Monday, March 12, 2012

Anthracite Heritage Museum, Scranton, PA

First of all, anthracite is hard coal, and eastern Pennsylvania has the largest deposit of this almost pure carbon (92-98%) coal that burns hotter and cleaner than the coal found in western PA and elsewhere. My problem is that I can be easily distracted, as so many things interest me. So I spent time learning about coal mining and the textile industry of PA, instead of interviewing the curators on the Lithuanian archives, so I missed them, as they left on other business while I was wandering around their museum.

The docent reminded me that from age 27 I lived in an apartment with a coal furnace. I now remember the coal truck and the chute as coal poured into our basement coal bin. I vaguely remember dad shoveling coal, but don't remember how often he had to tend to it. The family coal bin story was of mom finding a litter of kittens behind the coal pile.

Coal fueled the industrial revolution here in the States, running steam engines, supporting railroads and providing power inland, away from waterways. According to the film in the museum, at one time there were 180,000 miners. Originally they were from the British Isles, but soon they employed immigrants from all over Europe, including Lithuania. Lithuanians are mentioned throughout the exhibit and there was also a diary from a Lithuanian. A large Lithuanian wayside cross carved by J. Ambrozaitis and a banner from Sacred Heart Lithuanian Church is on display.

I will have to double check with the curators to see if there are updates on the library and archive collection, but it was an interesting comment from my guide that no one has yet written a book about Lithuanians in Pennsylvania. I have a book on Latvians in Michigan, but will have to check for books on Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians in the other states. (I just went through a quick WorldCat search for Estonians and only found a book on Estonians in Oregon. There is mention of them in The New Jersey Ethnic Experience and there is some information on Estonians in Canada and Australia, but that is all I found for now.)

The short film they showed in the museum was composed of archival photos, showing the story of immigrants coming in through Ellis Island, and landing in the Wilkes-Barre to Scranton area, life in the mines, how children were put to work at an early age, how women went to work in the textile mills - mostly for silk and lace. 

Working in the mines has always been and still is a dirty and dangerous job, and I am sure the early workers were paid very little and made to work long hours. So it makes sense that unionization would have happened early in the mines - i.e. United Mine Workers. As I drove through Scranton I saw a statue of John Mitchell in front of the courthouse. It turns out he was one of the great unionizers who led the Great Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902. I saw a familiar face in the display of owners, workers and unions – Mary “Mother” Jones (1830-1930). I read Mother Jones magazine regularly for quite a few years, so her photo was familiar, but I had forgotten what she had done. She had organized women and men to protest working conditions. I believe I read she thought Mitchell had given up too quickly. (I am not going to look up these facts to see that I got them right – if you are interested, look it up.)
The film brought up another interesting idea – that churches were the ones that kept ethnic communities together, provided a connection with the homeland, a social gathering space, even practical services like savings. Do the Balts not trust American banks? Everyone seems to have their own credit unions. I feel like I am gathering material for more than one book, as this relates to my own observations of the Baltic communities. The churches are one of the strongest organizations in the Latvian community. I recently made the statement that I would join the local Latvian Lutheran church (even though I don’t agree with all of its teachings) if we could have one over-arching Latvian organization in Kalamazoo, that would oversee social, cultural, educational, spiritual, supportive work of the community. I notice the combination of church, social halls and other functions in the Lithuanian centers. I applaud the idea that Washington DC has one women’s auxiliary for all the Latvian functions.

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