SCRATCHING THE SURFACE

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PREFACE
Chapter One

Stories From the Dirt
Before 1675 to 1725

Chapter Two
Early Traders
1725 – 1800

Chapter Three
Secrets of Home
1800 – 1865

Chapter Four
History Lives Around Us
1865 – 1920

Chapter Five
Hidden in the Corner
1920 – 1950

Chapter Six
King Coal Dethroned: Transition to New Heights
1950 – 1975

 

Reference Citations

 

 

 

 

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Why We Need to Understand and………

“Why We Need to Understand and Appreciate Anthracite History,”
by Robert P. Wolensky

Leaving anthracite history aside for the moment, let me ask: why do we need to study any history? The answer to this question is much more complicated than the old saw that learning history prevents us from repeating the mistakes of the past. Certainly we don’t want to repeat earlier blunders, but I would argue that historical understanding can help especially young and middle-aged people deal with two issues that seem to cause extensive social and psychological distress nowadays: finding meaning and purpose to life.

In my view, the contemporary age presents some major obstructions to meaningful and purposeful living. One problem is that too many of us do not know how to live in the present because, at virtually every moment, we are rushing toward the future. The pace of daily life has increased dramatically in recent decades.(1) We regularly check our watches because, “I have to be someplace.” And then, when I get to this future point, the process is repeated because, “I have to dash to someplace else.” We have somehow created a culture of anticipation, anxiety, and future orientation—a culture of “what’s next?” I am reminded of British Cardinal John Henry Newman’s assertion that death was not what he feared most; rather it was never having learned how to live. I believe he meant “how to live without anxiety, happily in the present.”

Another contemporary malady is that we often seek meaning and purpose in material consumption. The good life has become the “goods” life. Many of us suffer from affluenza, a cultural “disease” resulting from our fervent consumerist predilections.(2)
While things provide no more than a quick fix for what ails us, they actually reinforce anxieties about what to consume next or “am consuming the right goods?” They also distract us from family obligations and civic participation, and from cultivating our inner well-being. Are we more than what we wear, drive, eat, drink, or live in? I believe and hope so.

If I am correct in saying that we have great difficulty living in the present and are speedily moving to the future, how can we possibly pay any attention to the past—to the realm of history? Yet, I believe it is precisely in a study of the past where we can find the wherewithal to cultivate a meaningful and purposeful life in the present.

If I am correct in saying that we are much more concerned with consumption then how can we overcome the problems associated with affluenza? Again, I believe we can alleviate this ailment by finding deeper meanings, inner strengths, and a more fulfilling purpose by seeking knowledge about who we are, where we came from, and how our ancestors and neighbors confronted the problems of their times.
And this brings me to anthracite. For too long, anthracite has been a history to forget.

Thankfully, over the past 10-15 years more and more people from hard coal’s cities and towns have come to realize the region’s incredibly rich history. It is a story replete with examples of hard work, brave immigration, family solidarity, fearless unions, ethnic and religious solidarity (and intermarriage), economic advancement, community resilience, and educational attainment. It is our own unique version of the American chronicle.
Certainly there is the dark side too: accidents, strikes, deaths, losses, crimes, injustices, corruptions, environmental scars, alcohol and drug abuses, and calamities such as the Avondale and the Knox mine disasters. Yet these are also part of our history and I believe that we must accept these problems so as to build and learn from them. Our tribulations can and should become a source of personal and social strength. If our ancestors did what they did, triumphed over their difficult circumstances, then we can too. It won’t be easy, but our tasks can hardly be more difficult than theirs. And remember, they had us in mind. They wanted to make this community a more socially and economically just place not only for themselves but also for their descendents. We are the beneficiaries and we own a debt to those who have given us so much.
While we have made notable progress in studying and acknowledging our past, we still have a long way to go. Anthracite studies are rarely taught in local schools or colleges.

Although industrial tourism has been developed to some extent in Scranton, Eckley, Lansford, and Ashland, much more still needs to be done. When can we tour a coal breaker, a garment shop, a shoe factory, a silk mill, a strip mine, and a cigar factory? We are still throwing away many of the papers of our houses of worship, ethnic organizations, civic associations, coal companies and other businesses. The papers of one of the region’s major coal enterprises—the Glen Alden—are in dire need of preservation. The few remaining historical gems of the anthracite era, such as Concrete City, the Ashley Planes, the Huber Breaker, and the St. Nicholas Breaker need to be saved before the wrecking ball does its deed.

