In late 1897, a few months after the Lattimer Massacre, a reporter and artist from the Century Magazine came to the towns of Lattimer No. 1 and 2 to report on the social conditions in the town. In a previous post we reported on their fascinating but biased observations of the company town landscape. Despite their biased intentions, the authors are observant, and offer a rare portrait of individuals and relationships in the town in unprecedented detail. Jay Hambridge, an artist, provides sketches of the region and its people. In a scientific mode popular at the time, he selected individuals from different ethnic backgrounds to represent what he perceived as a typical member each of the groups residing together in the town. His purpose here is to not explicitly depict any particular individual, but to abstract each person into a representative form. To emphasize this the portraits are arranged throughout the articles with captions such as “The Hun”, “The Italian”, “The German”, “A Factor in the Problem. (Italian.)”, etc. Occasionally names are mentioned in the text, but most often they are concealed to heighten the anonymity of each member. We decided to do some sleuthing. The great value of this historic document is the way in which it depicts the faces of people long forgotten by the community: the great power of this kind of representation to reach across the decades. Can we undo the anonymity Hambridge assumed over his subjects?
In our years of research through census records, interviews and company documents we have also come to see portraits of individuals beneath abstracted notions of ethnic community. This recognition comes through a familiarity with many family names with long histories in the towns: Schleppy, Hanley, Gallagher, Tate, DeLorenzo, Matz, Cusat, Horspodor, Haraschak, DeFluri…. the list goes on and on. Moreover, through our conversations with community members, individuals are recollected and the trajectories of their individual lives are drawn out: joyous, tragic, generous, strict, historic. It is always a pleasant shock when we see a faded black and white photo and a community member is able to recount the names and familial relationships of each person in the photo. The image we have arrived at is a network of nested categories: individuals, families, communities, each scale producing its own special character in the life of the town. This is the antidote to Hambridge’s method cited above.
On page 827 Hambridge describes “a Hun” named John J—-. That is his drawing above. Here is the description he gives:
John J– was a « fiery Hun» after I had made a sketch of him and he realized what the polite request to sit still a short time meant. He stamped up and down the floor like an angry bull. It was a <<blank shame>> he bellowed; and his broken English enabled me to understand that the shame consisted in making an honest workman sit still while a lot of foolishness was being played upon him. John hasn’t a very prepossessing face. His heavy jaw, coarse skin, and piercing eyes have little suggestion of a gentle nature. The general character of the Hungarian as he is found in the mining region is summed up in him. With a sturdiness of physical force there is combined a stupid stubbornness that makes him almost unapproachable. Six weeks previous, this man had his right hand so shattered by an explosion of dynamite that it required amputation. Now he is at work again, with the stump bandaged and tied in black oil-cloth, using high explosives with apparently the same freedom as before.
« Aren’t you afraid you will get injured again?» I ask.
« No,» he growls; « me no afraid».
We have two clues here:
1) a portion of a name “John J—-“
2) and an injury and a date.
Luckily, all colliery injuries are listed by name in the Report of the Bureau of Mines of the Department of Internal Affairs of Pennsylvania. In the volume for 1897 a listing is made for August 27, 1897 for “John Jacobition, 39 years old, married, working in Lattimer No. 2 colliery”. On that date he had his “Hand blown off; while in the act of recharging a hole with powder it exploded.” We have our man!
The next step is to investigate the employee record card collection we transcribed from the Lattimer company records (described previously in this post). Indeed, John Jacobition is listed on card number 985. His nationality is listed as “Slavic” and place of birth as “Austria”. His birth year is 1858. His church is listed as “Greek Catholic (G.C.)”. His job is listed as Strip Miner and his wages set at “2.08”. So now we know quite a bit about Mr. Jacobition’s work life. As the cards mostly cover the period after 1900, it seems he moved from underground work to stripping labor in the time after the Century article. He still lives in Lattimer. The shifting political and social definitions of ethnicity and nationality made our “Hun” a “Slav”, born in Austria. This likely designates some portion of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The real goldmine comes when we search the census records for John. At first a search for Jacobition was unsuccessful, but it is always a good idea to check alternative spellings. No comparable names showed up in the 1900 or 1880 census, but in 1910 here is what we found under the name “Gockobishen”:
John continued work as a miner at least until 1910. He lived on Center Street in Pardeesville. We now have his date of immigration as 1883. We also learn he immigrated accompanied by a wife from Austria, Mary Gockobishen. There are four daughters and one son in the household. One daughter, Ella, works in the Duplan Silk mill at age 18. One son already works in the mines at age 17. From interviews and government reports we know that income from children working contributed greatly to household income. A government report from 1911 suggested that in the coal region children’s incomes provided as much as 38% of total household incomes at the time.
Our search does not end here though. A search on a genealogy website gives us an entry for the name George Jacobition in a draft registration card for the First World War. He is listed as working for “Pardee Bros. + Co.” at the time. It is June 5, 1917. Under dependents he lists a mother and father, Mary and John. He is listed as tall with light hair and of medium build. The card notes that he is able bodied and has not lost any limbs in mine work. Under a side note it lists five married sisters and a married brother, two of whom may have already left the house at the time of the 1910 census.
At the bottom of the first card there is George’s own signature. It features the whirly flourishes typical of the handwriting of the time. But it is also quite distinctive and confident: far from that of an “anonymous Hun”.