Postcards recalling mine disaster offered in Matthew Bullock auction Feb. 18

mine disaster

A funeral procession of nine horse-drawn hearses travel down Main Street in Ladd, Ill., carrying victims of the Cherry Mine Disaster. Courtesy of Matthew Bullock Auctioneers


OTTAWA, Ill. – Illinois’ Cherry Mine Disaster ranks as the third most deadly in American coal mining history. Of the nearly 500 men and boys (as young as age 11) who reported for work on Nov. 13, 1909, 259 perished. Matthew Bullock Auctioneers is offering a cache of 60 different Cherry Mine Disaster real photo postcards – many with low minimum bids – during its Feb. 18 Winter Ephemera Discovery Auction. Absentee and Internet bidding is available through LiveAuctioneers.

Shortly after noon the day of the disaster, a coal car loaded with hay to feed the mules caught fire from a kerosene lantern. The blaze quickly spread to the mine and shaft support timbers. All efforts failed to extinguish the blaze.

Approximately 200 men and boys made their way to the surface. Some returned to try to rescue the miners who were still trapped.


mine disaster

‘No. 14: Henry Smith of Peru A voulenteer (sic) and R.Y. Williams. R.Y. Williams is Director of Mine experimental Rescue Station at Urbana.’ Courtesy of Matthew Bullock Auctioneers


A testament to their will to survive, a group of 21 miners shut themselves off in the mine by building a wall to protect themselves from the fire and poisonous gases.


mine disaster

No. 23: Cherry Mine Disaster Chicago Fire Co. and Crew who rendered assistance at the mine at Cherry Hill, Ill. Courtesy of Matthew Bullock Auctioneers


Without any food available, they sustained themselves with water leaking from a coal seam. Amazingly, after eight days, they tore down the wall and escaped. One of the men died two days later from respiratory complications.


mine disaster

Col. W.M. MacClain, an editor of a labor newspaper from Pittsburg, Kan., flanked by miners Tom White and John Lorimer, who were trapped for eight days. Courtesy of Matthew Bullock Auctioneers


Among the more than 10,000 total postcards on offer at Matthew Bullock Auctioneers are several single-card Cherry Mine postcard lots starting at $20, including card No. 59 in a series documenting the tragedy. This heartbreaking example, taken by Masters Studio of Princeton, Illinois, illustrates “Property found on victims,” consisting of pocket watches, pipes and coin pouches.


mine disaster

A group of undertakers gathered at the coal mine in Bureau County, Ill., 99 days after the disaster. Courtesy of Matthew Bullock Auctioneers


Call Matthew Bullock Auctioneers at 815-220-5005 for more information.


Karen Knapstein is editor of Antique Trader, produced by F+W Publications.