Data Collection / GPS / GNSS / Surveying History / Forensics

Team Uses Scanning to Uncover Herrin Massacre

January 19, 2014
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“Until this coal mine butchery is
legally avenged, Americans can no
longer boast that in the United States
The Constitution is supreme”

—The Sun, New York, July 6, 1922

Twenty-three men died in Williamson County and on the streets of Herrin, Ill., over a two-day killing spree on June 21-22, 1922, the largest mass murder of non-union labor in the history of America. The event would become known around the world as the Herrin Massacre.

An excerpt from the book “Herrin Massacre” from chapter eight entitled “Slaughter at the Power House Woods:”

“The union miners began taking inventory of the wounded and the dead. Survivors would testify later that the locals would keep a separate count of who were dead and those still alive as they moved among the victims. The number would get smaller for the living and grow larger for the dead as they came across any poor soul still showing any sign of life. One of the men, who had been a track laborer at the doomed mine, had been shot repeatedly, but still managed to stay on his feet by leaning against a tree. He was a tall, heavyset man, and as the miners would shoot him, he would scream out, but still wouldn’t go down. Peter Hiller, who at the time was a cab driver from Marion, walked up to the mortally wounded miner and said …‘you big son of a (expletive deleted).... can’t we kill you?’ Hiller then placed his pistol against the laborer’s side, and pulled the trigger. The man went down.”

Although the story of the massacre had been well documented in nearly every local and major newspaper in the country, the event was so atrocious that it would stifle an entire region from speaking of the tragedy for generations to come. Over time, the unmarked graves of the men who lost their lives June 22, 1922, would be forgotten, the burial site fading into the historical landscape. Among the 23 dead were several Great War veterans, including Anton Malkovich, a decorated soldier of the 305th Field Signal Battalion, who saw action in the Somme, St. Mihiel, and Meuse-Argonne offensives. Sixteen of these men went to the Potter’s Field, an area of the cemetery reserved for the indigent, the unknown and the unidentified.

Local historian and author Scott Doody began the latest search for the gravesites in 2009. On the day I first met him, in March 2010, I found him excavating in a cemetery. The day was young, but soon proved unsuccessful. I commended him on his effort, for he had proved the null hypothesis—the massacre victims were not in said location. This was good, I explained, as he now knew where not to dig. My comment mistaken for sarcasm, scarcely did I know would I become involved in one of the greatest challenges of my life: to locate the victims of the 1922 Herrin Massacre.

Equipment: Leica GPS Viva GS12 with CS15 terminal, Leica GPS 1230, Leica TS07, Leica HD ScanStation C10, Leica CS25 Ultra-Rugged Tablet Computer, Panasonic Toughbook CF-19, Panasonic Toughbook CF-52

Software: Esri ArcGIS Advanced, Esri ArcScene, Autodesk AutoCAD Map 3D, Leica Geo Office 8.2, Leica TruView

Sources: Herrin Massacre, paperback (ISBN-10: 1300897929), April, 2013, excerpt by author Scott Doody, Plate 1, New York Daily News, June 28th, 1922.

Given a brief synopsis of the research, I knew immediately that a survey and spatiotemporal model of the cemetery might shed light on the location of Potter’s Field, where the men were allegedly buried. The research team consisted of Dr. Robert Corruccini, a forensic anthropologist; geographers Dr. Vincent Gutowski and Grant Woods; and John Foster, a former UMWA coal miner and retired Washington County Sheriff.

Over the next three years, together the team conducted a thorough review of thousands of period news articles, the city’s cemetery records, documents in the county recorder’s office and period photographs. The team produced the first accurate map of the 25-acre cemetery: sections, blocks, lots, spaces, headstones and associated interment records, some 9,600 records and counting.

From this information, the team built the first relational database and GIS model of the Herrin City Cemetery. This repository of geographic data collected using GPS, TPS, and high-definition scanning methodologies, along with aerial photogrammetry from 1938 to present, allowed the team to produce more than 260 maps and various animations.

