The Dying Miner
by Mark Dvorak
Greetings form Centralia, Illinois. Centralia is a town way down the center of our state, directly east of St. Louis, and not far from Salem, along interstate 57. The director of the Centralia Museum is a jolly woman named Becky Ault. Becky used to be the mayor of Centralia and knows everything about her town. She reminded me I was now in the part of Illinois known as Little Egypt, and to tell the people up in Chicago that, "there is a place called southern Illinois in our state." And then she laughed.
About eighty folks attended the concert last night, held at the Centralia Museum, on the second floor of an old building on south Locust Street, which used to house the Kohl and Meyer Company. Most of those in attendance were older, and are regular members of the museum. Hugh and Lovetta drove down from Bartonville for the show, and picking buddies Don and Frank came all the way over from Lawrenceville.
There is a great folk song with roots in Centralia, Illinois, based upon a tragic event which took place here in 1947. Woody Guthrie wrote it and called it "The Dying Miner." It is sometimes remembered as "Goodbye Centralia," and the folks here sure do remember it.
The Centralia Mine Disaster of 1947 is important in that a hundred and eleven men who went down beneath the Illinois prairie that morning to dig for coal, did not come back up when it was quitting time. The story made headlines across the country and led to important reforms in mine safety.
A rare opportunity was lost last night when I did not have "The Dying Miner" on my mind and ready to go for the folks at the Centralia Museum. Before heading out this morning, I'll get over to the site where the Number 5 Mine Disaster took place to have a look around.
THE DYING MINER (also known as Goodbye Centralia), by Woody Guthrie
It happened an hour ago
way down in this tunnel of coal
the gas caught fire from somebody's lamp
and my buddies are choking in smoke
Dear daddy and mother, goodbye
dear sister and brother, goodbye
my fingers are weak and I cannot write
goodbye Centralia, goodbye
It looks like the end for me
and all of my partners I see
when that work whistle blows and we don't come home
do all that you can to help mom
I can hear the moans and the groans
of more than a hundred good men
we're all writing letters to kids that we love
please carry our notes to our wives
The smoke is choking me down, yes
the fumes are blinding my eyes
I see Joe Ballantinni, Fred Gutzler and Joy
forgive me for things I've done wrong
I love you lots more than you know
just work and fight and fix up these mines
so fire can't kill daddies no more
Please name our new baby Joe
so he'll grow up like Big Joe
and he'll make that old mining boss clean out our mines
so fires can't break out no more