change in the weather some days previous, with considerable rain and a higher temperature. The day was very misty, and the prairie was covered with water as far as could be seen. Everything had gone right until half-past eleven a. m., when the cager came up to the top, reporting unusual water at the bottom, and went across to the escapement shaft to ascertain if any water was getting in there. Finding none, he said he though it might have broken through in some other place. He descended the shaft again, but found the water waist deep and rising rapidly. He called to the trapper boy, who had charge of the door for regulating the current of air. the boy was on the other side of the door, and was unable to pull the door open. The cager then made his way to the door, and after the most strenuous effort succeeded in getting the door open sufficiently to allow the boy to get out, and assisted him to get to the shaft, when they both came safe to the top.
      "Meantime, I had sent one of the top men to look around the dirt dump and see if he could discover the break. He reported that on reaching the end of the dirt dump he discovered water boiling three feet above the surface near the old air shaft. We hastened to see, and discovered water rushing into the break like a whirlpool, and could hear the noise for a quarter of a mile. I was alarmed, and neither of the bosses being on ground, telephoned to Mr. Mackay, the superintendent, and told the engineer to sound the alarm whistle. Mr. Mackay arrived within five minutes, and went around to examine the nature and extent of the break. Meantime, Mr Skinner, the pit-boss, had made and effort to get down the hoisting shaft, but could not reach the bottom with a light, the water having reached the roof, and the black damp being to strong for a lamp to burn. On coming to the top he found Herman Unger and Blazius Shatzel there, both of whom immediately went over to the escapement shaft, and down the ladders, with a view of rendering assistance to their fellow-workmen. They never came back. By this time a crown was gathered around the shaft, but the water had risen so rapidly there was no possibility of rescuing the men inside."
      The following is the statement of Peter Johnson, one of the survivors, a young Swede:
      "I was at work in the old Diamond shaft, in the extreme south west entry. The driver came running in and gave the alarm that the water had broken in. There were ten men at work there in five places. All of us quit work and hurried out towards the shaft, and met the water first at the west switch, and before reaching the door leading to the escapement shaft we had to wade through three feet of water. Four of us came out together, to that point, and found twelve or fifteen men there ahead of us. It took the united strength of as many as we could get at the door to force it open against the pressure of the water. I was the last to go through, and the weight of the water pressed the door together, and caught my foot and jammed it very badly before I could get it away. After a struggle, I got loose and followed the others. I found them at the point where the bottom dipped and made a hollow, between us and the escapement shaft. (See map). In this hollow, the water was up to the roof, and the distance through it was, I should think, twelve or fifteen yards. Most of the men though it impossible to get through, but a man named Smith urged on us all to try. He said he would die if he staid there, and would rather die trying to get through. He went into the water, and called to me to come on. He seized me by the arm, and holding on to each other we struggled on until we finally came through at the other end completely exhausted. After resting long enough to recover our breaths, we climbed the stairs and were safe."
      The next statement is made by a young Scotchman, lately arrived in this country, by the name of William Dennison. He says:
      "I was working at the face when the alarm was given by one of the drivers, and as I had been afraid of the water, I ran out at once, with the others, without stopping for our clothes. I was not much acquainted with the roads, so had to follow the others, trusting to their knowledge of the way. We had not gone far before we met the water. It seemed to swell before us. I heard someone shouting to others that they had gone the wrong way, and hurrying after them as if to bring them back, but I never saw any of them afterwards. When we got to the door leading to the escapement it took seven of us to get it open. the water was surging against it in great waves, and rising with every wave. When we had forced our way through the door, we found about fifteen men in there ahead of us, and up to their chins in water and the mine ahead of them filled to the roof. Some crying, some praying, and all hopeless of getting any further. Then Smith called out that it was death to stay there, and he would rather die trying to get through. six of us plunged after him into the watery tunnel. I got down on my hands and knees, and began to grope my way through in the dark, hurrying, ad trying to hold my breath. Just as I though I must be nearly through, I found my way obstructed by a fall of rock, against which I struck my head with such force as to be almost stunned, but I rallied again and made my way over it, and then encountered two men struggling wildly in the passage. Fortunately I escaped their dying clutches, for another moment's delay would have been fatal to me. A few more struggles brought me suddenly to the end, and I emerged from the water close to the bottom of the shaft. the water ran from my nose and mouth for some time, but I soon recovered strength to go up the ladder, where I found my father and brother, both of whom had been at work in the mine, but had escaped before I did. They had about given me up. I was the last to come through the water and Smith was the last to climb the shaft."
      Succeeding the fruitless impulse to save, came the resolution to at least recover the bodies of the dead. Nothing more remained which could be done, and even proved almost arduous undertaking.
      First the exact spot where the crevasse had taken place had to be located and inspected. With the aid of a boat the vortex was reached, and found to be about 50 x 90 feet in area. Nothing could, of course, be done towards removing the water from the mine until the construction of a coffer-dam around this place so as to shut off the further flow of water into the workings. To accomplish this required the building of a dam 5,000 feet in length, in water three feet depth -- an undertaking in itself requiring much time, skill and labor. Fortunately there was an abundance of assistance at hand.
