Tag: anthracite coal region

Anthracite Coal Region Poetry Round Up

As many of you know, from time to time I find, read, and record poetry written by local poets about their experiences living in and experiencing the Anthracite Coal Region of Northeastern Pennsylvania for all of us to appreciate. For our last Friday in August 2016, I am including a “Poetry Round Up” of these recordings. Going forward, you can find these poems by searching our page. So far, I have recorded three poems: “Nanticoke: First Day,” by Anton Piotrowski and translated by Edward Sowa; “Playing in the Mines,” by Jay Parini; and “The Piece from Daddy’s Can: Dedicated to Miners’ Children Everywhere,” author unknown.

Do any of these poems speak to your experiences or to those experiences of your family? If so, how?

by Melissa R. Meade


Coal Region: A Local Artist

We continue to collect and add voices to the Anthracite Coal Region of Northeastern Pennsylvania project to help shape understanding of the history, culture, and media representations of the Greater Anthracite Region. Please make sure your town/area is represented. We invite you to share a picture/pictures on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Tumblr. You may post them directly to our page at https://www.facebook.com/AnthraciteCoalRegion/ or use the hashtag #MyCoalRegion and your materials will be reposted to our blog and to our Facebook page.

What kind of picture(s) should you post? Well that’s up to you: We want to build a collection of images that tell residents’ stories—past and present of the Anthracite Region. Photos of family, streets, mining, factories, both past and present-day streetscapes, buildings, coal-operations (past and present), churches and synagogues, religious activity, mining equipment, co-generation zones and culm, everyday life, ethnic activities, industry, deindustrialization, and anything else that tells YOUR story of the region.

Our current post is from local artist Robert McCormick. He writes to us the following:

“Hello, out there! I am an artist living and working in the Anthracite Coal Region of Northeastern Pennsylvania. The first piece shown here – ‘Almost Touching’ – drew inspiration from Girardville-born poet, Harry Humes’ beautiful tribute, ‘My Mother at Evening.’ The second piece, ‘Rust,’ pays homage to the harsh beauty that once characterized our ‘hard-coal’ heritage. I’m currently working on a monograph of my paintings that depict growing up in the region during the 1950’s – 60’s. Look for a release date in the spring of 2017.” #MyCoalRegion

Robert shared the following images of his work:

1902 Anthracite Coal Strike

Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. John Mitchell, President of the UMWA (United Mine Workers of America), arriving in the coal town. His open four-horse carriage is surrounded by a crowd of breaker boys. The driver of the high front seat is wearing a derby hat. Credit: Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection (Library of Congress)

Background Leading Up to the Coal Strike

The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) became prominent in the late 1890s after a series of immigrant-led protests. One such protest, the 1897 walkout of adolescent mule drivers, culminated in the Lattimer Massacre in September of 1897. Subsequent strikes in 1898 and 1899 asked for the abolition of company stores, the ability to check scales, and recognition of the union. Yet by 1900 the coal operators still refused to speak with the leader of UMWA, John Mitchell. After 100,000 miners walked out for more than a month, coal operators eventually agreed to a wage increase.

The 1902 Anthracite Coal Strike

Reluctant to have another strike and finally able to meet with coal company leadership, Mitchell was not able to negotiate any more of the miners’ initiatives throughout the remainder of 1901. Apprehensively, he agreed to a temporary suspension of work on May 12, 1902. From Mitchell’s letter to Mother Jones, he writes:

“I have every reason to believe that the strike will be made general and permanent. I am of the opinion that this will be the fiercest struggle in which we have yet engaged. It will be a fight to the end, and our organization will either achieve a great triumph or it will be completely annihilated. Personally I am not quite satisfied with the outlook, as the movement for a strike is strongly antagonized by the [union] officers of the lower District, and of course the success of the strike depends entirely upon all working in harmony and unison.” (Quoted from Miller and Sharpless 1985: 256-257)

The 1902 Anthracite Coal Strike would last six months wherein miners went on strike for better wages, union recognition, and shorter workdays. The strike had a stark economic effect on the region as 140,000 men and boys were not taking part in the economy. Businesses suffered. Banks did not receive deposits. Local society was divided amongst the majority who were workers and supported the strike and the 5,000 mine bosses and clerks who sided with the coal operators. Single men of Slavic origins headed back to their homelands. Others headed to the bituminous fields. The oldest children left the family to try to offer support by heading to the big cities.

