By Alan Murray, Uncharted Staff
I grew up in the Coal Region. In my hometown of Pottsville, Pennsylvania, there are abandoned coal shafts under the high school football field. There are pieces of anthracite coal scattered throughout the mountains where our cross-country team used to train. There are sink holes left over from mining throughout those hills and mountains where we also camped and hiked as Scouts. Coal is all over the place. And it was my job each day to shovel coal into buckets to be dumped into the furnace heating our home. You didn’t have to go far to find lumps of anthracite to put in Christmas stockings for a holiday practical joke.
There’s also the Necho Allen Hotel, now an apartment building, with mosaic blue and white depictions of mining life on its outer walls. Necho is the legendary discoverer of anthracite for the county. And there’s the Henry Clay monument, named after the Kentucky statesman beloved for his friendship to the coal industry, towering high above the city on an ivory white pedestal, his hand stretched out, welcoming visitors to this town full of history all tied to anthracite coal.
And there’s the Pottsville Maroons, a former NFL football team put together with coal miners and college stars by its eccentric owner. The team went on to win the NFL championship back in 1925. And while the title was later stripped, the Maroons put the then fledgling NFL on the map. There’s even a book by ESPN’s David Fleming chronicling the rise and fall of this team composed of breaker boys.
Mining is also in my family heritage and hits close to home. My grandfather was a coal miner and his brother was killed working in the mines. We even went to great lengths to feature anthracite in our high school yearbook. I remember our staff acquiring a huge section of anthracite which we had professionally scanned to give some historical texture to our cover. That cover went on to garner national recognition.
So anthracite coal was something I simply took for granted. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I began to appreciate this unique form of mineral coal when my photography teacher took our class on a field trip to Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine in nearby Ashland.
I remember the thrill of my first coal car ride into the mine. I remember wondering how I was going to take photos in such dreary light. And I remember the spark of appreciation that was kindled for men and boys like my grandfather and his brother who labored beneath this unique world of coal.
Memories like those led me back to Pioneer Tunnel for Uncharted’s latest feature, Pennsylvania Diamonds. And while I’m a little more experienced in photographing dim conditions and cameras no longer use film, the mine has remained unaltered by time, providing an authentic glimpse into our past and the lives of those who pioneered its dark caverns.
So, if you are up for an adventure that will take you beneath the surface and teach you a little bit of history, check out Ashland, Pennsylvania and it’s unique world of coal. For more helpful information on places and events in Schuylkill County, go to www.skookevents.com, a locally owned social media site that has helpful information about news, events and places in the area.