Memory of 'Black Christmas' buried in mining town





BENTON, Ill.
Just outside town, Bob Rea stands on a muddy, scrubby swath of land and calls it hallowed -- the place where 119 coal miners, in the flash of a blast hundreds of feet below him, lost their lives in a 1951 disaster.
The insurance man, bent on turning the 10-acre patch into a tourist-drawing memorial and museum, knows he has his work cut out for him. The land already is a graveyard -- one of rusty hulks of junk cars, discarded furniture and shattered glass.
"It looks pretty rough," he lamented recently while showing off several cinderblock buildings dating to when this place was the Orient No. 2 mine's Portal No. 4, where miners used an elevator, of sorts, to make their way into and out of the mine.

It's the place where 119 bodies, some in pieces, were brought to the surface after the methane explosion Dec. 21, 1951, the time many around here still regard as the "Black Christmas."



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