Massacre victims receive an honor long overdue

By Jacob Wiegand, @JacobWiegand_DE

The Herrin Massacre took place June 21 to 22, 1922.

During this time, a coal miner strike occurred across the nation, but a mine near Herrin brought in non-union workers to keep the mine open. This greatly angered many union workers who were on strike and as a result, many of these non-union workers were killed by those in the union in what became known as the Herrin Massacre.

The massacre claimed the lives of 22 men, 19 non-union and 3 union workers, although others died later as a result of their injuries, Scott Doody, author of “Herrin Massacre,” said.

Advertisement

Advertisement

A ceremony was held at Herrin City Cemetery Thursday to finally honor those who lost their lives 93 years ago. Members of the Herrin American Legion Post 645 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1567 were present to pay tribute to the six World War I veterans who were killed in the massacre.

Frank Fenton, a member of the Herrin Honor Guard, said this is the first time the soldiers have been honored.

“That’s what we’re here for, is to put them to rest the way they should have been,” said Fenton.

Other Herrin residents including city officials were also present.

“Today we’re mending a wound that was opened 93 years ago and I hope the healing process can begin, because it’s something that’s long overdue,” said Bill Sizemore, an alderman and chairman of public works in Herrin.

But some of the victims’ bodies were not discovered until 2013.

Doody, who is also a radio talk show host, said someone called into his show telling him to go to Herrin and find the graves of the massacre victims. 

He said he came to Herrin City Cemetery in 2009 only to find the location of the sixteen graves had been lost. Doody said he pulled together a team of excavators which, during about a four year period of time, performed several digs.

“There are popular legends about some being buried on the spot,” Robert Corruccini, a professor emeritus in the department of anthropology and member of the excavation team, said about the potential whereabouts of the other six victims who were not buried in the cemetery.

One of the members of Doody’s team was Steven Di Naso, a geospatial scientist in the department of geology and geography at Eastern Illinois University. Di Naso, who met Doody in March of 2010, said he proposed the idea to map out the cemetery to make a historical model of where all of the bodies were buried.

This led to finding the location of Herrin’s potter’s field, which is another name for a graveyard for strangers and the poor. Eventually the team narrowed down their search to two likely locations.

The first location did not yield the graves of the miners, but on the first day of the team’s excavation of the second location in November of 2013, they found the graves of eight of the sixteen miners.

“History was made here in ’22 and then history was made here again in ’13,” Doody said. “A group of us have made history by finding these guys.”

Last month, a monument was placed at the site where the eight bodies of the victims were discovered.

The excavation team plans to return to Herrin City Cemetery at an unspecified date to continue their search for the other eight victims.

“This is the largest attack of union versus non-union in history of the country,” Doody said. “It’s not the largest loss of life. Like for instance the year before in Virginia, National Guard troops killed coal miners. This was union coal miners killing non-union miners, no outside intervention, no National Guard.”

Advertisement