Misery Remembered: 3 Scenes From A Coal Town

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.

Many did.

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.

Job accepted.

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.

For more stories follow Todd and the rest of the staff at Wise & Shine, or follow Todd’s personal Five O’Clock Shadow blog. For Todd’s musical career, visit www.toddfulginiti.com

34 thoughts on “Misery Remembered: 3 Scenes From A Coal Town

    1. Thanks for reading VJ. I knew things were rough for the miners but I was shocked to hear the stories.

  1. Great impact with your post. It really let’s us see what life was like for those people. Such ruthlessness and insensitivity by employers

      1. Yes, and it’s good to remember so we can learn from the mistakes of the past

  2. Wow. The stark brutality comes through…and the image of the Carbon County jail? Foreboding and fearsome. Thank you for bringing all of this forward, Todd. I knew the lives of coal miners (and their families) in the region was challenging but I truly had no idea.

    1. Thanks for reading Vicki- we toured the jail – it was very interesting to see but just an uncomfortable place to be- bad vibes

      1. My pleasure. It was a powerful post. And yes – about the bad vibes. Have you ever toured Alcatraz? Or other old prisons? Wowza. Shivers.

      2. I’ve never been to SF, but we’re about an hour and a half from Philly and the Eastern State Penitentiary there is a popular old prison to tour- it’s said to be very haunted and full of ugly history. I think Al Capone had a luxury cell there for a bit. I’m not sure- I’ve never toured it but everyone I know who has says what a strange-feeling place it is.

      3. Well, if we ever get the blogger “caravan” up and running, we’ll need to schedule stops at various haunted prisons. Tour time! 🤣

    1. Thanks for sharing that- I hope they had a better experience than those in the stories I heard this week.

      1. Sadly, I think my maternal great grandfather was paralyzed in a mining accident and later died. He had returned to Russia then fled back during the Revolution. My dad’s family moved to the West Coast and cared somewhat better. But that generation suffered through the Great Depression, so my blessings came at their expense. Glad you learned some history during your trip.

      2. Sorry to hear about your great grandfather. It sounds like they all would have some fascinating stories to tell.

  3. This is a great history post! Interesting to learn about « The Land of Opportunity, USA) from a historical perspective.
    And Maybe it is true what I have heard so many times, «that we are living in a peaceful human era»
    Even though we still have a long way to go to Get to the perfect human society.

    1. Thanks Parisa! Today doesn’t seem like a peaceful era, but compared to other scenes and stories like these- I suppose it is.

  4. All of the sentences shocked me but this one ‘ Shopping elsewhere was against company rules even if you could get there’ that combined with the high prices it was really a condition close to slavery. I think we can find many workers still employed under such poor terms also nowadays. As you said, profit above all.

  5. I lived the past thirty years near there in coal township, pa. Very close to another historical place know as Centralia, where they had a huge underground mine fire back in the 60’s.

    Thanks for posting.

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