HERRIN, IL (KFVS) - A local author and historians from Southern and Eastern Illinois University are recognized for their efforts to locate lost graves belonging to a group of miners killed in a 1922 gunfight that came to be known as the Herrin Massacre.
It all started four years ago when local author Scott Doody came to the Herrin City Cemetery looking for the grave of a WWI veteran killed in the Herrin Massacre.
Doody says he had a picture of Antonio Molkovich’s grave marker, but it was nowhere to be found in the cemetery.
“I went back and started doing some research and started asking some questions,” Doody said. “It started driving me insane. Where was the marker? Where were all of the other massacre victims? How can you lose them?”
Those questions eventually led to some pretty startling and gruesome discoveries at the cemetery. Doody says unmarked graves in what was a potter’s field for pauper burial in Herrin had been sold for future burials. Even the plots containing the bodies of men killed back in 1922 in a gunfight between union and non-union miners.
“It’s the largest mass murder of union versus non-union labor in the country and these guys have laid in an unknown location in unmarked, sold lots for 80 plus years,” Doody said.
Herrin city council member Bill Sizemore tells Heartland News the city is no longer burying anyone in the former potter’s field. Plots sold in that area are being traded out as needed with unoccupied space in a newer area of the cemetery.
Sizemore says the city is working hard to right the wrongs of the past by respecting the final resting place of those in unmarked graves and even relocating family members whose final wishes were to be buried next to family.
The city councilman says members of the team of experts who worked to uncover the truth about the Herrin Massacre victims will be back this summer to help the city map occupied and unoccupied graves in the potter’s field area to ensure no old graves are sold and desecrated again in Herrin City Cemetery.
The Illinois State Historical Society recently recognized Doody and the team of historians for its historically significant find.
“It’s humbling to have your work recognized,” Doody said. “But the most important thing is what started everything. We just wanted to find a decorated combat veteran of WWI and replace his marker. I guess like every story it started simple and exploded into a big adventure that took four years.”
The adventure hasn’t ended yet. So far, Doody and a large team of historians have located eight of the miners’ graves. The team will resume its efforts in June to discover the final resting place of the remaining Herrin Massacre victims.
Once all the graves are located, Sizemore says the City of Herrin will place a memorial stone listing the names of the massacre victims. Doody’s team will also complete its mission of replacing the missing marker for WWI veteran Antonio Molkovich.