      All the mines in the vicinity at once suspended operations, and both the miners and superintendents directed their energies and resources to the work of recovery. In the course of a few days the dam was completed, and the company's pumps, augmented by as many others could be advantageously placed, were at once set in motion for the purpose of hoisting a body of water, the volume of which could only be conjectured.
      The equipment in the way of pumps and hoisting apparatus was as follows:
1 No. 9 Knowles pump, with capacity of 520 gal. per minute,
1 No. 8 Knowles pump, with capacity of 400 gal. per minute,
2 No. 7 Crane's pump, with capacity of 600 gal. per minute,
3 No. 6 Crane's pump, with capacity of 510 gal. per minute,
2 Water tanks constructed in the cages, 560 gal. gal. per minute,
      Making a total of 7 pumps and two tanks, with an aggregate capacity of 2,590 gallons per minute, or an effective capacity, allowing one-third off for delays, of 1,726 gallons per minute, or 2,500,000 gallons per day.
      These powerful pumps were driven to the limit of their capacity night and day until the 26th day of March -- thirty-eight days after the flooding of the mine.
      On the 25th the first descent was made to the mine below, and on the 26th the first bodies were recovered. The mine itself was found to be a total wreck. The water had carried with it, to all parts of the works, vast quantities of mud from the surface, and had loosened and displaced supporting timbers, and had so softened the roof that it fell in large masses as soon as the water was taken out.
      This not only blockaded the roadways, but also obstructed the air-courses that it was impossible to re-establish the circulation sufficiently to displace the accumulated black damp. The entrance into the workings was consequently attended with great difficulty and danger -- not only from the accumulations of gas and debris, but from the loosened and impending rocks which were falling and liable to fall at any moment.
      Volunteer exploring parties were, however, speedily organized, and led by men of nerve and experience, descended into the pit while it was still necessary to wade through receding waters.
      The individual experience of some of those who were engaged in this search for the dead is given herewith, as procured in writing by Mr. Cumming.
      Mr. E. D. Phillips says:
      "Shortly after the water was down so that a search could be made, I became one of a party of explorers who undertook to go into the mine. We found the bottom of the shaft and the roadways in a terrible condition. The water had washed gravel, sand and rubbish into and across the shaft bottom to a depth f about four feet. Found the water running also about four feet deep in the roadway on the east side. I made my way to the door which had stopped he men from reaching the bottom of the main shaft, owing to the weight of water which had rested against it. Immediately behind this door lay the bodies of four men; two more lay near the stable, which was situated in the southwest corner of the bottom pillar, and before reaching the return air-way, several others were discovered lying more or less under the fallen rock. We found the bodies of the three Pearson brothers on the top of some framing of timbers. They were arm-in-arm, the youngest, a lad of about 15 years, in the middle. He had a large stone lying on his head. there were twenty-two bodies in all recovered at this time, all in the space between the door and the roadway leading to the escapement shaft. They were all in such a state of decomposition that it was impossible to identify them except by their clothing. We advanced and tried to reach the escapement shaft, but found it at that time impossible, as the water in the low place there was still nearly up to the roof. In the other direction we advanced about 250 yards, until our progress was stopped by the fallen rock. I only estimated the distance, as I had no way at the time of measuring it. We found no more bodies, however, and came out."
      The following is the account of Mr. William Smith, a most discreet and courageous explorer:
He says:
      "Accompanied by Mr. Ramsey, superintendent of the Braceville Coal Co., Mr. Swansbourg, pit-boss of No. 2 Braceville, and some others, Aaron Green and myself went up to the Diamond when it was ready to be searched for bodies. We all went down the shaft, and there found the bodies which had been discovered by the first exploring party, and while they were being taken to the surface, we went on in search of other victims of the flood. We found the roadways very badly caved in, and in a very dangerous condition. We had great difficulty in making our way over the falls, and this was materially increased by the bad conditions of the air, which was so heavy we could hardly keep a light. To guard against danger from the gas, I kept some distance ahead of the party with a safety lamp, they following with the naked lights. It required the efforts of the whole party in some places to make a passage-way at all, but after a great struggle we succeeded in reaching the main switch or parting, a distance of perhaps 200 yards from the shaft, and found we could proceed no further, on account of a heavy fall. All that day was spent trying to force or way by digging and crawling under and over piles of rock, past this obstruction. The night shift came on and relieved us, and in the morning we again relieved them at this work, and continued the effort to get over the fall until 4 o'clock in the afternoon of the second day, when we finally reached the roadway on the other side. Some distance further on we came upon the bodies of two mules, but made no other discoveries. On the next day I made a further search in this entry, and reached the working face, though in some places wading in water waist deep, but no other bodies were found than those of the mules. this was in the entry running north of west. The day following we went into the entry running south, until we were stopped by falls, which completely blocked up the entry; and as the black damp was too strong for a light to burn, we were compelled to abandon the effort in that direction. On Friday morning we got through into the main west entry, and after a very arduous effort we stopped to rest and smoke a bit; but while the others were resting, I went on a short distance, and there discovered six bodies, all on top of the timbers. I went on a little further to make sure there was no danger, and then called up my mates, and we then counted the bodies. Afterwards I pushed on, and by dint of hard creeping and tight squeezing, reached the working face, but discovered nothing more. We then went out and reported to Mr. Mackay, and decided to take some small sleds, on which to remove the bodies. While these were being made, men were vigorously at work on the roadways cutting a passage sufficient to admit of the sleds and coffins. this was not accomplished until Sunday morning about 10 o'clock, and Sunday afternoon the bodies finally reached the surface."
