I grew up, and spent the first 40 years of my life, in Zerbe, Pennsylvania. (Known to the locals as “Newtown”). Located in the Western part of Schuylkill County, it is a small town (population just over 300) well accustomed to mining and coal-related jobs. In typical small-town fashion, everybody knows everybody else’s business, but they are usually the first ones to come to help others in their time of need.
I am a “coal-cracker” and proud of it. My father and grandfathers were involved in mining almost all of their lives, and when not actually working deep inside the mine itself, they were involved in other jobs which were directly related to coal. My paternal grandfather suffered a stroke at the mine one day. The mine owners refused to take him home so he walked to his house several miles away.
My maternal grandfather and my Dad contracted Black Lung. It’s a hideous disease that comes from the damage to your lungs after breathing in the coal dust for years. Almost everyone who ever worked in the mines contracts it to some degree. The miners or mine workers who have the disease are supposed to be entitled to a benefits program, but you have to pass several stringent “tests” before you are awarded benefits. Due to the tons of bureaucratic red tape and general “run around” that sometimes comes with dealing with the government and insurance companies (who now pay the benefits since the Social Security Administration stop accepting claims for disability due to the disease in 1973), many of them die before their cases are ever heard in court…
It’s hard and dangerous work, but Anthracite Miners were not afraid of hard work…it’s all they knew, and they did it to support their families. Many were immigrants who worked hard and suffered every day just because they wanted a better life for their families. Many were mere boys working 10 and 12 hours a day processing coal in the breakers. Some miners worked in “bootleg” mines, meaning they worked the land without the land owners or the government knowing about it. They were not trying to cheat anyone. They only wanted to make a living doing what they could with what was available to them.
The information on this site explains more about my heritage in general, Anthracite mining, the Coal Region of Pennsylvania with Schuylkill County specific information, and info on the Molly Maguires, a group of mine workers who rebelled against the wealthy mine owners because of conditions they were subjected to in the mines and in their daily lives.
** Special thanks go out to photographer Scott Herring, both for his generosity in allowing me to use his photograph on this site and for his many years of dedication in documenting and capturing the essence of the Anthracite region and the men (and women) who spent their lives in “Hard Coal Country” — most notably Schuylkill County. From one “coalcracker” to another, thank you my friend…