This week I visited a small town in the mountains of Pennsylvania, where the coal industry had a major impact on life back in the 1800’s. Mauch Chunk (renamed Jim Thorpe in 1954) is full of history, much of it part of the disgusting, “profit-first” behavior that shaped America long ago and continues to characterize big business today. Pictured with the title in this post is the old Carbon County Jail, where the last of the following stories allegedly took place.
The short scenes below reflect things I learned while touring the town. They are untitled; my way of acknowledging the forgotten workers and families whose lives were full of unrelenting pain and suffering at the hands of the coal industry.
The land they loved had become politically dangerous and economically terrible.
Religious freedom waned.
Food was scarce- even potatoes.
America promised a better life if they could get there.
But the promise was fake.
“Help Wanted. No Irish Need Apply.”
Same shit, different continent.
But wait- help was needed in the coal mines.
Everybody welcomed. Housing provided.
Salary was roughly $1 a day; barely enough to buy food for the family at the company grocery.
The prices were high.
Shopping elsewhere was against company rules even if you could get there.
Shifts were 12 hours long with no break.
Six days a week.
Injury and death were everywhere.
But mercy, nowhere.
Welcome to America.
There was a knock on the door.
She was instantly sick with panic.
Opening up, she saw her husband.
Delivered by someone from the mine.
They told her she had 3 days to either get a replacement worker to the mine or move out of the house.
The coal company owned the house.
They put the body on the door step and left.
His wife flung herself against the gates, wailing to be let in to say goodbye.
Nobody inside would listen.
The large crowd outside stood silent, the traditional way of honoring those about to be executed.
Some of the wealthy were inside. They had bought tickets.
Tickets to watch the hanging.
The gallows were inside the main cellblock of the Carbon County Jail in the mountains of PA.
A coal company executive had been murdered.
The company had funded an investigation into the killings.
It was done by a private detective agency.
Several arrests were made by the coal company’s private police force.
The men were tried and convicted by the coal company’s attorneys.
In a public courtroom.
With murky evidence.
And little defense.
Goodbye Molly Maguires.
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