One of the worst coal mine disasters in our country’s history occurred on the border of Will and Grundy counties. Local historian Michele Micetich led a presentation on the Feb. 16, 1883, Diamond Mine Disaster last Saturday at the Coal City Library.
“It was horrible and gruesome,” Micetich said. “It was a huge disaster because they did not have very many safety laws back then. They had started mine inspections, but there were not a whole lot of laws and regulations.”
The Diamond Mine Disaster was the impetus for the Mining Act of 1883, which set into place a plethora of safety standards for miners.
There were several coal mines in the area at the time, and the Diamond No. 2 mine was situated right on the Will-Grundy county line, at the current site of the Diamond sewer plant.
There was no village of Diamond back then, Micetich said, just sets of camps around the mines. The birds-eye site of the mines was shaped like a diamond, and the area was later named after the feature.
It was 136 years ago in the late morning when disaster struck. A snowstorm had left a bounty of snow on the ground, which had begun melting into the ground. Rains added to the standing water above the mine.
Micetich said the land was swampy to begin with, and melting snow and ice began seeping into the already saturated ground.
Then, suddenly, the water began gushing into the mine. Made mostly of clay and wooden beams, the tunnels began to fill with water, and some collapsed.
“With the weight of the water and slush and mud, the whole thing just became a tomb,” Micetich said.
The “cager,” at the bottom of the main shaft noticed water pouring into the mine. Micetich said he immediately rescued one boy, then sounded the alarm that notified the other nearby mines to evacuate.
The men knew things would not be good down there.
“The tunnels were up and down like a roller coaster,” Micetich said. “There was one tunnel they called, ‘the hollow,’ that was particularly deep. ... It was like a big dip. When it was filled, the men behind it were stuck.”
Several miners were rescued, but
“From the time it happened, they worked around the clock,” Micetich said.
However, the rescue attempt ended up being a recovery.
“Anybody who was living got out in the first few minutes,” she said.
Rescue and recovery went on for weeks, and eventually the mine was closed down. A marker now sits on the site.