      Mr. Smith and his party were engaged in prosecuting this search seven days, and they were paid by the Braceville Coal Company, which company being identified with the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad, also tendered free transportation to any point on their lines, to such surviving relatives as might wish to go to their friends, and many improved the opportunity to seek new homes.
      the following statement is made by William Galacher, an intelligent man who had long been employed as an under boss in the mine, and is now mining boss in Illiana. He knew every part of the "Diamond" and is reliable.
      "I was away from home when the accident occurred but returned shortly after, and was there when the search for the bodies took place. We got down the shaft for the first time on the 25th of March, and found two or three feet of sand and debris all across the bottom. We had first to brattice off the north and west side of the shaft in order to conduct the air into the workings before we could commence the search. On going through the door on the southwest road we found five bodies, and from there on to the road leading to the escapement we discovered seventeen more. They were all in an advanced stage of decomposition, and very difficult to identify. the first bodies were removed to the top on the 26th. The search was continued all along the west road, which was very badly obstructed. John Ormond, mine boss of the Eureka Coal Company, and David Skinner, mine boss of the flooded mine, mad a very thorough search of the north entry, but no other bodies were found until Friday, the 29th, when six more were discovered by William Smith, of Braceville, in the southwest entry. They were finally recovered on the following Sunday. I believe the company prosecuted the search vigorously as long as there was any hope, and that if the location of other bodies could have been known, it would have been impossible to have reached them or removed them."
      After the recovery of the last six bodies, and a thorough search of all the accessible recesses of the mine, it became evident that the bodies of the remaining victims must have been buried in the ruins, and could not be reached, except at great risk of life, and further effort at recovery was abandoned. The company offered to continue the pumping, and to afford all the necessary facilities, if men could be found to go on with the explorations below, but the improbability of any further satisfactory results deterred the men from taking any more risks.
      Consequently by general consent, though not without the protest of those most deeply afflicted, the long sustained effort was at last suspended. The dead were identified and buried. the fires were drawn from the furnaces, the pumps ceased, the shaft gradually filled again with water, and the late populous mine became simply the silent sepulcher of the unrecovered dead. And such it will ever remain. The property is abandoned, and will only be known in the future as the scene of the great tragedy.
      Such is a simple outline of this notable and deplorable event. It requires no effort of the imagination to fill in the details of the picture with the horrors within the pit, with the homes made desolate, the wretched women made widows, the helpless children thrown hungry upon the world, and all the wreck of human happiness entailed by this waste of human life, but such details have no place here.
      The simplest narrative of the facts is sufficient to emphasize these plain lessons: that men should not be sent into, nor permitted under any circumstances to enter a mine know to be unsafe; that an unobstructed and available roadway to an escapement shaft is as essential as the shaft itself; that every mine, and especially one like this, exposed a frequent intervals to the gravest perils, should have an effective system of signals to convey an instant alarm to all parts of the works. If there are any compensations for such a calamity as this, they can only be found in the greater vigilance and caution exercised by those who still have the lives of others in their keeping.
      It is due to the proprietors of this property to note the activity and energy with which, after the event, they entered upon the work of rescue and recovery. No effort and no expense was spared to mitigate the consequences of the disaster, and it is stated upon good authority that not less than $20,000 was expended by the company in the recovery of the victims, and that their whole loss was $40,000. The superintendents and officers of the adjacent mines, and of the Chicago and Alton Railroad, also contributed promptly from their resources such men and material as could be used, while the miners, themselves were quick to render any possible service, to the neglect, for many days, of their regular vocation. And not only the miners of Braidwood but those of other towns, and of distant states, began at once with characteristic generosity and alacrity to make contributions for the survivors.
      Indeed, this case seemed to appeal in a peculiar manner to the active sympathy of the people at large, and contributions of money began to flow in from all quarters for the relief of the women and children who had been left destitute. The thirty-third General Assembly of the State, being in session, also took official cognizance of this sudden distress brought upon so many of its people, and made an appropriation of $10,000, to be expended in their behalf. A committee of responsible persons was appointed at Braidwood to receive and disperse all these funds, and from their last report the following statement is summarized:
FromChicago$ 7,905.59
The State appropriation10,000.00
    Total for Illinois$ 37,469.88
Total forIowa$ 1,448.25
   "New York2,197.70
   "New Mexico102.00
   "Maryland   88.00
    Total$ 42,228.85
      From this generous fund distribution has been made among the resident survivors of the deceased, on the basis of $1.50 a week to each member of a family numbering six or more; $1.60 a week to each member of a family of five; $1.70 a week to each member of a family of four; $1.85 a week to each of a family of three; $2.50 to each of a family of two, and $4.00to widows and aged women.
