Bartoletti, Susan Campbell,
GROWING UP IN COAL COUNTRY.
NEW copy. Textbook hardcover. (Houghton Mifflin, 1996).
Photographs, 128 pages.
~~~ Bartoletti uses oral history, archival documents, and an abundance of
black-and-white photographs to make turn-of-the-century mining life a
surprisingly compelling subject for today's young people. Zooming in on
northeastern Pennsylvania in general, and the perspective of children in
particular, she writes of the desperate working conditions, the deplorable
squalor found in the "patch villages," and the ever-present dangers of the
occupation. Stories of breaker-boy pranks and the roles of the animals at work
bring some comic relief, but even they point out the enormous hardships suffered
before there were effective unions and child-labor laws. The words and work of
children are weighted equally with the efforts of the Molly McGuires, Mother
Jones, and other adult players. Captioned, black-and-white photographs, with
attributions, appear on almost every page, allowing the images to play a
powerful role in the gritty story. The bibliography reveals the depth of
Bartoletti's research. An introduction conveys her motivation (fascination with
family stories), while a brief conclusion touches upon the region in the
post-World War I era. For a first-rate, accessible study of a time and place
that played an important role in American economic and social history, look no
WHEN THE MINES CLOSED: Stories of Struggles in Hard Times.
NEW copy, textbook PAPERBACK. (Cornell University Press, 1998).
Photographs, 304 pages.
~~~ The anthracite region of northeastern
Pennsylvania, five hundred square miles of
rugged hills stretching between Tower City and
Carbondale, harbored coal deposits that once heated
virtually all the homes and businesses in Eastern
cities. At its peak during World War I, the coal
industry here employed 170,000 miners, and supported
almost 1,000,000 people. Today, with coal workers
numbering 1,500, only 5,000 people depend on the
industry for their livelihood. Between these two points
in time lies a story of industrial decline, of working
people facing incremental and cataclysmic changes in
their world. When the Mines Closed tells this
story in the words of men and women who experienced
these dramatic changes and in more than eighty
photographs of these individuals, their
families, and the larger community.
~~~ Award-winning historian Thomas Dublin interviewed
a cross-section of residents and migrants from the
region, who gave their own accounts of their
work and family lives before and after the mines
closed. Most of the narrators, six men and seven women,
came of age during the Great Depression and
entered area mines or, in the case of the women,
garment factories, in their teens. They describe the
difficult choices they faced, and the long-standing
ethnic, working-class values and traditions they drew
upon, when after World War II the mines began to shut
down. Some left the region, others commuted to work at
a distance, still others struggled to find employment
locally. ~~~ The photographs taken by George Harvan,
a lifelong resident of the area and the son of a
Slovak-born coal miner, document residents' lives
over the course of fifty years. Dublin's introductory
essay offers a briefhistory of anthracite mining and
the region and establishes a broader interpretive
framework for the
narratives and photographs.
ABOVE THE SLATE: An Appalachian Love Story.
NEW copy, trade PAPERBACK.
(Ashland, KY: Jesse Stuart Foundation, 2002).
~~~ When Neva and Grady marry, she dreams of owning their own home, while he dreams
of organizing his fellow coal miners to fight for their rights. Above the Slate
follows the twists and turns of the couple's life together--their birthing and
grieving, their hoping and hiding from the law. Throughout it all, Neva and
Grady remain committed to different, often conficting dreams. ~~~ A down-to-earth account,
Above the Slate is told in the pain and earthy voices of a
husband and wife who struggle against the harsh realities of Appalachian coal
country in the 1930s. Imprisonment and escape, the death of one child, the birth
of three, and a tragic mine explosion give the story structure; an honest
portrayal of family relationships gives it heart.
MUDDY BRANCH: Memories of an Eastern Kentucky Coal
NEW copy, trade PAPERBACK.
(Ashland, KY: Jesse Stuart Foundation, 2002).
~~~ Muddy Branch is a memoir of Clyde
Roy Pack’s growing-up years in Muddy Branch
coal camp deep in Eastern Kentucky. It is the story
of a boy, a place, and a time, offering a taste of
time sweet as honey, when the term “bored” had to
do with something a man did with an auger. ~~~ There
is in much retrospective writing—particularly
concerning Appalachia—a tendency to romanticize
the rural setting of the past and our parents’ and
grandparents’ struggles with same. Conversely, the
other pitfall is to engage in the kind of
deconstruction that always tempts us when we look
at the past from the perspective of the present.