Despite these hardships, journalists who came to anthracite towns to observe the strike were surprised at how peaceful the region was. Mitchell and UMWA officials urged the strikers to remain peaceful with Mitchell traveling to each anthracite town to deliver speeches. Donald Miller and Richard Sharpless write: “Mitchell’s passage through the region took on the aspect of a triumphal march. In Shenandoah [PA], he rode with ‘Big John’ Fahy in an open barouche pulled by black horses … escorted by a guard of honor of well-scrubbed breaker boys and led by a brass band. [See image at the top of this article.] Overhead, stretched across Main Street, was a huge banner: ‘Welcome to Our National Pres., Jno. Mitchell.’ Another banner read, ‘We are slaves now but Mitchell will set us free.'”

Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. A scene in the coal mining town on the occasion of a visit by John Mitchell, labor leader. He is shown riding in a four-horse carriage, the driver of which is wearing a derby hat. Two-horse carriages follow. Above the street is a banner reading “Welcome to our National Pres. Jno. Mitchell” Credit: Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection (Library of Congress)

Mounting Pressures and Tensions Around “Scabs”

The coal companies guarded the waste piles even more during the strike. Families sent their children to far away banks to try to avoid standoffs with the coal and iron police. Some miners, under the pressures of starvation from the family’s inability to cook without coal, returned to work. These miners faced the wrath of the community either through the threat of violence or public censure for breaking the strike. The label of “scab” was one that no one wanted.

By July 30, 1902 in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, the pressures came to a head when a deputy sheriff was escorting two nonunion men to a breaker and they were attacked by 5,000 strikers. The sheriff took shelter in the Reading Railroad where his brother tried to bring him arms. The strikers beat his brother to death. The sheriff got word out to Governor Stone and subsequently, the town was occupied by Pennsylvania National Guard and Philadelphia City Cavalry troops. The order came from Brigadier General Gobin to shoot to kill and investigate afterwards.

Second Troop Calvary Philadelphia City Cavalry marching into Shenandoah, PA. Credit: A Trooper’s Narrative of Service in the Anthracite Coal Strike, 1902. By Stewart Culin. Published by George W. Jacobs & Company, Philadelphia, PA 1903

Gobin’s entourage didn’t kill anyone, but the presence of the National Guard, along with thousands of coal and iron police—which allegedly included recruits from the lowest members of Philadelphia society—inflamed already existing resentment in the region. These forces were present in addition to at least 1,000 private detectives deployed in the region.

National Guard encampment at Shenandoah, PA. Credit: Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection, Library of Congress


By fall, President Theodore Roosevelt formed the Anthracite Coal Strike Commission to investigate the problem and hold hearings representing the first time that the federal government would be involved in labor disputes as a neutral arbitrator. When settled by March 1903, the miners received a 10 percent pay increase, yet the union was not recognized as a bargaining agent.

Nowadays, Commonwealth historical markers detailing the strike are dedicated in both Shenandoah and Scranton, Pennsylvania.


Dublin, Thomas and Licht, Walter. 2005. The Face of Decline: The Pennsylvania Anthracite Region in the Twentieth Century. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Miller, Donald L. and Sharpless, Richard E. 1985. The Kingdom of Coal: Work, Enterprise, and Ethnic Communities in the Mine Fields. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Skies Over Schuylkill County – Aerial Photography 3

(Third in a series)

A large-format camera used for aerial surveying.


In previous posts we shared with you two sets of aerial images: the borough of St. Clair, PA and a coal mine at Raven Run, PA. Today we we provide several close-ups showing how Pottsville, PA looked in the 1930s. We enlarged these images from a single aerial photo of Pottsville, PA taken during a 1936 fly-over.

On the left is one of the large cameras used to take these kinds of photos by the Dallin Aerial Survey Company.

This Pottsville, PA photo was taken on May 5th, 1936 looking south over the town. The shadows seem to confirm the time shown on the courthouse clock—it was 1:23pm in Pottsville.



May 5th, 1936. Pottsville, PA


The Courthouse clock shows the early afternoon time. View is from Sanderson Street side of building.


County jail, next to the Courthouse.


The Philadelphia & Reading passenger train station.


Industry along the rails.


N. Centre Street, the wide street on the left half of the image, has midday traffic.


A building foundation under construction can be seen at center left.



Hagley Museum and Library Digital Archives

Skies Over Schuylkill County – Aerial Photography 1

(First in a series)

Founded in 1924, the Dallin Survey Company took to the skies in the Mid-Atlantic states, out of their home base in Philadelphia.


