“A scythe and a pick axe hang next to my desk”

This post is from Paul Shackel:

A scythe and a pick axe hang next to the desk in my home office. The scythe has a blade that appears to have been well used. Tarnished with age, the words “Made in Austria” are located at the base of the blade. The blade has an occasional nick and I can image that many decades ago a farmer spent a long day in the autumn sun rhythmically slicing through wheat, barley and hay during harvest time. The pick axe is well used with many dents and nicks. It had one purpose – it was an implement used to extract coal from the deep underground mines in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Together, these two utilitarian, non-descript tools have a remarkable story to tell about the hopes and dreams of a new immigrant.  They reflect the reality of the limited opportunities available to new immigrants in the anthracite region of northeastern Pennsylvania. They are a reminder of a life long journey to achieve the American dream.

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Joe Michel

The scythe and the pick axe once belonged to Michael Michel. Joe Michel, his son, has been mentioned in several blog posts. He gave me these items to guard the memory of his father’s work as well as the life of miners – at least for another generation. Michael Michel came to Jeddo, PA, from Austria-Hungary in 1922 with his scythe. His goal was to establish his new life in America as a farmer. However, after arriving in the region his dreams were dashed. “He didn’t want to go into the coal mines, but there was no place else to work,” said Joe Michael in a recent newspaper interview in the Standard Speaker. His father began as a laborer in the mines and in 1930 he earned his miner’s certificate, which also meant a larger income to support his growing family.

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A photograph of Michael Michel, who came from Slovakia to become farmer, but ended up working in the coal mines.

About 180,000 men worked in anthracite mines in the early 20th century. Many of the new immigrants went underground for the first time when they arrived in the region. Mining had one of the highest occupational mortality rates in the United States. More than 120,000 men died in the mines between 1847 and 1980.  So there is a reason why Michael Michel saved his money and found another occupation after 28 years in the mines.   He opened a bar called Mickey Mike’s Place in Freeland.

Today the mines in the region employ around 1,000 people.

Hazleton has always been a city of immigrants. The first
wave of immigrants consisted of English, Irish, and Germans in the mid-19th century. The second wave included Italians and Slavs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  More recently, Latinos have come to the city. People have always brought with them their hopes and dreams for a new beginning, sometimes carrying with them the tools of their trade. While our project has focused on preserving the history and memories of men and women in the second wave of immigration, I believe our work also allows us to think about the newest wave of immigration in a very different light.

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The Goat That Came for Dinner

This is one of a series of short stories collected from oral histories with town residents that will be retold here.

Pardeesville resident Maurice DeLorenzo showed us a panoramic photo of the town taken from a culm bank on the southwest side of town in the mid-1930s. This photo has been imperative in helping us understand how the landscape has changed since the early twentieth century, but also in helping us to understand how people lived back then. One of the most striking features of this photo is the abundance of wooden fences. Homemade wooden fences from different lengths and thicknesses of boards can be seen surrounding every house on Lower, Upper, and Church Street! While we initially thought that these fences might have been used to keep livestock such as cows inside people’s yards, during interviews with local residents we have learned that the fences were actually in place to keep other people’s livestock out of their yards! With the time and effort put in to planting and growing a garden, families couldn’t afford to lose all of their produce to a neighbor’s errant goat (however, keeping neighborhood kids out of the garden proved to be a steeper challenge).

One story related to us by a long-time resident of Pardeesville tells the story of when she and her husband went to visit her husband’s parent’s house in Pardeesville. With kids, neighbors, and extended family constantly coming in and out of the house, the front door had been left ajar. When our storyteller and her husband walked into the living room, they were greeted by none other than a stray goat that had managed to slip inside the house! Whether the goat or the couple were more startled is unknown, but I know that this story is one that neither soon forgot.
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All in Six Weeks: This Puppy Has Grown!

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At the end of last Friday I looked at the puppy, Axel, that lives next door to our excavation site and realized that he was almost twice as big as he was in the first picture I took of him. A puppy can sure grow a lot in six weeks! (shown above with University of Maryland student Judy Joklik our first week in the field….at the end of the post see portraits of Axel with Camille and Justin and see how much the pup has grown!)

