Between 1880 and 1920, 85 percent of the world’s supply of anthracite coal was mined out of the earth below Northeast Pennsylvania.
On Sunday, Oct. 7 — decades after the collapse of the area’s once-prominent coal industry — a memorial honoring the men and boys who spent their days underground extracting the valuable fossil fuel will be unveiled in Blakely. Silvia Passeri, founder of the group Coal Miners Remembered, began fundraising for the project about two years ago.
The memorial at the Blakely Borough Recreational Complex includes a five-foot statue of a coal miner exiting a mine, flanked on both sides by monuments bearing the names of about 600 local miners from the days of coal. Small stars are carved next to the names of miners killed on the job.
“These men worked so hard and in doing so, most of them, their lives were cut short,” said Passeri, whose father, grandfather and three uncles, all coal miners, died before they reached the age of 60. “If we didn’t do it (the memorial) now, I think it would just get forgotten.”
Of the money raised for the project, $6,000 came from Lackawanna County and $35,000 came from the state. The remainder came from residents who jumped at the opportunity to have their coal mining ancestors, often their grandfathers, memorialized on the monument for $100 per name. At first Passeri was skeptical she would get 50 names, but after advertising the project in local papers and online, the names started to pour in — some from as far away as Texas and Missouri.
“We call ourselves anthracite people,” said Lackawanna Historical Society Director Mary Ann Savakinus, who described how the region’s once-booming coal industry fueled the local economy and bolstered then-thriving iron and railroad industries in Northeast Pennsylvania. “We were known as the kings of anthracite.”
The memorial project compliments a number of other coal-related area events this year, which marks the 250th anniversary of anthracite coal. At its annual dinner on Nov. 8, the historical society will host composer Julia Wolfe, whose oratorio “Anthracite Fields” won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Music. That dinner will be held at the Anthracite Center in
Passeri’s work also compliments an effort by the Anthracite Heritage Foundation, which, in cooperation with King’s College, maintains a “Wall of Honor” anthracite miners’ memorial on Public Square in Wilkes-Barre. Like the Blakely memorial, the wall commemorates miners and breaker boys by name at the request of their families and descendants.
There is still space on Coal Miners Remembered’s memorial in Blakely for about 125 more names that will be added early next year. Once the existing space is filled, however, Passeri said additional modules can be added to the memorial to accommodate
Those interested in adding a name may submit them to Coal Miners Remembered, 1234 Main St., Peckville, PA 18452. The cost is $100 per name.