HERRIN — The digging at the city’s cemetery in search of victims of the 1922 Herrin Massacre has again stopped, but not because of objections.
The victims have been found.
So say researchers who have worked on finding the men’s bodies for four years but who only resumed excavation in the summer after a ban on digging was lifted.
Despite the obstacles, the researchers never lost faith in their belief that the remains would be found in a potter’s field at the cemetery, an area reserved for the unidentified or unclaimed, geologist Steven Di Naso said.
Di Naso is a 25-year veteran of geospatial studies and a faculty member at Eastern Illinois University.
“We never had any doubt they were in the potter’s field, and that the potter’s field was Lot 15,” he said.
Still, on Tuesday morning, Scott Doody was apprehensive, filled with a sense that should the day’s excavation fail, their search would be over, he said.
“We dug and failed so many times,” said Doody, who started the search years ago looking for World War I decorated veteran Anton Molkovich, but whose work was later halted over a legal battle seeking to stop the digging.
Doody ended up writing a book, “Herrin Massacre” published in the spring, chronicling his search for the veteran and his belief that the Herrin Massacre victims were buried at the site.
The book, he maintains, brought the matter to the attention of some city officials who later picked up the cause and used their persuasion to ulti-mately lift the ban.
Doody was equipped with historic photos of the burial of the victims, and newspaper accounts describing it down to the make and style of the coffins used — including metal plates attached to them reading “at rest.”
On Tuesday, the researchers did not only find one casket fitting the descriptions, they found four. They also say they found the grave site for Molkovich and plan to replace his marker.
“It was a flood of relief to find the coffin hardware and layout of graves and know we had the right people,” Doody said.
The discovery also verified another claim, that gravesites had been sold in modern times that were already occupied, city council member Bill Sizemore, the public works chair, said.
Sizemore was one of the city officials asking to lift the ban.
“Those lots have been sold to three families. They will have a choice if they want the bodies removed for their families to use in the future or if they prefer to leave the men there and trade out lots,” he said.
Talks with the families have already begun, he said.
The June 21 and 22, 1922, massacre that claimed nearly two dozen coal miners who crossed UMWA lines during a strike at what was the Southern Illinois Coal Co. mine near Marion, has ever since plagued this city and Southern Illinois.
The event has a reserved chapter in the 1952 book, “Bloody Williamson: A Chapter in American Lawlessness” written by Paul M. Angle.
There appears to be no disagreement among researchers and city officials regarding a memorial for the victims.
“Something is going to go up,” Mayor Vic Ritter said.
And perhaps, Di Naso observed, the discovery of the victims’ remains will begin to remove the stain of the Herrin Massacre.