October 04, 2006

SIUC to host symposium on history of mine safety

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale will play host to a symposium on the history of mine safety in the area featuring the authors of a new book about two major Southern Illinois coal mine disasters.

SIU Press is publishing "Death Underground: The Centralia and West Frankfort Mine Disasters" this fall. The book's authors, Robert E. Hartley and David Kenney, are two of the panelists at the symposium, set for 3 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 10, in Ballroom A at the SIUC Student Center. A reception will follow.

The Coal Research Center and the SIUC College of Liberal Arts are co-sponsoring the event, which is free and open to the public.

John S. Mead, director of the Coal Research Center, said the symposium will focus on the book's theme, which looks at the history and lessons learned from the twin disasters that took the lives of 230 miners.

"It's really a book about Southern Illinois, state government, labor management —really just a lot of different facets," Mead said. "The symposium will be a terrific event for people interested in local history and the mines."

Other participants will include Joe Angleton, director of the state Department of Mines and Minerals; Bill Hoback, chief of the Office of Coal Development for the state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity; and Taylor Pensoneau, an author and former president of the Illinois Coal Association.

In 1947, Centralia No. 5 exploded, killing 111 men. Four years later and just 40 miles away in West Frankfort, another explosion killed 119 at Orient No. 2 mine. The accidents devastated hundreds of Southern Illinois families and remain vivid memories for many still living in the area today.

The book examines the causes of the accident, the rescue attempts and the political and regulatory environments that contributed to the causes. It contains numerous interviews with both survivors and the families of those lost, detailing the emotional impact of the disasters on the region.

The authors rely on numerous documents to piece together a record of safety compromises on behalf of mine owners, the government and labor unions that contributed to the accidents. They also pick apart the resulting political spin and subsequent efforts by Congress to ensure greater safety through legislation.

Hartley was a journalist for Lindsay-Schaub Newspapers in Illinois from 1962 to 1979 and is the author and co-author of several books on state history. Kenney served in former Gov. James R. Thompson's administration and previously taught political science at SIUC. He also is the author or co-author of books on Illinois history and a textbook on state government.

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