      In making final settlements with families desiring to remove from the place, the following scale was adopted: To each widow, $300; to widow and one child, $500; to widow and two children, $600; to widow and three children, $700; to widow and four children, $800; to widow and five children, $900; and to widow and six children, $1,000.
      In this manner over $17,000 have been disbursed, and plans are being devised for the purchase of simple homes for the 20 families still remaining in the village, and for their maintenance until they can become self-supporting.
      This bountiful provision made for the relief of the physical wants of these unfortunate people, has done much to alleviate their sufferings, and as an expression of the universality of human sympathy, constitutes the only redeeming feature of the situation.
      The following is a list of the men and boys killed in the Diamond mine, with the nationality of each :
NameNationality Age
Anderson, JohnScotch 28
Atkins, JohnWelsh 24
Atkins, SamuelWelsh 31
Babington, A.Scotch28
Boyd, JohnScotch 33
Brokman, JohnGerman50
Butskousky, FrankPoland 21
Butskousky, Geo.Poland32
Carroll, JamesIrish33
Chiller, CarlGerman30
Costigan, ThomasIrish 23
Cullock, JohnPoland 48
Damm, AugustGerman 43
Damm, E.German 35
Denbrosky, AntonPoland17
Denbrosky, JohnPoland41
Eadie, HenryScotch 25
Eadie, Henry Scotch23
French, JohnScotch20
Fulton, AlexanderScotch33
Gootes, JoePoland24
Groter, D.German38
Hacka, AugustGerman30
Harper, Robert Scotch 30
Huber, ChristopherGerman16
Huber, JohnGerman 43
Huber, LewisGerman15
Johnson, JohnSwede44
Kae, FritzGerman32
Kalenberg, A.German30
Klessner, HenryGerman22
Klesser, WilliamGerman26
Kloss, FrankPoland 50
Lenz, JacobGerman 30
Mattern, Joseph, Jr.German26
Mattern, Joseph, Sr.German54
Matts, FrankGerman53
McBride, D.Irish 20
McCulley, WilliamScotch28
McQuinston, A., Jr .Scotch Irish 19
McQuinston, A., Sr.Scotch Irish 46
McQuinston, R.Scotch Irish 23
McQuinston, Wm.Scotch Irish 14
Murray, FrankPoland24
Nesbit, HughScotch 18
Niel, JohnScotch34
Neyski, MartinPoland23
Pearson, IssacEnglish 23
Pearson, JamesEnglish19
Pearson, JohnEnglish13
Polenas, JohnGerman28
Ochenick, MartinPoland 23
Orr, AlexanderScotch31
Rambart, AugustGerman32
Ramsey, HughScotch Irish23
Redmond, MathewIrish 13
Redmond, P. C.Irish42
Rodgers, ThomasScotch Irish32
Schatzel, BlaziusGerman 34
Scholtz, WilliamGerman44
Sekora, WilliamGerman30
Smith, JohnScotch 23
Smith, JosephGerman 26
Stewart, A., Jr .Scotch21
Stewart, RobertScotch14
Stumps, SimonGerman33
Sullivan, L.Irish25
Unger, HermanGerman31
Wall, P. H.Irish25


The Aftermath
as related in newspaper articles
- - - - -       - - - - -       - - - - -       - - - - -       - - - - -
The True Republican, Sycamore, Illinois
Volume XXVI Number 18
Saturday, February 25, 1883, Page 2
The Rapid Thaw Causes a Great Cave-in at Braidwood, Ill., Entombing and Drowning the Miners in a Shaft -- Seventy-one Lives Lost
Chicago, February 17.
      A report was received here this evening from Joliet that the town of Braidwood, about fifteen miles from Joliet, had been the scene to-day of a great mine disaster, in which the first report said sixty lives had been lost. A correspondent succeeded in getting confirmation of the reported disaster at Braidwood in a brief interview with A. L. Sweet, President of the Four Mines Company and the Diamond Mine Company.
      Mr. Sweet says that 300 men were in the various shafts this afternoon, when the ground sagged under the weight of water that had saturated and loosened it. Sixty-two men were in one shaft, which caught the bulk of the falling debris, and which was instantly flooded. Every one of them was either drowned or smothered inside of five minutes. Their bodies are buried beneath many tons of earth. One hundred acres have been excavated, and the miners not in the one unfortunate shaft escaped, Digging and pumping is going on vigorously, but it will be many hours before the first bodies can be reached.
      A section of prairie land forty by fifty feet, over which the floods had extended until the water stood three or four feet deep suddenly caved in, resulting in an instant flooding of a mine in which 300 men and boys were working. Inside of half an hour the water reached all parts of the works, and to-night it stand's within five feet of the main shaft. ''Seventy-one human beings were choked to death in the grim recesses of the mine. All hope of possible rescue of any of them by the opening of a dividing from an old shaft in the empties, was abandoned at dusk.
      This was the most terrible tragedy that ever visited the Wilmington coal field. It was in the No. 2 shaft of the Wilmington Coal Mining Manufacturing Company, known as, the Diamond Company's. The little village of Diamond is a scene, of desolation, calculated to wring the heart of even the most hardened.
