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George was tired even before he got up to work the second shift.   He grabbed his metal lunch bucket, kissed 3 year old Vivian on her chubby cheek and then a quick kiss to his wife, Rosie before heading out.  He, Rosie and Vivian lived in the home where Rosie's and Mary Lou's mom and dad lived before they died 10 years ago.  Mary still lived with them and worked at the Woolworth downtown.  Both girls were orphaned when they were 14 & 16.  First Anna died from complications from an ulcer in 1940, then their dad, John, died in a mine cave in only 3 months later.  George knew how scarey and awful that death would be.  George worked in the mines also.  He couldn't imagine to be buried alive until the rock filled your mouth and nostrils blocking out hope of coming outta that mine alive.  George looked at Vivian with her mother's face and his dark curly hair and smiled.

The four of them were a family.  Thank God, he had a good job at the mine.

About 7:40 pm, the explosion came.  119 men killed.  130 men did escape from the Orient number 2 mine located between Benton and West Frankfort in Southern Illinois.  It was 4 days before Christmas.

There was a basketball game in town that night.  The superintendent got a message from the police chief to quietly come to the junior high gymnasium and open it for a temporary morgue.  Soon to follow, the doctors and nurses in attendance at the game began to leave.  Everyone in those small towns knew who the doctors were.  It was a small town and high school basketball was the event everyone was at on a Friday night.

Before long word got out and people knew about the tragedy at the No. 2 mine.

"Then there came the awfulest sound ... a roar like a cyclone, like a windstorm. It blew a big door open and closed it right back. Then came the smoke," he said. "The lights went out and it went pitch black. We got nervous because we knew something real bad had happened."

Able to communicate with those above ground by using crank phones placed "ever so often on the wall," Summers and the other men in his crew learned there had been a devastating explosion and were told to get out of the mine as quickly as they could.

Summers and the crew began a frightening two-hour climb out of the black depths of the mine, gathering up other miners along the way.

"It was pitch black down there and all we had was our bug lights. My job was to get us to air. We'd check each door and there'd be smoke or fire or a sulphur smell in the air. Then we'd call and they'd tell us where to go from there. We stayed bunched together and did a lot of squirming. It took us quite a while but it was the only way we could get out," he said. "There was two or three bodies we passed, guys who'd been killed, but we got out with about 23 people."

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Its been so long since this happened, but today on facebook, so many grandkids of those families remembered (and they weren't even born yet).  I wasn't born yet either, but I learned this story from when I was very little.  I never knew Uncle George.  Tragedy strikes and it isn't fair.  But for those families who were affected, it hasn't been forgotten.


United Mine Workers of America Archive UMWA President John L. Lewis emerging from the Orient No. 2 mine in West Frankfort after viewing the devastation the mine explosion that killed 119 miners on Dec. 21, 1951.

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more pictures from the story link

Originally posted to effervescent on Wed Dec 21, 2011 at 12:51 PM PST.

Also republished by History for Kossacks and Community Spotlight.

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