My point is that if we are going to cultivate our personal and social strengths by cultivating our heritage, then we have to preserve and educate about that heritage. This, it seems to me, will provide real food for hungry souls looking for meaning and purpose in an often superficial, materialistic, and hurried society. And, in the process, we may even learn how to avoid some of the mistakes of the past!

(Contained in the last chapter of Robert P. Wolensky, Nicole H. Wolensky, and Kenneth C. Wolensky, Voices of the Knox Mine Disaster, Harrisburg, PA: PHMC, 2005)
NOTES
1. Research by Juliet B. Schor documents the overworked and overspent predicament in contemporary American life. See her books The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure (New York: Basic Books, 1991); and The Overspent American: Upscaling, Downshifting, and the New Consumer (New York: Basic Books, 1998).
2. The term “Affluenza” comes from the title of a documentary produced by KCTS/Seattle and Oregon Public Broadcasting that aired on PBS in September 1997. For more information see http://www.pbs.org/kcts/affluenza/ See also the sequel “Escape from Affluenza,” which also debuted on PBS, as well as the work by the Milwaukee-based organization called The Affluenza Project (http://www.affluenza.com/).

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Hints on History Writing

 

Hints on History Writing
By Mark G. Dziak
3/31/14
“Write it down.”
That’s what I tell people when they say they experienced something amazing or learned something nobody else knows. The sad fact is that memory changes and fades. Stories told verbally are often misinterpreted. In my mind, to really preserve knowledge, you should write it down.
Around 2004 I became fascinated with local colonial history, particularly the Battle (and Massacre) of Wyoming. It took months to gather enough sources to help me really understand the topic. At that point I decided to write a book about it, to bring together all this knowledge and make it easier for people to access and understand in the future.
Writing a book is a very long and challenging process. Still, I’d recommend it. It was fun working with a topic that appealed to me. It was interesting to learn new skills. And it’s gratifying today to look at the finished product and know that it can transmit this fascinating story to anyone who wants to read it, and help preserve it for future generations.
I think it’s important to write about history, whether you studied it or lived it. If you know something important, I strongly encourage you to write it down. If you decide to do so, here are some hints based on my experiences that you may find useful:

It doesn’t have to be an epic. You don’t need to write a thousand pages. You can help preserve history with any kind of writing, from a simple journal to a scrapbook with captions under the pictures. Every word is important.

Find your strength. You may be good at writing, storytelling, reading, researching, teaching, editing, or remembering. All of these are useful skills for documenting what you know. Find your strengths and focus on them. If there is a weak spot, you can try to improve your skills, or ask others for help.

Be confident. If you say “I’ll never be a writer,” you won’t be. The truth is that anyone who can write can be a writer. If you can write one sentence, you can write multiple sentences, and if you do that long enough, you’ll have a book. It may not be a bestseller, but it’ll be something of value to you and others.

Get organized. Any substantial writing project is a large undertaking. I’ll usually use many notes and resources for every page of finished writing. It can seem overwhelming to juggle all that material, but if you stay calm and organize what you have, you’ll be okay. In time you’ll find your “writing process.” I generally do best creating detailed “blueprints” of chapters and topics and then filling them in sequentially. Whatever works for you is what you should do.

Check your references. All good research needs reliable references. Back up what you say with evidence, especially if you’re talking about something controversial or something that could cause offense. Over the years a few people have contested statements from my Wyoming book. In response, I quickly point out the references I used, many of which were first-hand accounts by people who were actually there.

Acknowledge uncertainty. It took me years to understand that people interpret historical events differently. At times, it seems like there is little actual “truth,” only a balance between interpretations. Because of that, I never presume to know the “truth.” Instead, I try to share the most common and feasible theories, and acknowledge uncertainty and differing viewpoints.

Be patient with publishing. Publishing is a very tough business. Even great writers with great ideas regularly get rejected by publishers. Luckily, there are many options today in self-publishing. I recommend that route for first-time writers, particularly when writing about local history. It isn’t glamorous, but it gets the job done, and it will give you much faster results and more freedom of choice.

Choose love over money. There’s generally not much money in writing. There’s far less than that in history writing. Maybe you can buck the trend (good luck!) but I’d recommend that you do your history writing for love—the love of accomplishing something, telling a good story, honoring great people, and preserving knowledge for the future.