The Dallin Aerial Survey Company made several fly-overs of Schuylkill County in the 1930s. They specialized in photographing business and industry, as well as city and town views.

We share some of images results here.

In this first post in a series of posts, their single-engine plane flew over St. Clair, PA in 1937. They captured the layout of the entire town in the foreground and Pottsville can be seen in the background. People traveling north from Pottsville had to ride through St. Clair, which would change once the St. Clair by-pass was completed decades later.


April 17, 1937. The towns of Saint Clair (close) and Pottsville (further afield) are seen in this single image.


The road from Pottsville leading down into St. Clair.


Downtown St. Clair.


Pottsville in the distance, with the landmark Schuylkill County Courthouse in the center. 


Hagley Museum and Library Digital Archives




Photographer of the Mines: Pottsville’s George Bretz

First in a series about the photographer and his work

1884: Arnaux Electric Company dynamo inside Shenandoah’s Kohinoor mine. This produced electricity to illuminate the lamps needed for George Bretz’s photography experiment.

The George Bretz Gallery on the southwest corner of Center & Market Streets in Pottsville, PA.

We have shared a number of heartbreaking photographs of breaker boys taken by visitors to the Anthracite Region on our Facebook page and we even did an initial blog post on such an image. Binding to our cultural memory, these images have been valuable to understanding what the lives of mining families were like.

Photos taken by another photographer, more local in origin, have contributed to the visual history of the Anthracite Region: George M. Bretz, (1842-1895) had his studio in Pottsville, PA and he specialized in photography mining scenes.

Approached by the Smithsonian Institution to photograph anthracite miners at work inside the mines, Bretz knew that long camera shutter speeds required above ground in normal light needed to be longer in the darkness of a coal mine. Therefore, he decided to bring more light with him. Traveling to Shenandoah, PA in 1884, with a temporary electrical set-up (see photo at top), he brought a dynamo to generate the electricity needed to power lights that had never before been used underground. Unsure of whether this technique would work or of associated dangers, Bretz took the lights inside the Kohinoor Colliery mine.

The anticipation must have been great as Bretz developed the photo plates. The end results were reviewed  in the 1885 edition of the Annual Report of the Secretary of Internal Affairs of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania: “[T]he experiment was a perfect success, and marks a new era in the history of photographing mining views.”

Shown below are nine of the photos taken at the Kohinoor mine, and from a visit to the Indian Ridge Colliery. Even the slightest body movement resulted in some blurring.

Face of breast, three miners at work.

Indian Ridge Colliery, breast No.1.

Coal breaker, Kohinoor.

Gangway from breast No.39.

Lift Operator, Kohinoor Mine.

Car lift attended by two miners.

Car lift and miners.

Interior of Kohinoor mine.

Face of breast with miner using patent drill.

Sadly, the George M. Bretz Photography Studio burned on November 13, 1892, (article below), and thousands of his negatives were destroyed. Luckily, the Smithsonian copies of the Shenandoah underground photographs have survived.

November 14, 1892 article from the Shenandoah PA Evening Herald.

It was front page news, (article below), when Bretz passed away on the 12th of April, 1895 at age 53. The Shenandoah Evening Herald called him “one of the leading photographers of the state.”

George M. Bretz obituary from the Shenandoah PA Evening Herald. April 13, 1895

Photographer George Bretz in 1875.



Geller, Kathryn. “Anthracite Museum Displays Work of Molly Maguires Photographer.” The Titusville Herald [Titusville, PA] 23 March 1992: Page 7. Print.

University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) Digital Collection.


A Plane Engineering Feat: Facts, Photos and Film of the Mahanoy Plane

Mahanoy Plane is seen, upper left, atop Broad Mountain. Leading up to it – an angled, yet steep incline – consisting of 2,500 feet of railroad track. Photo from the 1880s.


We’ve written before about Mahanoy Plane and we’ve even done a popular Facebook post.


What makes this post so different? Well, we hope we can give you, our dedicated readers, as much information about engineering of the plane. In a future post, we will be moving onto important people, events, buildings, and so on. For now, we are sharing images and facts about this engineering feat that moved hundreds of millions of tons of anthracite coal up Broad Mountain, just north of Frackville, PA. At the end of this post, we also share a Bray Studios 1920s silent film entitled Black Sunlight showing snippets of the Mahanoy Plane in operation, as well as views of the valley below from the top of the Plane.

