Thursday, Dec 12, 2013
Herrin City Cemetery Excavations Begin
HERRIN -- After years of trying, a research team finally started excavations Friday at the Herrin City Cemetery. A court cleared the way earlier this week to allow the team to search for victims of the 1922 Herrin Massacre.
With each scoop of dirt or scrape of a spade, plot owner Chris Nielsen held his breath Friday morning to see what it would reveal. He is the first owner to work with Historian Scott Doody and his team of geologists and anthropologists to see if the massacre victims are buried on his property.
"You know, it's troubling to go to people and say, 'Hey by the way, you've been sold lots in potter's field.' I wanted to find somebody that was fairly well-rounded and that was Nielsen. Now we've given him peace of mind," explains Doody.
Ultimately, the team cleared Nielsen's lot.
"There were some woody bits, some bits of plywood. Hard to date, hard to tell if it's modern stuff or old stuff," says Dr. Steven Di Naso, a geologist with Eastern Illinois University.
The wood pieces were too close to Nielsen's grandfather's vault and Di Naso says they did not want to encroach on the space.
"It would have been nice for us had the massacre victims been there, but not good for Nielsen," says Doody. "So I'm torn about it. I'm glad that his family has peace of mind, but what we'll do this afternoon is we're going to go look for massacre victims."
By two o'clock, the team was digging again. This time, they got closer to what they were looking for. The researchers uncovered a wooden vault, far lower than where they were originally digging. It was empty though, possibly one of the five massacre victims who were exhumed long ago. Di Naso and Doody can't say for certain, but they are now more determined than ever to continue their search.
"I anticipate that we will encounter human remains at some point in time throughout the search out here in the weeks to come," insists Di Naso.
Doody says, "We're in the potter's field. There's no doubt about that. What we haven't done yet is find the massacre victims. We've already found people in the cemetery, we're looking for our guys."
The team plans to continue the excavation next Friday. They say the depth of the empty vault will make them reevaluate their earlier digs.
The city of Herrin has also been fully involved with the search, providing the backhoe and two city workers to help.
Wind: 8 MPH
Humidity: 39 %