      The pit in which to-day's horror occurred has been operated about two years and 290 to 400 men and boys have been regularly employed in it. This morning 290 or 300 went in. Those who escaped did so by a miracle.
      Shaft No. 2 is ninety-two feet deep, and above the coal is 75 to 110 feet of earth. The coal-vein ranges in thickness from two feet nine inches to four feet. Above it is a layer of soapstone resting on a bed of fire-clay. The vein winds and dips a good deal, and thus some parts of the mines are lower than others. From the main shaft radiate passages in every direction, in which coal is found. These must be four feet high and six inches wide. The miners prop the passages with timber and soapstone. These props did not prove strong enough for the superincumbent moss of soggy earth.
      The following is the story of John Haber, an eye-witness of the whole affair, and a man who was in the mine at the time of the accident: I was working in one of the west sections of the main corridor and had just got my car ready for transfer when I heard a voice, weak at first, saying, "Look out the water is coming." For a few minutes I did not comprehend the awful meaning of the language used, and so went back to block up the coal, when I heard the warning again and again, and saw a small stream of water running down the center of the track. The truth at once flashed upon me that I was in danger, and that the water was coming from some unknown locality. I rushed as fast as the nature of the passage would allow to where I thought my two sons were at work, but found that they had gone. I then yelled at the top of my voice to the men near me, and made as fast as I could for the air shaft, where I knew there was a ladder, and that I could get out By this time the water was up to my armpits, and I had a hard time to get up the shaft, so exhausted was I with the rapid run I had made in the stooping position. When I go home, there upon her bed lay my wife tearing her hair and wailing and almost crazy.
      "Oh, John," she said, "where are the boys?"
      The truth then flashed upon, me that perhaps they were dead. I went back as fast, as I could and found that my horrible anticipations were true and that the boys had not been seen since entering the shaft in the morning.
      Andrew Costigan was hauled out of the shaft more dead than alive, and after being resucitated gave the following recital : "I was working in chamber 'D' in company with a German whose name I do not know. We had just shipped the car and sat for a short breathing spell when my partner noticed a dripping noise as though the water was coming through the roof, and said he thought, there was leak somewhere. We both went out of the chamber into the main corridor that leads to the hoisting shaft and listened. It did not take us long to determine what was the matter. The roof had caved and the water was upon us. We both ran in the direction of the shaft, my partner being behind me. The wall above this corridor was not level, there being holes in the floor with a corresponding sloping of the walls, so that we had to run down and up these small hills. The water had already filled these scooped-out places and, we found the water three feet deep in some of them. By the time we had gone 200 feet we had water up to our necks, on the level and when we went into one of the hollow places, we held our noses until we came to another place. I at last got to the shaft but what became of my companion; God only knows. He was never seen again and I was only too glad myself to get out alive."
      The following is a complete list of the lost obtained from David Mackie, Superintendent of the mine: A. McQuestion, Sr., A. McQuestion, Jr.; Robt. McQuestion, -- McQuestion, Isaac Pearson, John Neil, B. Schatzell, P. C. Redmond, Mattie Redmond, John Boyd, Henry Eadie, James Carroll, William Scholtz, August Rambart, Jacob Lenz, Carl Schiller, H. Nesbit, Robert Harper, Alexander Orr, Geo. Butskerouski, P. Butskerouski, Joe Gootes, M. Neyski, an unknown man, John Denbroki, A. Heca, Simon Stumps, Fritz Kae, Frank Kloss, John Kullock, Lou Huber,John Huber, Chris Huber, James Pierson, Anton, Denbroki, Frank Murray, A. Damm, E. Damm, John Smith, Samuel Atkins,-- Abbington, D. McBride, Otto Osterlow, John Pierson, John French, John Johnson, John Anderson, John Atkins; Frank Matton, Pat Hallywall, Thomas Costigan, H. Unger, D. Groter, R. Stewart, William Sekora, Andrew Fulton, Joe Smith, Joe Mattem, Jr., Henry Klesser, Hugh Ramsey, Frank S. Ocup, A. Stewart, Jr., A. Kalenburg; Murray Sullivan, William McCully, Joe Mattem, Sr., William Klesser, Thomas Rogers, Joe Rusook, John Brokman, John Polenas, an unknown man.
      News of the accident soon spread and a great crowd gathered about the mouth of the pit, workmen fishing out the almost exhausted and nearly drowned men who were alive at the bottom of the shaft.
      The mine was of the ordinary kind, supplied with regular shafts and supposed to be well protected from accidents.
      Sixty-eight men and six boys lie dead in the mine, and it may be weeks before even the melancholy satisfaction of recovering their bodies is accorded. The whole of Diamond is devoted to mining, and this blow carries death into a hundred families. In several instances all the male members of the family are swept away.
      The mine is in the extreme corner of Will County. The miners live in the village across the line in Grundy County. The Diamond company's pits are known as Nos.1, 2, etc.
      Many a wife and mother knelt on the ground and prayed fervently for the safety of her loved ones, and as the heart-rending character of the calamity appeared, the grief of the survivors was outspoken and painful to behold.