The first initiative was a preliminary interment data compilation effort, followed by a headstone inventory using RTK GPS. The inventory allowed us to compare interment records tied to the conceptual model of the cemetery to actual interment locations in the field, which often do not agree. The team followed with a GPS-referenced, high-definition, 3D scan of the area, using an array of eight station setups, encompassing an area of approximately 6.5 acres. The team collected tens of millions of cloud points, from which we extrapolated detailed topography, headstone base outlines and imagery. The micro-topography offered insight as to where unmarked burials were located by illustrating small changes in slope and highlighting subtle surface depressions. The scan also offered an opportunity to “visit” the cemetery at any time using the virtual model produced from the point cloud and high-resolution imagery.

Collectively, these techniques offered a means with which the team could visualize individual sextons’ activities, between 1905 and present, in a manner not possible by looking at simple interment inventories. The model would offer a unique opportunity to locate Potter’s Field through an animation of individual interments over the cemetery’s 108-year history. If the team found the Potter’s Field, it could produce a more explicit model that illustrated patterns of interment, and the behavior in interment practices, by numerous sextons over a period of approximately 91 years. The comprehensive survey data and GISci (Geographic Information Science) became the driving force behind the investigation.

As with any research endeavor, the team employed typical scientific methods to go through the necessary stages of research. The model suggested that block 15 was the Potter’s Field, a working hypothesis later substantiated by the city’s own records, which the team perused years later. Animation of the data clearly indicated that block 15 was populated irregularly between 1905 and 1988, unlike blocks 1-28, with sporadic interments away from the spreading center of the main populous.

While the headstone survey provided information above ground, the research of interment records, which included local funeral homes’ records, provided information below ground of numerous unmarked burials. Although interment records were available from 1929 to present, the previous 24 years of interments were absent. It was clear a spatiotemporal model of block 15 based upon all of the interment and survey data would provide the team with a hypothetical model of circa 1929 and earlier interments, and hence, the probable location of the victims.

An Empirical Bayesian kriging model of interment data by decade of death revealed a less ambiguous patterning of internments in block 15, indicative of our missing pre-1929 burials. Period photos and numerous reporters’ observations of the burial on June 25, 1922, would play a key role in the identification of the graves. The team’s work, based upon techniques in applied geography, GISci and forensic anthropology was sufficient to warrant excavation. It was now time to propose the location hypothesis to city officials.

After four years of intensive research and approval from city council, the second excavation took place on the north end of block 15 (the team found previous internments south, but not the interments of interest). Representing a geographical area of one part in 58,000, the team began excavating. On Nov. 12, 2013, the team discovered the first vault and coffin. Could these be the remains of the men involved in the 1922 event known as the Herrin Massacre? A group of scientists and historians had come together with several hypotheses, had chosen a location to excavate and had found exactly what they were looking for.

The representative sample of interments in the south end of the Potter’s Field demonstrated that internments there were nothing more than typical. Wood vaults, few coffins, scarce hardware and no markers. But the internments found on Nov. 12 were unique. Albert G. Storme, the undertaker, had ordered caskets from the Belleville Casket Company to accommodate the dead. The specifications of the caskets: 6 feet, 7 inches long; 2 feet wide; beveled-chamfered corners; octagonal, three pairs of opposing brass handles; cloth interior; paint black. It was not the typical pauper’s coffin.

One after another, the team found the same style coffin, each in a wooden vault, with identical hardware. Affixed to each was an “At Rest” plate, one of the key features described by period newsmen, identifying the burials as those of the Herrin Massacre. The hypothesis would stand. To permanently archive the location of individual interments, we used a total station to record the corners of each vault. The instrument was an ideal supplement as we could obtain accurate measurements using an extended rod-height with a range pole for the rather deep burials, rather than deal with potential multipath error from down within the grave shaft.

Acknowledgements: A very special thanks to Ray Kara, Eric Kara, Sam Moscatello, Ryan Leonard, Douglas R. McClintic PLS (now at Vaughn Land Surveying), and Greg Wagstaff, PLS (ret.) of Kara Company, Countryside, Ill., for providing GPS and TPS equipment, field and technical support, and access to the Kara Company ReIL-Net  on the NGS CORS. This work would not have been possible without their dedicated support in this historic initiative. Helen Lind, and Charla Murphy, for granting permission to use their cemetery records inventory, Herrin City Council and city officials, for permitting us to work in their cemetery, and to John Bauernfeindj, City Sexton, and Trevor Barham, Operating Engineer, whose patience and expertise extended beyond necessity, and Councilman Bill Sizemore, who helped coordinate the excavations. 

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