So January is Anthracite Mining History Month, right? Not exactly.
For 2018, the month is designated as Anthracite Mining Heritage Month. Bob Wolensky, one of the founders and organizers of the month, said the word ‘heritage” was added to the name to “broaden the scope” of the month’s events.
An example of a new event on the month’s calendar was a program on the art of Remo Trieste Russo at the Lackawanna Historical Society’s Caitlin House earlier in the month. Russo painted mining scenes in the 1940s when he worked for the Pagnotti Coal Company. Presenter Charles Kumpus billed the 12-painting group as “A Day in the Life of an Anthracite Miner: The Remarkable Coalmining Artwork of Remo Trieste Russo.”
On Thursday here in Pittston a program will explore Anthracite heritage through ethnicity when the Greater Pittston Historical Society presents “Ethnicity in the Anthracite Region: An Appreciation of Five Local Heritage Groups” at 7 p.m. in the John’s the Evangelist Church basement, 35 Williams St., Pittston.
Moderator Ron Faraday will introduce five expert presenters to talk about the immigration patterns and the cultures of different ethnicities.
Carol Gargan will talk about Lithuanians, Jim McFarland, Irish; Fiona Powell, Welsh; Stephanie Longo, Italians, and Christine Patterson, Africans.
Gargan, from Clifford, Susquehanna County, said this is a good year to educate people about Lithuanian immigration as it is the anniversary of Lithuanian independence in 1918. She said the independence movement had “deep roots here in northeast Pennsylvania.”
The theme of her talk is “The Uniqueness of the First Wave of Lithuanian Immigration Here and in Europe.” Gargan has a wealth of knowledge about Lithuanian culture in NEPA. Here are two samples she wrote about in an email: The oldest continuously published Lithuanian newspaper in the world, Draugus, (Friend), was founded in Wilkes-Barre in 1909 for the coal miners of NEPA. Today it is published in Chicago for Lithuanians throughout the world.
In proportion to its population, the only country that lost more of its population to immigration than Lithuania was Ireland. NEPA is considered the oldest area of settlement for Lithuanians outside of Lithuania.
McFarland, the GPHS treasurer, said he will talk about the influx of Irish immigration in the second half of the 19th century after the Great Potato Famine in the 1840s. McFarland said a lot of Irish immigrants who were discriminated against in New York and Philadelphia wound up in NEPA working in the anthracite mines. Among those immigrants were McFarland’s great-grandfather and great-granduncle, Thomas and James Gallagher, who were killed in a gas explosion while working in a shaft in Jenkins Twp. in October 1882. Thomas left one son, seven daughters and an immigrant widow.
Powell, who lives near Milton, is well equipped to talk about Welsh immigration. She’s a native of Wales, an immigrant and a professional storyteller. She said she will talk about “Welsh immigration and its impact on mining industry.” She said the Welsh were always miners going back to prehistoric times. When the anthracite industry was burgeoning in the late 1880s and early 1900s, anthracite representatives went to Wales to recruit miners to come to NEPA. She said many of them went back to Wales after working here for 20 years. “I met men in Wales whose grandfathers were miners in Pennsylvania.”
Longo is the author of “Dunmore” and “The Italians of Northeastern Pennsylvania,” as well as the forthcoming “Italians of Lackawanna County” and the founder of SIAMO, a regional Italian-American heritage society.
She said her presentation will focus on the Italian festivals of our region, specifically those that currently take place annually in Lackawanna County, but the talk is not all about festivals.
“I pepper in the immigration info with the festivals. It helps people understand what happens at the festivals, as well as what happened when the immigrants arrived,” she said.
In an email Longo wrote about NEPA towns with strong Italian populations in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties. “Both counties appear in the Top 20 “Most Italian” cities and towns in the nation per the 2015 American Communities Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau. In Lackawanna County, Dunmore Borough was ranked No. 12 and Old Forge was ranked No. 17. In Luzerne County, Jenkins Twp. was ranked No. 15, West Pittston was ranked No. 16 and Hughestown was ranked no. 19.”
Christine Patterson has a surprise for mining history fans: There were many African-American mine workers in the NEPA anthracite mines. Patterson began her decades-long quest to document Black mine workers after a professor at Penn State Hazleton campus told her there were no black miners in NEPA. “Well, there had to be at least one,” she remembers saying, talking about her father James Patterson.
Her research began with her aunt Alice Patterson Patience who told her about others of their ancestors who had been mine workers.
In her talk, Patterson will look at the pre-1870s migration of African-American coal miners to the area through black frackers in the 1970s. “Who were they? Why did they come?” Patterson said in a phone interview from Atlanta where she is retired, having been a professor at Indiana Purdue University, Fort Wayne and Pennsylvania State University, University Park and Hazleton.
She answered her second question. “They wanted to educate their children, live in a decent home under decent conditions. They wanted to live like other Americans. They came from the south where they didn’t have those opportunities.”
She said a photograph of Percy Patience, a black breaker boy from West Pittston, hung in the Anthracite Museum, where nobody knew he was a black kid until Patterson saw it and recognized him.
Wolensky said the five chosen speakers are well known for their expertise. He invites experts from other ethnicities to join the panel next year.