Death Underground: The Centralia and West Frankfort Mine Disasters


Book: Death Underground: The Centralia and West Frankfort Mine Disasters

Authors: Robert E. Hartley and David Kenney

Publisher: Southern Illinois University Press, 2006

ISBN-13: 978-0809327058 Hardcover

ISBN-10: 0809327058 Hardcover

ISBN-13: 978-0809327065 Paperback

ISBN-10: 0809327066 Paperback

Language level:  1

(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)

Recommended reading level: Older teens and adults

Rating: **** 4 stars

(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)

Category: History

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

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     Hartley, Robert E. and Kenney,David.  Death Underground: The Centralia and West Frankfort Mine Disasters (Published in 2006 by‎ Southern Illinois University Press). In two southern Illinois towns only forty miles apart, explosions killed 111 men at the Centralia No. 5 mine in 1947 and 119 men at the New Orient No. 2 mine in West Frankfort in 1951.   Death Underground: The Centralia and West Frankfort Mine Disasters examines these two of the most devastating coal mine disasters in United States history since 1928. Authors Robert E. Hartley and David Kenney seek to explain the causes of the accidents, identify who was to blame, and detail the emotional impact the disasters had on the survivors, their families, and their communities.

     I started to read this book because it is in the collection of the Marion County Genealogical and Historical Society of which I am now editor of the Society’s quarterly journal Footprints in Marion County and because I am generally interested in historical events, especially those which have taken place near where I live.  Centralia, IL, is part of Marion County, and West Frankfort is only a few miles away.  I got about a third of the way into the book, which basically covers the historical background of the disasters and was interesting to me.  However, once I got into the latter two thirds of the book, the excessive detail somewhat lost me.  One reviewer also noted this, saying, “It will likely provide far more detail than the casual reader might want,” and another wrote that “it did get wordy with the after details.”  However, those who are really into mining and/or southern Illinois history should enjoy it.

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