What made this mega-machine run? It was a tandem frictional rope with a 6,000 horsepower steam hoist at Mahanoy Plane as  illustrated in the collection of photos below. The anthracite coal from the surrounding 48 collieries went through the plane before it went to market. (48!) To give you an idea of what this volume was like, in January 1913, during 25 working days, (304 hours), the Mahanoy Plane hoisted 19,874 cars of coal.

The engine was designed by the superintendent of shops and machinery of the Philadelphia and Reading Coal & Iron Company to hoist an unbalanced load of 190 long tons, up a plane that was 2,500 feet long with an 18% maximum grade and with a piston speed of 600 feet per minute. The bottom of the plane was at an elevation of 1,129 feet above sea level and at the top of the plane was 1,480 feet above sea level – a 351 foot climb.

To operate the plane, 66 men were needed, not including the foreman or the men in the railroad engines to bring the coal to the base or take it away from the top. There were two shifts of 33 men each. When it was running, about 3 3/4 tons of rice-sized coal was needed per hour to supply the steam power.

The engine was built by a joint effort of the Reading Iron Company, Scott Foundry Department and the Pottsville Shops of the Philadelphia and Reading Coal & Iron Company. Each of the two engine cylinders was 54 inches in diameter with a 72 inch stroke. The main hoisting rope was 2 and 5/8 inches in diameter and it was made of cast steel, composed of six strands of 19 wires each, around a wire-rope core. At each end of this large cable was a small “barney,” which traveled on a narrower gauge railroad track than the coal cars. When it reached the bottom of the plane, the “barney” passed into a pit under the track. The loaded cars were moved by gravity to a point in front of the “barney” pit. The engine at the top of the mountain was started slowly and the “barney” contacted the rear bumper of the railroad car and it brought the car up the plane. The Mahanoy Plane hoist and engines weighed 500 tons. Despite mechanical breakdowns, rumors of it closing and even an Engine House fire, the plane would operate until 1932.


Below are a series of images, some postcards, and news clippings:

Photo from 1913



Interior photo from 1913.



January, 1886. Fire at Mahanoy Plane destroys Engine House.


Rumors that the Mahanoy Plane would be abandoned started as early as August 1901.


This February 1906 report mentions the “annual” rumor of the Mahanoy Plane shutting down. It remained open until 1932.


Mahanoy Plane shutdown due to needed repairs. Altoona Tribune article from November 22, 1926.


Undated image from Engine Room of Mahanoy Plane.


The Engine Room, photographed in 1905.


Large wire hoisting cables, pictured in 1905.


The pit where the “barney” went underground is clearly visible in this 1905 image.


Inside the Machine Shop at the Plane.


An undated view of the track approach to the Plane.


Undated view of the valley.


From the 1880s,  the Mahanoy Plane in operation, pulling multiple cars of anthracite coal up the incline.


The Mahanoy Plane at the top of Broad Mountain, after cars have been elevated.  Photo from 1880s.


The Mahanoy Plane was a popular topic for picture postcards, and six are reproduced below.

At the top Broad Mountain, the Engine Room awaits the next loaded coal car.


Down below, the small “barney” rides on a narrow gauge track as it pulls the loaded coal car up the incline.


A 1905 view from the Plane.


A 1907 postcard of the Plane.


From 1909, a view down the 2,500 feet of Mahanoy Plane railroad track, showing the valley below.


A vertical format postcard from 1907.


The Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission honored the Mahanoy Plane with a historical marker in 2007.


The 1920’s film Black Sunlight by Bray Studios, contains brief footage of the Mahanoy Plane. The entire video can be viewed at the very end of this article, but these still images show the pertinent scenes:

At the 3:03 mark of the film, there is a sweeping left-to-right view of the valley beneath the Plane, starting at the incline’s railroad tracks:

Single Frame From 1920s Film: The valley below the Mahanoy Plane.

At 9:47 into the film you are taken for a ride up the plane on a loaded coal car.

Single Frame From 1920s Film: A quick ride up the Mahanoy Plane on a loaded coal car.

At the 10:30 mark, a brief scene at the bottom of the Plane is shown:

Single Frame From 1920s Film: At the bottom of the Mahanoy Plane.




Kneeland, Frank. A 6,000 Horsepower Steam Hoist. Coal Age. March 1, 1913; Vol. 3, No. 9: 322

Unknown. The Mahanoy Coal Plane. Mines and Minerals October, 1905; Vol. XXVI, No. 3: 101


United 624 Crash in Wilburton, PA June 17, 1948

by Melissa R. Meade

Who was on the plane? How close did it come to the colliery? Who took the photographs of the crash scene that were circulated in the Associated Press?

