Prosperity, problems went hand in hand

Sandy Vasko

    By the winter of 1878 to ‘79 Braidwood was back in the swing of things after the 1877 coal strike.  
    Once the violence was over, investors started to look at the Wilmington Coal Field as a good place to invest their money. As early as July 1878 we read, "A firm from Springfield is reopening the old Star coal mine in Braidwood.  This shaft is located between old and new Braidwood, on land owned by Mr. Allen, of this city."
    And in August, "The Cook County Commissioners, a number of Chicago aldermen, architect Egan and other lesser lights made a tour of inspection to the Wilmington Coal fields on Friday last, and were much edified by their trip. They first took in Coal City, they went down in the mines, cracked champagne, etc., and then arose again to the sunlight and made for Braidwood.
    “Here the party met the principal officers of the various coal companies and exchanged courtesies generally. A banquet dinner at Broadbents was served for the entire party, including a number of municipal officers and prominent citizens of Braidwood. The Chicago folks then boarded their special car and came to Wilmington, where it was detached and shortly afterward taken in tow by the regular evening mail train. The visit to the mines was made at the instance of the coal companies, we understand, which furnish the public institutions of Cook County with fuel.
    “Many of the party on leaving Wilmington were happy as lords, and had evidently enjoyed Braidwood hospitality to the fullest extent."
    Miners were now working full shifts, and the coal companies were again hiring.  By
November we read in the Braidwood Republican, "Braidwood shipped 4,500 cars of coal during the month of October. How is this for coal?" and "On Tuesday of last week, there were shipped from this city 3,120 tons of coal. The largest amount ever shipped in one day."
    But in the same edition we read, "A fatal accident occurred at the Diamond shaft on last Wednesday, in which WM Fribbins lost his life.  He had fired a shot to loosen the coal. After the shot was fired he began to gather the coal, when several tons of coal fell upon him, crushing the very life out of him." And a week later, "David Lofty, a miner, was instantly killed in the Eureka shaft, Braidwood, on Wednesday afternoon, by a falling roof." Yes the miners had work, but along with that work came the danger.
    We must remember that this was before workman’s compensation, Social Security, or any other type of public aid. But that is not to say that their neighbors and friends were not sympathetic. In fact, a week later we read, "Squire Goldfinger presented to Mrs. David Lofty, the other day, $11, the amount he received for fees in holding the inquest upon the body of David Lofty, who was accidentally killed in the mines recently."  
    And in January 1879, "The Free Gardeners, of Braidwood, are to celebrate the 120th anniversary of Robert Burns, Friday evening, Jan. 24, with a grand concert and ball at McArthurs hall. The proceeds will go to the family of one of their late members,  David Lofty, who was so suddenly killed in the mines a few weeks ago." A week later we read, "The Bobby Burns concert netted over $200 to the widow of the late David Lofty."
    With full-time work, came full-time pay.  Payday was literally a holiday in Braidwood, when the wealth was spread around. This brought another problem with it, as we read in the Braidwood Republican, "Only 70 peddlers were in our city last pay day. Let the council raise the license of the peddlers to $5 a day, for selling goods in this city.  We don’t want them here. The business men of our city already pay an enormous tax, and they very justly feel that their interests should be in some manner protected against this army of monthly bloodsuckers which invades our city after every pay day.  
    “Those men, like locusts, flock into Braidwood every month with packs of worthless truck, and fleece the people for a day or two and then leave  taking hundreds of dollars with them, and leaving instead a pile of rubbish and perhaps a dollar or two at some second class restaurants for cheap meals."
    The young struggling town of Braidwood was now experiencing growing pains, and had yet to learn how to live with the good times, as well as the bad.