This is the 110th anniversary of a series of Cardiff Mine explosions in Cardiff, Illinois.
I first learned about the explosions when I was researching my grandfather’s birth location. He was born January 26, 1902, in Cardiff, Livingston County, Illinois. His father, William Morgan, was from the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, England, and came to the U.S. in 1887. He was a coal miner.
As I want to do this post justice, much of this information comes from a wonderful book – “Cardiff, Ghost Town on the Prairie” by Jim Ridings. I highly recommend this book (and the subsequent books that followed) to anyone who enjoys coal mine history, ghost towns, or Illinois history.
Around midnight on Thursday, March 12, 1903, there was an explosion that killed three miners. According to the book, “The huge explosion shook the town and awakened most of the residents. Flames and debris shot up more than 100 feet from the mine opening.” [i]
From the Eau Claire newspaper [ii]:
My older cousins tell me that my great grandmother gave my great grandfather an ultimatum that he wasn’t to go back in the mine and that he was to stay home. While I cannot confirm that this was the incident, my cousins did say that g-grandma stated the explosion shook the entire house.
She had even more reason to be concerned. Her sisters also lived in the area and a brother-in-law, William Humphrey, was a coal miner in the Cardiff mine as well.
The book was a wealth of information for me as there was a second explosion documented on March 15th. “The sixth victim of that explosion, and the only survivor, was William Humphrey. He had gone down into the mine on Sunday morning to take refreshments to those below and give them comfort while they waited to be rescued. Humphrey heard the explosion and called out to the other men to watch out. he dropped to the ground, and the force of the explosion passed over him — but he was seriously injured when the reverberation of the force hit him.” He was rescued 5 hours after the explosion. [i]
From the Lowell Sun [iii]:
There was a third explosion the morning after the second…followed by a fourth explosion the same afternoon as the third and yet a fifth explosion that same evening. “No one was hurt in the last two explosions, but the toll for Cardiff in the five explosions was 9 dead, 13 injured and 50 mules dead.” [i]
The book really brought this town to life for me as well as the coal mine explosions. The town of Cardiff lived in its glory from 1899 until about 1912, when the mine finally closed. There were a few houses that lingered until years later, but it is a Ghost town today.
I would say this was enough to scare my Great Grandmother quite a bit! While her sister, Sara Ann Price, stayed in the area until she passed away in 1922, my Great Grandparents moved north to Chicago around 1908. They decided to stick it out a bit longer, despite all the tragedy that occurred from March 12-16, 1903. My family was very fortunate to escape such disaster, but surely lost many friends to the mine.
…more to come in future posts.
[i] Ridings, Jim. Cardiff, Ghost Town on the Prairie. Herscher, IL: Side Show Books, 2006. Print.
[ii] “Fifteen Lives Lost. Serious Disaster Reported in an Illinois Mine.” The Eau Claire Leader 14 March, 1903: 1. Print.
[iii] “Five Killed by Second Explosion in Cardiff Coal Mine.” The Lowell Sun 16 March, 1903 late ed.: 1. Print.
Thanks for sharing. My family were Braidwood miners. It was a hard life, but I’m glad there are local resources and researchers to keep the history alive.
I agree! The books that Jim Ridings have written are really excellent views of life back then. I really enjoyed them and he incorporated newspaper articles and snippets that breathed life to my ancestors.
Thanks so much for stopping by, Sally! I know Braidwood very well – I go by the area once a month for a monthly Will Grundy Genealogical Society meeting.
What terrible dangers those coal miners were exposed to. I always wonder whether the mine owners, with a bit more expense, could have made the coal mines safer. I’m glad your family escaped!
Thanks, Mariann. I agree. The coal companies were very cheap – even gave wages at times that could only be used in their ‘stores’. Because it was basically funny money.
Quite a story, Wendy! Looking forward to your next installment.
Thank you. The only thing that I need to worry about at work is a paper cut or maybe carpal tunnel. Definitely not the daily life or death experiences my g-grandfather faced!