For people outside of Northeastern Pennsylvania, the history of the patch town is often considered in regards to a few specific dimensions. Of course the work of the coal miners is understood to be the focus of these living and working places, occupying the energies of its communities and giving it a reason to exist. Secondarily, the isolation of the towns, their company -dominated character, is also considered as defining, historically, why a patch is what it is. This is the first post on the theme of looking at other dimensions of patch town life.
In our research we have found that while these very important narratives define these towns, there are also other stories to tell. There are other roles and historical relationships that stretch, challenge and diversify this narrative. First of all, the work in the mines involved many forms of labor other than the underground work. An army of ironworkers, carpenters, electricians, mechanics, equipment operators, supply managers, truck drivers and medical personnel were needed to keep things moving along. Aside from this, salaries from mine work were lean, and so families often had to find other ways to stay afloat. Factory work, particularly in local textile mills, was one way families could acquire extra cash. Men, women and children worked in these industries.
As opportunities in the mining industry began to diminish in the region, the children of miners had to look elsewhere for work or leave the region. This happened in the case of many instances where parents refused to allow their children to work in the mines, saving money carefully to educate their children.
There are other reasons folks left the towns. In the archives of the company, in newspaper sources and in the archaeological artifacts, we found evidence that the World Wars often took young folks away from the company town, introducing them to new roles, opportunities, places and experiences. As these situations sometimes result, sometimes they did not come back.
In 1917 miners and their sons were called up to support the country in its first major overseas war. On 6 April of this year the United States declared war on Germany, committing the American military, as well as the support of its domestic industries. Almost immediately, the Committee on Public Information was formed to convince the American people to support the effort. Labor and industry would be crucial to this effort, and with major unrest across the country in places of work, workers were courted with posters, films, and ceremonial events across the country to garner their support. In addition, the ethnic origin of much of American labor was considered a potential threat to the support of workers. Keep in mind that the Lattimer Massacre and its aftermath, in which recent immigrants from Eastern Europe and Italy were treated like “a dangerous foreign element”, was only twenty years before. At this time, their right to raise an American flag during the march was resisted by a posse of deputized locals, who removed a flag from their hands and tore it to pieces.
At 4:00 PM on 17 May 1917, with the First World War raging overseas, a flag raising ceremony was held at the No. 5 Colliery in Lattimer. The “Star Spangled Banner” was sung by children, as was “My Country Tis of Thee”, and lest the attendants wanted to sing along and did not know the words, they were provided in the program. The Liberty Band from Hazleton played three selections on this occasion and a Reverend Moorehead and Skillington said a few words. This is a very significant event in the history of the immigrant experience in Lattimer/ Pardeesville. Remembering that changes in foreign governments and economies were what drove or pushed the migrants to this place to begin with, this global history once again came into town to change these lives yet again. [stay tuned for the next posts in this series!]