 

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Rights & Responsibilities During the Civil war: Coal Mine Operators & Laborers in Northern Anthracite Coal Fields

Rights and Responsibilities During the Civil War:
Coal Mine Operators and Laborers
In the Northern Anthracite Coal Fields
(SHORTENED VERSION)

THE DRAFT

          The first three months of the Civil War passed quickly and both sides soon realized the need for longer enlistments and more men. It was clear by that time that the war was not going to be short and it was also clear that blood was going to be shed. Not only would they need men, they would need the supplies to provide for the men which meant enormous requests for leather, iron, canvas, wool, lumber, and coal. Pennsylvania had all of those resources and had them in abundance.

While the ranks filled quickly during the first three months of the war, when Lincoln issued a call in 1862 for 300,000 men the states were slower to respond. To help with enlistments, states were authorized by the federal government to hold a draft. The states were carved into districts and men called “enrollers” were employed to travel throughout each district taking the names of those who were at least eighteen. The enrollers were organized under a Provost Marshal who was the overall authority and answered to authorities in the federal government.

The large national issues of states’ rights versus national authority, freedom, citizenship, duty, and patriotism were not seen so clearly when looked at from a local viewpoint. Family security and survival often ranked higher than the national issues. So when those in the federal government called for sacrifice, the call was weighed against how that sacrifice would affect the individual.

While men were willing to fight to save the Union, they were not willing to sacrifice life or limb to free the slaves, however. They were willing to leave their farms if someone was going to take care of their crops(1). When the men did not sign up right away, they did not see it as an unpatriotic action. When enrollers were opposed or outright lied to about the name of a man, this too, was not seen as unpatriotic. The federal government, however, did not view those actions the same way and Congress passed its first Conscription Act in 1863.

Habeas corpus was suspended. The enrollers and the Provost Marshals could arrest those who resisted the draft or who were caught as deserters. What constituted opposition to conscription? Refusing to cooperate with or evading draft enrollers? Calling strikes in war-related industries?(2) Were those actions treasonous? What information in this section was most important to you?

Miners and Operators

          Anthracite was a critical source of fuel for the Navy, the Army, factories, and trains. Unfortunately, trouble had been a constant companion to those who worked in the coalfields. Squabbles over an increase in wages, working conditions, and the cost of supplies among coal miners, laborers, and the coal operators had been going on for quite a few decades before the split between the North and South. Now that coal was in great demand, perhaps higher profits could be made and wages raised. If only those two issues could happen at the same time and without a fuss, all would be well. Unfortunately, that would not happen.

The issue was very clear and simple to those who worked for the federal government. The government needed coal and those who supplied it should be cognizant of their patriotic duty. No interference with its supply should or would be tolerated.

On the other hand, the miners and laborers did not see this issue from that point of view. The miners and laborers had to consistently juggle inconsistent wages. By the mid-1830s, it took $6.00 a week to live comfortably. Miners made about 88¢ a day during that time while laborers earned about 70¢ a day at the same time.(3) Wages rose so that by 1842, miners earned about $1.25 a day, but received a low of only 80¢ a day in 1850(4). Many times they were paid in scrip or company money, because the companies did not have cash as they often had to wait until the coal was sold. The scrip was good only at the company store where prices were often 25% higher than elsewhere. Kerosene, blasting powder and other supplies rose in price during this same period.

The coal operators ran into problems as well. Price wars hurt their profit line. For example, if coal sold for $3.25 per ton in 1850, operators paid 90 cents to mine coal, $1.45 to ship it, and 40 cents in fees(5). If operators took a 10 cent profit per ton, that left 40 cents to maintain the mines. When new equipment was needed to start a colliery, it could mean a $50,000 investment.(6)

When shippers raised their rates, that meant even less money. Shippers, like the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad sometimes refused to transport the coal. Instead they bought it—and paid a low price. They got away with that tactic because the coal owner was stuck. He had to get the coal to market and since he did not control the transportation he had to sell or watch his coal stockpiles grow without any money coming in.

However, the stop work actions of the miners were considered in bad taste at the very least and treasonous “outrages” at most. Men were dying on the battlefield and their country needed the product as one of the essential ingredients for victory, so the miners looked unpatriotic. Provost marshals and enrollers arrested strike leaders. They asked for troops to come into their districts (Luzerne County was #12) in order to secure peace.

 

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1 Grace Palladino, Another Civil War (New York: Fordham University Press, 2006), xii
2 ibid. xiii
3 Ibid. 37
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.

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With whom do you empathize more—the miner or the coal owner?

Post your reply in the comment section below.

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Welcome to Our History Initiative

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