Clyde Roy has done neither. Instead, he has simply
set his own truth to paper as faithfully as memory
can trace it. It rings true to the Appalachian -—
~~~ When Clyde Roy Pack weaves his insightful and evocative tales of growing up
in the coal camp known as Muddy Branch, he knows whereof he speaks. He spent his
first eighteen years there and the spirit, feeling and atmosphere of that place
in that time has clearly left its imprint. Here he has set to paper a coal camp
story that creates a fresh picture of our place and our people -— folks who
accepted hardship, believed in the Lord, and labored long so that their kids
could walk an easier path.
THE BATTLE OF BLAIR MOUNTAIN.
NEW copy, hardcover with dust jacket. (Westview Press).
~~~ Shogan depicts the relatively unrecognized but highly dramatic confrontation
culminating at Blair Mountain in West Virginia, between unionized mineworkers,
mine owners, and the federal government in the largest armed uprising since the
BANKMULES: The Story of Van Lear, A Kentucky Coal Town.
NEW copy, hardcover with dust jacket.
(Ashland, KY: Jesse Stuart Foundation, 2003).
~~~ In the summer of 1934, the town of Van Lear seemed an idyllic place to young
James Vaughan and his buddies, even though it was also the time of the Great
Depression. Here in this personal account, an older Vaughan shares his warm
memories of growing up in Van Lear and recalls many incidents from the history
of the town—a town created by the Consolidation Coal Company to serve its new
mines along Millers Creek. ~~~ Drawing on his own recollections and on many
interviews, Vaughan recreates Van Lear in its heyday from 1910 to 1940 when it
was a prosperous community of 3,000 people—the largest in the county—and when
the Bankmules athletic teams, so-called from the mules that hauled coal from the
coal seams or “banks,” were the pride of the town. He tells of the games and
amusements enjoyed with his boyhood buddies, of lessons and school, of his
friends and family, of the dark day in 1935 when a mine explosion took the lives
of his father and eight other miners. He describes the town itself—the company
store and the club house, the different neighborhoods and hollers—and also the
men who shaped the town—mine manager Jack Price who fostered the schools and the
teams, Doctors Hall and Lyon who took care of the miners and their families, and
the teachers and superintendents of the schools who provided a solid education
for the children of Van Lear. Though many writers have criticized coal towns as
depressing and poverty-stricken, for Vaughan and others, Van Lear was altogether
different—a good place to live, a good place for children to grow up. ~~~ Sadly,
with the depletion of the coal, the town declined, and, in the 1950s,
Consolidation sold off all its properties and abandoned the town. In the latter
part of the book, Vaughan describes the valiant efforts of a small group of
individuals to preserve the heritage of Van Lear by the creation of a museum and
a historical society, and the publication of a newsletter devoted to the town’s
history. James Vaughan has written a memorable story of a town and a part of
Kentucky history that is fast disappearing.
Wallace, Anthony FC,
ST. CLAIR: A Nineteenth-Century Coal Town's Experience with
a Disaster-Prone Industry.
Textbook paperback. (Cornell University Press, 1987).
519 pages. (St. Clair is in Pennsylvania).
~~~ From the New York Times Book Review: 'Monumental... A book of grand scale and impressive accomplishment... Wallace
has revised our image of 19th-century industrial development... Displaying his
professional anthropologist's eye for telling detail, as well as the sort of
prodigious research and sense of plot and character development more often found
in the work of historians and novelists, (he) has demonstrated that the history
of our smallest towns speaks to some of the largest questions of our past and
CANDLES TO THE SUN: A Play in Ten Scenes.
NEW copy, trade paperback. (New Directions, 2004).
~~~ The first full-length play by novice
playwright Thomas Lanier Williams to be
produced, Candles to the Sun was premiered by
The Mummers, a semi-professional and socially aware
theatre troupe in St. Louis on March 18, 1937, and
received rave reviews in the local press. Set in the
Red Hills coal mining section of Alabama and dealing
with both the attempts of the miners to
unionize and the bleak lives of their families, the
play, according to St. Louis Star-Times critic
Reed Hynds, is "an earnest and searching examination of
a particular social reality set out in human and
dramatic terms." ~~~ Working principally from a
script supplied by Jane Garrett Carter (who played
Star in the original production), Dan Isaac, as he did
in his edition of another "early" Williams' play,
Spring Storm, uses his directorial and
scholarly skills to prepare a version as close as
possible to the 1937 production while
providing contemporary readers (or actors) with the
necessary social, political and theatrical context to
make the play accessible and relevant once more.