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Historians unearth the graves of Herrin Massacre victims

Workers excavating at the Herrin City Cemetery

Workers excavating at the Herrin City Cemetery

Scott Doody, a local historian who wrote a book on the 1922 Herrin County Massacre, and a team of anthropologists, historians, and geologists have located and exhumed the graves of the victims of the 1922 Herrin Massacre.  After the massacre, researchers believed the victims were buried in a potter’s field, and a bordering historic cemetery. The team found the graves in the potters fields, but about 80 feet away from their target area.

In 1922, during a nationwide coal mining strike started the national coal miners union, W. J. Lester, owner of the Southern Illinois Coal Company, hired nonunion workers and armed security from Chicago to keep production going at his mine.

Supporters of the unionized workers went to Herrin when they heard out about the situation, and the union workers and their supporters exchanged gunfire with the guards.  After two union workers were killed in skirmishes on June 21st, hundreds more union supporters showed up at the mine on the 22nd and the nonunion workers surrendered.

The nonunion workers and guards were told to leave the area but were walked about two miles from the mine and executed.  19 people were killed that day, and one other worker died a few months later.  In all 22 people were killed during the 1922 Herrin Massacre.  Though there was a trial no one was convicted for the massacre.

Last week when the group of researchers unearthed the four graves they found that all had caskets with handles on the side and “at rest” aluminum plates, and all were found inside wooden vaults.  Experts believe the casket designs show that the graves belong to the victims of the massacre because they match historic photographs.  Up until last week the team only uncovered simple wooden boxes in unmarked graves.  Now the teams says it’s up to the city of Herrin and the families to decide what will happen going forward.

In October, the Herrin City Council approved additional cemetery excavation work to find the remains of victims of the 1922 massacre.  During a violent 1922 labor strike, there was a clash between the striking union workers and dozens of replacement workers at a coal mine owned by the Southern Illinois Coal Co.

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Archaeological Team to Begin Excavation Work at Cemetery in Southern Illinois

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