      A wife bent over the shaft and her husband climbed up to her with the dead body of his son in his arms. She extended her hand to receive them, but was disappointed and doomed to greater grief, for the man, worn out by the desperate struggle for life and for the body of his son, fell back into the pit and was a lifeless corpse. He has not been seen since.
      Mrs. McQuestion, whose husband and three sons were buried, upon learning the news was prostrated, and now lies in a precarious condition with her mind permanently injured.
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Newspaper clipping
Possibly from the Wilmington Advocate
Wilmington, Illinois, March 30, 1883
courtesy of Dr. David Pantaleone
Recovering the Bodies -- Incidents, Etc., Etc.
      We are safe in assuming that nine-tenths of our readers are already familiar with the main facts in this terrible accident. We will therefore simply say that after 38 days incessant pumping the mine was emptied on last Sunday, and at midnight all was in readiness to raise some of the bodies up from their watery graves. At that hour six bodies had been found and the work of exhuming began. Of the situation on Monday we quote from Mr. Appleton's excellent account in the Chicago Herald :
      Braidwood, Ill., March 26. -- When this morning's sunlight broke it found the same anxious crowd in waiting, the same solemn gangs of workers, the same women's faces weary with watching, the same groups of bronzed and sturdy miners standing about and discussing the situation in undertones, some with pipes in their mouths and their hands in their pockets, the women with hoods and shawls of diverse descriptions -- and all just as the Herald correspondent had left them in the light of their torches and bonfires at 2 o'clock this morning. All night long the crowd had stood there waiting for daybreak, and all night long the gangs of tireless miners had been working underground, headed by Moffatt, the mine inspector; Mackey, the superintendent; Skinner, the pit-boss, and Corey, superintendent of the illegible Wilmington Company's mines -- four men who have slept scarcely an hour apiece out of the past forty-eight.
      When the Herald's last dispatch was sent nine bodies had been found. That was at 1:30 Monday morning; but between then and 6 o'clock thirteen more were discovered and brought from the mine and laid at the foot of the shaft. Every half hour or so the "cage," shooting up from below, brought tot he upper world some two or three boxes containing the dead, and the willing hands of rude but sincere friends who had worked beside them, some for years, carefully grasped the iron handles and carried them into the dead house.
      Here, in the dead house, the work of identification went on all night, and of the twenty-two blackened, shapeless corpses laid out on the rough board benches, nineteen were recognized amid the lamentations of friends. Many a miner brushed his sleeve across his eyes and turned away from the sickening sight of one whom he had recognized, saying: "Yes, it's Paddy, boys -- thair's no mistake. I know him by the coat he had."
      Then came women, squeezing through the crowd, two or three together, one grasping tightly a checkered shawl around her head, the other wearing a man's fur cap, their eyes, dilates, their lips parted, and that look of mingled fear and sorrow on their faces that nearly resembles anger. "Ach! my God, my God!" cries one, "it's he -- my Tom," and she buried her face in her hard, coarse hands, and the other woman clasping her by the waist, looked over her shoulder and said: Yes, Mary, sur eno' -- it is Tom. Do ye mind the blue yarn socks ye made him th' day wid yer aun hands? and she joined her wail with the other.
      The whole room and the air outside, for a distance was rank with the smell of chloride of lime, and many of the bodies brought up were so badly gone when found that the miners had literally covered them over with lime. This process, it was said by some who came from below, had produced such volumes of chlorine in the mine that the workers were choked and suffocated. They had oft-times to come to the surface to breathe, and everywhere in the crowd were men with sponges tied under their noses, as well as torches hooked onto the front of their caps.
      The bodies, after being laid out in the dead house and exposed to the crowd for identification, were lifted into coffins -- cheap, but very decent, rosewood stained and hung with silver-looking handles. On each coffin-lid was tacked a plain white card, bearing, for instance, such an inscription as this : "No. 1 -- Paddy Wall," or "No. 2 -- Unknown black coat, gray pants, red woolen scarf and blue flannel shirt. Features not recognizable." Of the first twenty-two bodies the nineteen recognized were as follows:
Patrick H. Wall,
James Carroll,
John Johnson,
John Cullough,
John Dambroskey,
Thomas Costigan,
Frank Murray,
John Brokmann,
John Atkins,
Joseph Smith,
Frank Kloss,
Mathew Redmond,
Anton Dambroskey,
George Bukoski,
John French,
Daniel McBride,
Hermann Unger,
Sam Atkins,
John Boyd.

      Five of the bodies were taken away by weeping groups of relatives, and the other seventeen were carried out and placed upon the flat cars, which had stood on the track all night, draped in black and white, with tall biers, covered with black cloth at each end and on the sides with large diamond shaped figures in white.
      At 8 o'clock the crowd could see the smoke of an engine across the prairie, and before long the train from Braidwood -- an engine and two coaches, hung all over with fluttering streamers of black and white, and with the heads of scores of people craned out through the windows to catch first glimpse of the scenes around the shaft -- drew up beside the dead house and poured forth a large addition to the crowd. In the meantime country people had begun to arrive on foot and in wagons from
      lads who had the coffins in charge were not opposed to doing the fair thing, and, one by one, the seventeen coffin-lids were taken off and the people crushed and jostled around to catch a glimpse of the blackened, distorted forms.
