Mega congratulations to Clark Burch-Woodard, who took his eighth-grade Illinois History Fair project on the 1909 Cherry Mine disaster from the fair at St. Walter School in Chicago, on up the ranks to City, and then on to State level, where Clark won a superior ribbon and a top exhibit award. His outstanding project was later displayed at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, IL. It is currently on display until the beginning of August, 2015, at The Newberry -- Chicago's independent research library, located at 60 W. Walton.
Clark interviewed me about the disaster early in 2015, and we remained in close contact as he expanded his research, amping up his exhibit with each pass to the next level of competition. He was so thoroughly invested in his project that Clark even made a trip to Cherry with his mother and grandmother, visiting the library, the miners' cemetery, and the monument dedicated to the 259 men and boys who perished in the worst coal mine fire in US history. Once Clark advanced to State level, I connected him with Springfield's Jack Rooney, who grew up in Cherry, and who also heard the stories of an Italian immigrant grandfather who survived the disaster and, like I did, became hooked. I couldn't be in Springfield to cheer Clark on, but Jack was a fine stand-in, even loaning Clark a miner's lamp, Cherry memorial ribbon and several other items from his own extensive collection of Cherry Mine artifacts to enhance his winning display.
"So many people said that this should be a movie!" Clark emphasized -- and I couldn't agree more. Screenwriter Martin Garner has written a brilliant script based on my book Trapped: The 1909 Cherry Mine Disaster, and I'm convinced that this riveting and historically-significant story will one day reach a wider audience, coming to life on the big screen.
When Dominic Candeloro asked me to contribute a study of an Italian woman from Chicago to Casa Italia's new anthology, Italian Women in Chicago, my immediate thought was Frances Cabrini. Just as quickly, I dismissed the Italian-born saint from consideration, certain that another contributor had surely claimed her. I began searching the internet for a little-known Italian woman with a Chicago connection and stumbled upon the mystery of the ghost bride, Julia Buccola Petta, who died in childbirth and who haunts Chicago's Mt. Carmel Cemetery. With a little genealogical research and a bit of sleuthing, I was able to resolve the mystery of her stillborn child. Later, to my surprise, Dominic Candeloro invited me to contribute a second piece to the anthology--one about Mother Frances Cabrini.