Growing Up on the Illinois Prairie During the Great Depression and the Coal Mine Wars

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Earl Hutchison has written a beguiling yet incisive memoir of growing up in a small town in central Illinois in the 1930s. Writing in a casual and engaging way, the author evokes a past that was pastoral and idyllic for a young boy, yet at the same time somber and precarious for his family and community because of the deprivations of the Depression and ominous tensions of the coal-mining dangers and disputes that haunted his family. The times were hard and challenging, but the people we meet reflect some of the best traits of the American character – tough, resilient, adaptive, and, above all, caring about their family and their community.


“The painful and often deadly three-sided interplay of labor, management and nature in the coal industry has been studied and written about enough to establish that relationship as one of the saddest stories in the nation’s industrial history ... Traditional accounts of these struggles have been of two main types. Economic and labor historians have focused on the macro level forces at work, with political and legal aspects receiving major attention. Social historians, on the other hand, have concentrated on the human costs measured in mine disasters, strikes and strike-breaking ... The author addresses that third component, the social context, in this book, and he brings impeccable credentials to his task. Numerous lessons exist in the author’s account of his journey, but the over-arching one seems to be that the human spirit can be afflicted and blessed by the same experiences. Surely such a chronicle, adding as it does a new dimension to history, is a very high form of scholarship.” – David G. Clark, Retired Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Colorado State University System

“A child of the Great Depression has given us an important memoir, a piece of the American mosaic from the poverty-ridden coal towns of Illinois of the 1930s. Anyone wanting to understand more about the United States will be enriched by Earl Hutchison’s struggles overcoming his dangerous environment characterized by early death and wage slavery, moving on to service in World War II, and to a career as a welder turned college professor, burnishing the American dream. This beautifully written book belongs on the same shelf with other notable American memoirs, including Eric Sevareid’s Not So Wild a Dream and Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It.” – Professor Dwight L. Teeter, Jr., University of Tennessee

“Nostalgic but never sentimental, Dr. Hutchison recalls in vivid detail episodes of his young life and that of others. Using a novelist’s skills, he draws on his own remarkable memory, and we are transplanted back to the 1930s and enter fully into the small world of the author’s friends, family and neighbors. We get sharp glimpses into a world long gone but still vivid in this remarkable memoir.” – William Hachten, Professor Emeritus, University of Wisconsin – Madison

Table of Contents

Preface by David G. Clark
1. Introduction
2. The Day the Reds Came to Virden
3. In the Beginning – There Was Strife
4. The Worst of Times – The Best of Times
5. Surviving the Great Depression
6. Why Not Take All of Me? – Young Love in The Great Depression
7. James and Bertha – A Romance of The Great Depression
8. On the Playing Fields of the Illinois Prairie: The Ritual of the Bee Hunt
9. Marge Schott and Golden Earrings: The Cult of Manhood
10. Life on Dye Street
11. A Furlough Experience: A Different Grinch Steals Aunt Maggie
12. Dark as a Dungeon
13. Epilogue – Where Have All the Young Folks Gone?
Appendix A (Cardiff Mine Disaster: The Death of James Landis Hutchison)
Appendix B (The Cherry Mine Disaster)

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