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The Jesse Wilson story: Part 2.

It's 2:45 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 11, 1937, and a search is under way for Jesse Wilson, a Marion coal miner who was lost in Wilson coal mine on the north side of Marion. The search for the missing coal miner began at the end of the previous workday, when co-workers discovered that he had never left the mine.

Four rescue teams with seven men in each group were now working under the direction of the state mine inspector. No trace of Wilson had been found. And after first using chalk to mark their courses to prevent getting lost in the blind entries, they began using binder twine to show their routes.

Members of the Wilson family explained that the Wilson mine working area extended only about a quarter of a mile from the opening. But the mine proper comprised only a part of the area to be searched. The mine recently had been engaged in removing pillars from the old Peabody No. 3 mine, and the abandoned workings of that mine open into the Wilson pit.

At the time he was last seen, Wilson was on an exploration tour of the old workings. The Wilsons held some blocks of coal north and east of the slope which they operated on Illinois 37 at Cedar Grove, but these additional holdings had not been operated because of underground water. It was a quest for a drainage way through which to drain this water that prompted young Wilson to enter the old workings, according to a member of his family.

Since his failure to come out of the mine at 5 p.m. Monday -- he entered shortly before noon -- his parents and his wife had not left the mine. They had just completed their second night's vigil and were gazing at another day dawning in the east when a blackened and weary figure struggled slowly up the steep slope.

Like a ghost from the black depths, Wilson walked up the slope of the mine at 5 a.m. Wednesday after spending 42 hours lost in the labyrinth of underground passages. Wilson had found his own way out of the mine.

"I'm all right, I want to go home," he said, as members of his family and friends crowded around him at the mouth of the mine, crying for joy.

The 28-year-old mine operator was bleeding from a gash on his head, which he had struck on a rock. He also was weak from hunger and exhausted, but otherwise unharmed. His clothing indicated that he had spent much of his time crawling on hands and knees in the pit.

They overruled his request to be taken home, and Wilson was sent to Herrin Hospital in an ambulance. In the meantime, word was sent down into the mine to the rescue crews, notifying them that the missing man had been found.

In a regular mine with railroad tracks, miners can follow the rails if they get lost or their lights go out. They can tell by the way the switches point, which is the "bottom" of the mine. Wilson found such a track in this mine and crawled out with it as a guide.

Having endured this experience, one might consider Wilson to be a lucky fellow. Unfortunately, the story doesn't end here.

Only five years later, on Nov. 11, 1942, Wilson was walking next to what is now called Stotlar Road in Ferges (northwest of Marion) when he was struck by an automobile. He was taken to Herrin Hospital, but never recovered, and died a couple of weeks later on Nov. 24.

Locals may remember that Wilson's brother, Bert, operated a large scrap yard on the site of the old Wilson mine on the east side of Illinois 37 in Cedar Grove, now occupied by a large church building.

* SAM LATTUCA is president of Williamson County Historical Society.
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Publication:Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Date:Jan 31, 2018
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