Aerial view of the 1948 crash scene that we created using maps from 1959. (No aerial views were available for 1948.)

The interest in our page’s coverage of the United Airline’s 1948 crash in the coal patch town of Wilburton, Pennsylvania has been overwhelming. Many of you had lots of questions, therefore I’ve tried to answer many of them in this post and there are a number of articles for you to look through. I hope you find it informative.

United Airlines Flight 624 from San Diego to New York filled with actors, media, and other well-known people crashed by clipping a portion of the Mid-Valley Coal Colliery in the coal-mining village of Wilburton in Columbia County, Pennsylvania killing all 43 people aboard—39 passengers and 4 crew members on June 17, 1948. Who was on the plane? How close did it come to the colliery and how did local residents process the scene? Who took the photos of the crash scene and how did they make the photos arrive in record time to the Associated Press?

First, who was on the plane?

The DC-6 included Hollywood theatrical producer Earl Caroll, Venita Varden Oakie, the ex-wife of the Hollywood actor Jack Oakie, Beryl Wallace, an actress in Earl Carroll’s theater, and Henry L. Jackson, the co-founder of Esquire Magazine amongst others. From the Associated Press (AP), June 18, 1948, the following is a complete list of those aboard the airliner on its last stop in Chicago on its way to New York:

List of those aboard United 624, June 1948, AP

Producer Earl Caroll and his performer Beryl Wallace, both killed in the crash

1940s program from Earl Caroll’s theater with Beryl Wallace on the cover, both killed in the crash.

Venita Varden Oakie, the former wife of screen comedian Jack Oakie

How close did the airplane come to the colliery and how did local residents process the scene?

According to accounts in the AP, there were 80 colliery workers “who came close to death when the stricken plane barely missed crashing into a 265-foot high colliery in which they were working.” Again, the AP tells us that the plane tried to “pancake safely on a black hill of coal dust and water near this eastern Pennsylvania anthracite coal town.” The plane “limped at half-speed into a valley dotted with anthracite collieries.” The captain “guided his ship four miles between two hills. He was scarcely 30 feet above ground.” “Stunned miners saw the nose of the plane veer upward too late. It shattered against a 60,000 volt power line and exploded.”

How did they find the bodies?

A resident of Centralia explains that none of the bodies were intact. The scene was roped off and miners from the colliery that was almost hit by the falling plane helped the searchers “comb the areas for body fragments.” All of the bodies were taken to Joseph Stutz Funeral Home, Centralia.

Who took the photos of the crash? How did local, anthracite region journalism play a big part in national journalism?

The United 624 crash was a pivotal moment for local anthracite region newspaper coverage. Thanks to a network of news contacts, Hazleton PA’s Standard-Sentinel/Plain Speaker learned of the crash within minutes. Editor Bill Kraft sent photographer/reporter Bill Morgan out with his camera. Although few local papers were a part of the Associated Press Wirephoto services because it was cost prohibitive, the Hazleton paper had made the decision to join. Despite the travel distances involved to the crash site, (a 45-minute drive), the need to develop the film, and the time required to make enlargements to send out over the Associated Press Wirephoto network, photos were shared by 3:15 pm, less than three hours after the crash. These photographs were an immediate contribution to national journalism allowing people to quickly see for themselves the destruction in their local newspapers.

Standard Speaker, Sunday, December 24, 1995

Standard Speaker, Sunday, December 24, 1995

The Mahanoy Plane, Patch Towns, and Company Scrip

This image is one of a series and in it, we see the foot of the inclined plane railroad that transported coal from the Mahanoy Plane valley up the Broad Mountain to Frackville. It opened in 1862 and it was part of the Reading Railroad system. The plane closed in 1932. Partial ruins remain in the region presently and a historical marker was placed nearby by the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission in 2007. I will post the additional images of Mahanoy Plane and its Plane as a follow-up to this one. Mahanoy Plane was a company “patch town.” A patch town came about when a mining company bought the private land and thereby owned the housing, stores, and other businesses constructed around the mine. Moreover, significant features of patch towns were also in their public services. The towns tended to have few or no elected public officials; the police were employed by the mine to protect coal interests. As such, the residents were under the legal jurisdiction of the coal company from work, to the company store, to the law enforcement. The miners and miner laborers were often paid in company scrip useful only in the company store.  

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