Last Friday we finished six weeks of excavation in Pardeesville, Pennsylvania. In fact, it went by in a flash. But in retrospect, we got a lot of work done. And the puppy grew a lot! Here is what we did:

-We excavated two house sites this summer. Both were backyards of company-built doublehouses. We dug a total of ten test units. These pits went as deep as seven feet and as shallow as a foot. We spaced them out across the yards so that we would get a good sample, and indeed, the age of artifacts and their density in the soil differed tremendously. We recovered thousands of artifacts, from a glass oil lamp base, a pressed glass pitcher, a miners lamp, a hunting dog tag, animal bones, medicine bottles, a snippet of 16 mm film, a toothbrush and a comb. Among these ten pits were four backyard privies, one of which was a two seater. We excavated each of these very slowly so that we could track exactly what came out and at what depth. When we analyze them this year we will be able to reconstruct the beginning and end dates for the filling up of each privy.

-We excavated two units in the basement of a doublehouse to see what kinds of activities went on in the basement.

-We trained a group of about six high school students from Hazleton in archaeological methods.

-We had one magazine interview (out by next December) and were written up in the Standard Speaker.

-We had a community open house at the site and showed some new friends some of our finds.

-We conducted about eleven interviews with folks in town. We will add this to the twenty-or-so interviews we have already done with residents of the Hazleton area over the last few years.

-We surveyed in a digital topographic map of the terracing of the backyard at the Yanac House. We are currently at work processing this into a 3-dimensional topographic map of the property.

-We made a lot of new friends and spent some time with the friends we have made in town last itme around.

So there you have it: six weeks! Stay tuned, we will be updating the blog with artifact analysis, newspaper research, and other project research. Thanks everyone who welcomed us into the community, shared stories, food, property, labor and cheer!

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Silent Places that Speak Loudly of History

twilight zoneThis post was written by Michael Roller, who is currently writing his dissertation on the excavations at the Lattimer Massacre Site, Canal Street and Scamper Street in Lattimer and Pardeesville:

When I drive to the Hazleton area from my home in Maryland, a trip I have taken at least fifty times in the last five years, I pass through the “Twilight Zone”. The “Twilight Zone” is the name truckers have given to the fog-ridden climb up into the mountains on Route I-81, starting about 53 miles south of Hazleton. In the past I have seen ice, rain, fog, 18-wheelers and darkness combine ALL AT THE SAME TIME to produce lethal road conditions that have me white-knuckling my steering wheel for the forty minutes drive up or down the mountain. For me, this geological experience has become symbolic of the great differences I confront every time I come up to work in the Anthracite Region.

In the past we have talked about the generosity, kindness and historical awareness we have experienced in the people we have befriended and bonded with in the region. In the way they have shared their life experiences with us through the exchange of stories, food, and objects, we have come to see this difference as rooted in the history of the region; in hard work, ingenuity, poverty, immigration, community, family and industry. My appreciation for this has grown over my five years working in the region as we have built relationships with community members. For this post I want to talk about something I noticed immediately following my first driving through the “twilight zone”, the historical working landscapes of the region comprising of industrial ruins, culm banks and patch towns. First, though, a brief detour:

The Huber Breaker, Ashley, Pennsylvania. Demolished March 2014.

The Huber Breaker, Ashley, Pennsylvania. Demolished March 2014.

A few months ago we lost an old friend. The Huber Breaker in Ashley Pennsylvania was demolished at the end of March. I was luck enough to visit it on an early trip to the

Huber Breaker Memorial Park, Ashley, PA.

Huber Breaker Memorial Park, Ashley, PA.

region, and take a walk around the empty ruins. I have taken it upon myself to try to visit as many of these workplaces as I can when I am up here. To walk into these places where work was done, bodies were harmed, solidarities were won, lives lost, and wages were made is the closest I can come to experiencing this part of the daily lives in the region. In this, I speak not only for myself, a relative outsider to the region having grown up in suburban Maryland, but also for the younger generations growing up in the region that will inevitably fel distance from the work cultures that have defined the region for more than a century. The Huber Breaker Preservation Society recognized its value and worked for more than a decade to preserve the structure. Work on the breaker began in 1892 and served the Glen Alden and other collieries until 1976. I will

always remember the way it towered over the surrounding neighborhood, much the way church spires mark the highest point in tiny countryside towns throughout New England and Europe. The Huber Breaker Society is developing a park to commemorate the breaker and accepting donations at its website.