      One woman, with a black shawl over her head and a purple ribbon at her throat -- she was a Swede -- pressed along past a dozen different coffins, straining her eyes to see and with nervous energy shouldering everybody who opposed her progress, until peering under a man's elbow, she caught sight of the foot of the object beyond. Then she gave a loud cry, and they stood aside, and she threw herself across the coffin and said she knew him by so simple a thing as the stitching of that patch upon his knee -- her own handiwork, it was -- and she placed her hand upon it, and turning to the bystanders, attempted to explain in agonized, broken English that she could trace each stitch, so well did she recognize the work. This was Anton Damboskey's wife, and just beside her husband she recognized his nephew.
      Another woman, a stout German with a crape veil pushed aside from a red and tear-stained face, had climbed, with a score or more of men and women, upon one of the flat cars, and, when they lifted the lid and exposed her dead to view, she sat down upon the coffin and insisted upon staying there. They had to lift and carry her away when the time arrived to move the body into the hearse.
      Such are the scenes enacted everywhere. Business is suspended in Braidwood. The stores are closed and all the houses are draped in mourning. On the illegible stops on the street corners and in the saloons stand idle groups, the gist of whose talk is naught but the town's affliction.
The following excerpt is from the Times of Tuesday:
      The bodies taken out Monday had to be carried over boulders and hills of jagged stone by men who had to grope their way through the devious lyes, in an atmosphere befouled with an almost insufferable stench. No one who has not personally seen this place can conceive of its awful character and the impressions formed by a visit to the interior. shut out from the light of day; surrounded with an impenetrable darkness, faintly lit up only by the far-off appearing glimmer of the miners' lamps; the nauseous evaporations from cesspools in the crevices or floor; the slimy drippings from the dark walls; the yawning abysses between the elevations of debris; the ominous appearance of the roofs and stony projections; the knowledge that the dead are near, and the dread of stumbling over that dead, with the occasional sighting of a dying zephyr sent through the air-shaft like the last moans of a departed soul, combine to make this tomb of miners horrible unnatural -- a fitting realm for Pluto. Reflections such as these do not come to the men who spend two and three hours at a time in this dismal place. One thought possesses them, one purpose actuates -- how to find the remains of their buried companions. It was their good fortune to live when death overtook their former fellow laborers, and when they work with a will to give the dead a human burial. The strongest of these men, when relieved, are exhausted. The foul air and hard work are more than any man can stand for more than three hours. No stoppage is made, however, and all last night and to-day squads of men were delving into stone and carting it away.
      All those who were saved from the disaster escaped through the air-shaft, about seventy-five yards from the main shaft. They remember leaving their companions in certain places, but these recollections must be indistinct and uncertain, as the terror of all the workmen when they discovered the water rushing in precluded collected thought, and recognition of faces in the darkness of the mine can not well be better than vague.
      All the of the bodies recovered were found in the lye running from the main shaft, and those yet to be found are supposed to be in the northwest lye, or diagonally opposite in a westerly direction. Between these places and the main shaft millions of tons of stone are piled up in mountainous connection, and will have to be removed before investigation can be made thoroughly.
The Herald follows up in description as follows, on Tuesday:
      The great difficulty encountered everywhere is in the huge masses of rock and clay, which have fallen from the roof and sides, blocking the progress of the search. The props which are everywhere put in to stay walls of a mine have been washed away and the work is attended with great danger to the explorers. Thousands of tons of stone will have to be carted out of the mine by hand-cars and pushers, and, as it is thought many bodies may be lying under the debris in that part of the mine already exposed, Supt. Mackey, Mr. Fordice, Mr. Corey and others having the work in charge, have decided that the only way will be to cart out this hindering material as they advance. This will be a very tedious task and nobody knows how long it will take, for besides this loading, pushing, raising to surface, dumping and their lowering of the cars, it involves the necessity of introducing timber supports all along to prevent further caving and to protect the lives of the explorers. The disintegrating effect of the water and then of the air on the sides and roofs has been so great that the mine will never be fit for working again, and he only object missing tit out will be to find the
rest is missing
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Newspaper clipping
Possibly from the Wilmington Advocate
Wilmington, Illinois, 1883
courtesy of Dr. David Pantaleone
Further Particulars of the Search in the Diamond Coal Mine
      Learning that the six bodies found in the Diamond mine last Friday were to be brought to the surface Sunday, a special reporter for the Independent, accomanpied by Deputy Sheriff Warner, drove over to the scene of misery and woe. Arriving there at 1 p. m., we at once proceeded tot he shaft, which, by this time, was surrounded by sorrowing ans sympathizing friends. As we neared it we were called by some one who was in the center of he miners. We recognized him as Billy Gallagher, the pit boss. Billy's appearance almost frightened us; his entire frame shook like an aspen, and his clothing was covered with blood, hair and slime. This condition was accounted for when he told us that he had just come up from below after having assisted in placing the six bodies in coffins.
