Mine Disaster Remembered 55 Years Later

Mine Disaster Remembered 55 Years Later
By: Carly O'keefe

FRANKLIN COUNTY, Il. --Fifty-five years ago Thursday, Franklin County knew a Black Christmas. An explosion at the Orient #2 mine north of West Frankfort killed 119 miners just days before the Christmas holiday. The event devastated the community and still saddens many who lost loved ones on that tragic day.
A remembrance ceremony brought community members and coal miner families together to honor the mine workers who never came home from work December 21, 1951.
Tears filled Jack Sommers' eyes at the ceremony as he listened to a radio address that first hit the airwaves days after the mine disaster.
"it brings back too much memory," said Sommers.
The memories of that day are still fresh in his mind. Sommers worked that shift. He was underground when the explosion occured, but was able to escape.
"They told us something had happened. Something had blown up. And said they would come get us, but we had to work our way out a little first. We finally walked out a little door and was getting fresh air, and we walked out the top, and we went home," said Sommers.
Sommers' brother and nephew were among the 119 who did not make it out. On the same day 55 years later, Sommers gathered with others in the community to remember. They bowed their heads in prayer and honored the coal miners who perished that disastrous day in December.
"There's a lot of family here, and it's still close to them, the hurt is still there, the pain, and this may be one way to help ease it and not forget it, it's an important part of Franklin County's history," said event organizer Jim Kirkpatrick.
While so many lives were lost, many credit the disaster at the Orient #2 Mine as a force behind change in the industry that keeps coal miners much safer underground today.