Due to an electrical outage, the nearly 500 workers in the coal mine in Cherry, Illinois on November 13, 1909 had to light kerosene lanterns and torches. One caught fire to a cart full of hay for the mules, which quickly spread when workers used a large fan to try to blow it out. Two shafts were closed off to stop the fire, which also suffocated many of the surviving miners. When they were finally able to reach the shaft, rescuers found “a group of some ten bodies, one in the center in the attitude of prayer. From there on the sights were horrifying. . . and the stench as such as to tax the strength of the rescuers.”
Deep in the shaft, twenty-one men built a wall to protect themselves from the fire and poisonous gasses. Certain of death, they wrote farewell notes to their loved ones. George Eddy wrote his wife and children, ‘I write these few lines to you and I think it will be for the last time. I have tried to get out twice, but was driven back. . . Lizzie, if I am found dead take me to bury me in Streator and move back. Keep Esther and Jenny and Clarence together as much as you can. I hope they will not forget their father, so I will bid you all good-by, and. God bless you all.” They managed to survive eight days drinking from water than leaked from a coal seam until they were miraculously rescued. In total, 259 men and boys as young as 10 died, making is the third most deadly mining disaster in history.