      These bodies were found in the highest point in the mine, where there was sufficient blocking on top of the cross timbers for the men to huddle together after having removed it. When found, only the legs of the men were visible, the bodies being covered with a huge stone. Gallagher climbed up, and in time succeeded in breaking the stone, and then, unassisted, he carried the mangled remains tot he coffins, where other men -- one of whom was a brother of three of the corpses -- carefully arranged them. The Pearson brothers -- Isaac, aged 23 years, James, aged 19 and Johnny, aged 13, were found together on the east end of the timbers, and Hugh Ramsey, Andrew Holton and Thos. Rogers (cousins), were lying aide by side at the head of the Pearson boys. Johnny Pearson's head was lying upon Isaac's breast. the altter's arm encircling his little brother and James was lying across the lower limbs of his brothers. Johnny's head was crushed through Isaac's breast.
      When we met Pit Boss Gallagher, as stated above, he had ascended in quest of fresh air and a moment's rest. While on the surface he asked no less than a dozen miners to go home, change their clothing and "for God's sake, help us get the boys out!" Only one responded to his call, on account of the great danger. At 2 o'clock p. m. the tired men went down, and at 3:30 o'clock the bodies were brought to the bottom of the main shaft -- the coffins being fastened to scantlings built like a stone boat; ropes were attached to the cross piece and the coffins dragged some 360 yards, sometimes through apertures barely large enough to admit the coffin. A little later the bodies were brought up. We were invited into the morgue, together with the coroner, Supt. Mackey, the book-keeper, one or two other mine officials, and a half dozen newspaper reporters. Deputy Sheriff Aulthouse guarded the doorand kept back the morbidly curious. The coffin containg the remains of Hugh Ramsey was first brought in, and the others in the following order: Johnny, James, and Isaac Pearson, Andrew Hol ten, and Thomas Rogers. The doors were locked, and the lids were taken off for the purpose of identifying the contents of tile coffins. All were at once identified, save one, which afterward proved to be that of Andrew Holten.
      No tongue or pen could describe those six objects -- those ugly, decayed, muti lated remains of men. After a few mo ments' deliberation the doors of the morgue were thrown open and the bod ies were viewed by a thousand or more people. After the throng had passed through, the mother of Rogers and an aunt of Holten's were admitted; the wailings of the poor old mother over the coffin of her son and only support were too affecting for even the strongest present.
      At 5:30 o'clock a mournful procession was seen moving from a desolate home towards the morgue. We had preceded them; our memory of the visit of the mother and sisters of the three Pearson boys on this occasion will never die. On Tuesday of last week, among those buried was one at first thought to be Mr. Eddy, but the conclusion finally arrived arrived at was that it was Mr. Holten. Saturday night Mrs. Eddy was seen to act strangely around the shaft. Thomas Davis kept her in sight; she approached the shaft, and as she endeavored to leap into the hole,he grasped her and dragged her away. Said Tom to us Sunday: "I tell ye, I would not be able to do that again for all Grundy county." The in vestigation Sunday proved that the fifth man brought into the morgue was Hol ten, and that the man buried on last week was really Eddy, the husband of the poor woman who attempted to kill herself.
      All honor is due Billy Gallagher, Davie Skinner, Bob White, Tom Davis (one of the very last men out of the shaft on that ill-fated Friday), and some others, for the heroism that they have thus far displayed in their efforts to bring to the surface their unfortunate fellow work men. Their labors are beset with dan gers on every side; they peril their own lives to please the living relatives; the roadways that they travel are dark, dreary caverns, with the roof fifteen, twenty, or more feet above them, without the least support; great rocks hang above their heads, apparently only waiting to crush and kill more men. Many of the men have become actually sick from overwork and the foul air, and are confined to their homes. The Independent emphatically declares that it is an inhuman act to allow valuable men to enter this dangerous pit. It is true it were better if relatives could be brought to the surface and properly in terred, but if an attempt is made to get all of the bodies out, more or less brave men will die before the result is accomplished. Friends of those unfortunate beings may lose other relatives or dear friends if they insist on the continuation of this hazardous work. Let the mine be filled in, a fence built around the now never-to-be-forgotten spot, and a neat monument erected in the center thereof. This will be far better than imperiling other lives. One man, with whom we conversed, who has worked incessantly in this awful s epulchre, has a son-in-law yet in the mine, but he is willing to abandon the search, Another man, whose son has not yet been found, is also willing that the mine be closed.
      Billy Gallagher, who has been very reticent when questioned by reporters, has never received credit for his labors
what miners told us we can say that no one has performed more heroic work than he, no one has put in more time than Billy, nor is there one who has trodden more dangerous paths. One week ago Saturday this brave fellow entered the mine and left it the following Monday. That's Billy Gallagher. Dave Skinner, too will long be rememberd as one of the brave men in this great undertaking of securing the remains of the unfortuate miners.

Sources :
1 Coal Mines in Illinois, Grundy County    Index # 2342
                Illinois State Geological Survey, 615 East Peabody Drive, Champaign, IL. 61820

2 Statistics of Coal Production in Illinois, 1883,
                A Supplemental Report of the State Bureau of Labor Statistics,
                by John S Lord, Secretary; Springfield, ILL: H. W. Rokker, Printer and Binder; 1883


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