One of Lattimer's breakers, 1897 (Photo from the Pennsylvania State Library Archives)

One of Lattimer’s breakers, 1897 (Photo from the Pennsylvania State Library Archives)

Seeing the Huber come down led me to remember that at one time Lattimer had as many as four standing breakers. Elder resident of the town, Maurice Delorenzo, recalls the day Breaker No. 2 was demolished with sticks of dynamite sometime in the 1960s. A huge bang and column of smoke, dust and debris. Walking out into the strippings a few weeks ago with Maurice, we found the spot where the breaker once stood, now a chasm hundreds of feet deep. On the slate face opposite where we stood, we could see geometric holes sunk into the stone, traces of the underground mining operations hand dug by the men in town. These too will be gone one day.

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Lattimer Strippings

There are still many reminders of the area’s industrial past around us. Driving in any direction outside of town one comes upon slabs of poured concrete, rebar and corrugatted tin, now often coated in spray paint. Abandoned churches, warehouses, train depots and textile mills are also in abundance, speaking of all the other aspects of working and living that supported the region. But these too are being dismantled for scrap, as eyesores, as liabilites or as negative reminders of distant times.

These working landscapes are actually an essential component of our archaeological work. Not only do they provide us with the “texture” of the landscape. They help us contextualize the tiny ruins we pull out of the ground through excavation. This can help us draw connections between the intimate everyday lives we examine in doublehouse and shanty backyards to the broader social worlds of work, worship, transportation, industry and commerce that define the region.

Below are a few photos of abandoned places I have taken throughout the region. Visiting each of these places has helped me to understand the distinct character of local history in ways that are sometimes difficult to put into words:

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Standard Speaker Article, July 7, 2014

Kent Jackson of the Standard Speaker wrote a nice article about our summer work. Enjoy!:

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Excavated Newsprint

We are finding bits and pieces of well preserved newsprint here in Pardeesville. Haven’t found a date on it yet.
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Patch Town Day Festival, 2014

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JIm Kuzma and Teresa Robbins discuss our project with visitors at Patch Town Day in Eckley

This past weekend we made our way to Eckley Miners’ Village to set up a display of our archaeology project at the annual Patch Town Day festival. Eager to discuss our work, patch town history, and anthracite labor history and archaeology, we loaded the table with a 1930s image of Pardeesville, a couple historic maps, and two shadow boxes of artifacts from our recent archaeological work. We had many interested visitors stop by the booth, and over the course of our two days there, we even got to do a little exploring of the festival and town ourselves.

The public listened to what we had to say about our archaeology and many were willing to share their own experiences and family histories from the anthracite region. We spoke about ethnic divisions, company housing and shanty towns, as well as gardens and foodways. We also had the pleasure of meeting the grandson of our favorite cookie provider, Anne from Pardeesville. But, after spending a good portion of the day at our own booth, a couple of us took the opportunity to check out what else was going on at Patch Town Day.

As we meandered through the town we met a lovely couple selling homespun yarn made of Merino wool as well as candles and hand-knitted scarves. In an enclosure next to their stand were two goats, an adult and an adolescent, both happily munching on straw. We stopped for a moment to admire and pet them while asking the couple to tell us more about their farm. Later, as we made our way to the food stands, drawn by the enticing scent of pierogis and halupki, we stopped to talk with a volunteer interpreting the role of a farmer. He told us all about his garden, filled with tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, and zucchini, as well as assorted spices and herbs. He then directed us to a period kitchen where his wife was serving homemade pickles and pickled beets made with 19th century equipment. After we ate our fill, we returned to our booth where we continued to enjoy more conversations with passersby.

At 4:30 PM, we packed up our stand and headed down the road to listen to a live band that played until the close of the event. One by one, members of our crew trickled home, leaving only a few of us still listening to the band. It was during this time, while the last of our group was still enjoying the music, that a very nice guy walked over and introduced himself as Vincent. Offering us beverages, we joined him at his table where we met his girlfriend, Maria. After chatting for quite some time, Maria offered to take us exploring around the outskirts of Eckley, including the old cemetery, the very next day. We readily accepted her invitation, and eagerly awaited the following day’s journey.

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