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

goodbye to Dickie and Honey, goodbye to the wife that I love

a lot of these men are not comin home, tonight when the work whistle blows


Dear sisters and brothers goodbye, dear mother and father goodbye

my fingers are weak and I cannot write, goodbye Centralia, goodbye

It looks like the end for me, and all of my buddies I see

we're all writing letters to children we love, please carry our word to our wives

we found a little place in the air, crawled and drug ourselves here

but the smoke is bad and the fumes comin in, and the gas is a burnin my eyes (refrain)

Forgive me the things I done wrong, I love you lots more than you know

when the night whistle blows and I don't come home, do al that you can to help mom

I can hear the moans and groans, more than a hundred good men

just work and fight and try to see, that this never happens again (refrain)

My eyes are blinded with fumes, but it sounds like the men are all gone

'cept Joe Ballantinni, Fred Gutzler and Joy, trapped down in the hell hole of fire

please name our new baby Joe, so he'll grow up like Big Joe

he'll work and he'll fight and he'll fix up the mines, so fire can't kill daddy no more (refrain)


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