Researchers start digging in local cemetery


Reporter - Kendall Downing

HERRIN, Ill. - Shovels hit the dirt of the Herrin City Cemetery around 8 a.m. on Friday morning. A team of historians and researchers got the green light on Monday from a Williamson County judge and the city of Herrin to start the excavation work.

They believe victims of the Herrin Massacre and others could be buried there in unmarked graves. Back in July, grave diggers found unmarked remains of a woman from the 1930s. Historians said she was buried in a part of the cemetery set aside as a potter's field.

They think modern-day burials have taken place there since that time, meaning people could be buried on top of other graves.

The search started early Friday morning by hand.

"These lots have to be cleared. This is a potter's field," said historian Scott Doody.

Doody said the first order of business was offering Chris Nielsen some peace of mind. His parents are resting in that part of the cemetery. He stepped forward and gave the researchers access to check his lots.

After bringing in a backhoe and digging a few feet deep, the crew didn't find anything.

"His lots have been cleared. There is nobody buried in his lots other than his mother and father," said Doody.

But late Friday afternoon on their final dig of the day a breakthrough came for the team.

"We kept looking for a shallow interment, but there's fill throughout," said Doody.

Doody said the crew found a wooden vault five feet deep with a screw that said "at rest." Still, they found no remains, but the wooden vault was just a few inches from a modern-day burial.

"The vault is still there. The coffin is gone," he said.

He said they know loved ones took away the bodies of some of the massacre victims. They aren't willing to call this one of them, yet.

But for the researchers it's another sign there are multiple burials in that part of the cemetery and reasons to press on.

"It's been a good day," said Doody.

The crew plans to be back digging next Friday. The city of Herrin provided the backhoe for the excavation work.