Mowequa Coal Mine Disaster

Growing up in Pawnee Peabody No. #, was the world’s largest coal mine right outside of town. I was used to having friends’ family working in the coal industry. But by the time I became acquainted with the coal industry, although it was still a dangerous profession, it was nothing like what miners faced during the early years.

Today on a road trip to check out a tractor my husband Keith and I, and friend Mark Dozier drove through the town of Mowequa, Illinois. Knowing that we are always interested in history, Mark directed us to the Mowequa Coal Mine Disaster historical marker. This is the story we found.

What happened?

The plaque is located where the disaster took place in Christian County. The marker is on West Cherry Street west of South Plum Street. It is in the median on the grounds of the Pogenpohl Ready-Mix Plant.

We were there on January 3rd, a scant few days after the date the accident took place on December 24th Christmas Eve. That date was December 24th, 1932. Fifty-four miners lost their lives the day before Christmas. “The Mowequa Coal Mine was Shelby County’s largest.”

The plaque states, “An unprecedented drop in barometric pressure allowed methane gas to escape into the mine. The explosion occurred at 8 A.M. when the gas was ignited by open flame carbide lights. Efforts of rescue teams searching for survivors were in vain, although all bodies were recovered. This marked the end of the era of open flame carbide lights.”

Coal history in Mowequa

Coal has been part of the fabric of the Illinois economy since the turn of the century. That is true of central Illinois, and Mowequa. The Mowequa Coal Mine Disaster Memorial reveals the history of coal in the town. “Coal was discovered in Moweaqua in 1886,” is stated on the memorial.

The Coal Memorial

The coal mining operation in Mowequa began in 1891 using the room and pillar methods. The mine operated at a depth of 620 feet! Coal was hauled by mule and motor. Evidently, things were never quite the same after the 1932 explosion, because as of 1935 all evidence of coal operations in Moweaqua disappeared. On the marker is a list of all those that perished in the disaster.

The Mowequa Coal Mine Museum

On main street is the Mowequa Coal Mine Museum. Although closed when we were there, I learned the museum preserves the memory of the loss to from the disaster to the community. The Village website shares, “The museum is home to historic documents, photographs and artifacts, surrounding the disaster  and Illinois’ coal mining history.”

On the side of the museum is an amazing mural depicting a miner. The museum is closed currently due to COVID. It is usually open May to September, on Saturday and Sunday from 1-4 and by appointment. Call 217-768-3019 after COVID abates for details.

This is a great road trip. A chance to see the monument and the mural. Travel to Mowequa and remind yourself about Illinois coal history.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also like the article about the Illinois Coal Museum in Gillespie, Illinois.