by Martin Heffron
This project of the Forest City Area Rotary Club pays homage to the miners and families of the coal region while exhibiting the inherent characteristics unique to Forest City, Pennsylvania.
Our ancestors’ journeys to the coal region were economical, social, political and/or personal. For whatever reason, the fact remains, coal miners and families from diverse cultures began a hard working way of life in Northeastern Pennsylvania. They established the heritage the world acknowledges as the “coal region” and it is appropriate to commemorate their livelihood.
Forest City’s memorial for the miners and families depicts anthracite coal mining life. The memorial is a cast bronze high relief panel 3’9” x 17’, segmented into four sections and arranged in a semi-circular configuration. The project is situated on Main Street in front of the William Penn Apartments.
The visual information of the design is composed making use of exaggerated perspective and a dramatic organization of space. The very nature of this “panoramic collage” allows for the vast amount of information to be exhibited in a seemingly limited space. To enhance the bronze relief, the elements within the panel are emphasized and de-emphasized according to importance and artistic judgment. All information within the design will be sculpted in their respective places.
THE PANEL DESIGN
In the early days of mining, as today, women played a vital role ensuring that home life was maintained. While young boys and men would work many hours mining, women would work many hours diligently taking care of daily chores.
Rising very early every morning, they would have breakfast and lunch pails prepared for boys and men, as well as other boarders residing in the company-owned homes. The nature of the mining industry left the women with the never ending task of cleaning and washing.
On the far left of the design, two women are viewed on the porch. While one watches her husband set off for the day’s work, the other helps scrub the dirt from her husband’s back. The panel is a custom design unique to Forest City. This is evident as the viewer recognizes the many churches and homes found in the wooded landscape of the area.
To the right of the landscape, a detailed view of the Clinton Breaker and train station, once landmarks of Forest City, are now preserved in bronze. Above the landmarks and within the clouds, are the indications of supporting timbers and a series of miner’s faces. The miners are wearing oil, carbide and electrical lamps typical of various time periods.
The coal region is a melting pot of many cultures; every possible ethnic background has in some way contributed to its history. However, certain towns and patches were developed and are known to be dominated by specific cultural heritages. The Forest City Miners’ Memorial displays miners and families of different ethnic backgrounds. To further enhance Forest City’s uniqueness, individuals who resided in Forest City were used for some of the faces within the memorial. These individuals represent the pride and ethnic diversity found within Forest City.
To become a Miner, many tasks were required. Young boys, approximately 7-12 years of age, would begin to work as Slate Pickers or Breaker Boys. As displayed in the design, below the miners, these boys would spend their time removing debris from the anthracite. The spraggers, also displayed, were usually teenage boys who would have the dangerous jobs of stopping the coal cars. By running along side of the moving car and jamming a piece of wood into the wheels, they accomplished their task. The Mule Driver was assigned to the care and welfare of the mules. Many young men and boys were hurt or killed before they were considered “Coal Miners.”
On the far right of the design as the experienced miner sends coal down the chute, the apprentice loads the coal car by hand. Like most of the people who grew up in the coal region, I could recall my father coming home covered with coal dirt, or listening to the many stories miners would tell. These are important memories that enhance the quality of this memorial’s design.
The concept for the memorial was generated by the people who recognized and respected our rich heritage. Personally, my family and friends have inspired me in this endeavor. In fact, they have been the richest sources of research and development for me. The coal region environment has allowed me the access to original tools, equipment and clothing as well as the experiences of the people, for which this memorial is being created.