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 Post subject: The Knox Mine Disaster and the Pennsylvania Coal Company
PostPosted: Sat Jan 21, 2012 8:40 pm 
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Joined: Thu Apr 02, 2009 7:16 pm
Posts: 479
Location: Anthracite Region of PA
The Knox Mine Disaster and the Pennsylvania Coal Company

Robert P. Wolensky and William A. Hastie (Guest Writers)

Published: January 21, 2012

On January 22nd the community will commemorate the 53rd anniversary of the infamous Knox Mine Disaster, the last of many mining catastrophes to strike the northern anthracite region.

Twelve men died when the Knox Coal Company mined illegally under the Susquehanna River at Port Griffith, near Pittston. The victims were: Samuel Altieri, John Baloga, Benjamin Boyer, Francis Burns, Charles Featherman, Joseph Gizenski, Dominick Kaveliskie, Frank Orlowski, Eugene Ostrowski, William Sinclair, Daniel Stefanides, and Herman Zelonis.

Fortunately, 69 workers managed to escape the billions of gallons of icy waters that coursed underground. Seven dodged icebergs for two hours under the leadership of surveyor Joe Stella before finding the only available exit - the abandoned Eagle Air Shaft. Twenty-six others wandered for over seven hours under assistant foreman Myron Thomas's direction before coming to the Eagle exit. Both the disaster break-in site as well as the air shaft have been clearly marked and can be visited along the new rails-to-trails path between the 8th Street Bridge in Wyoming and Cooper's Restaurant in Pittston. The disaster site is a solemn place.

While the immediate blame for the calamity has been rightly placed on the Knox Company and its owners -Louis Fabrizio, John Sciandra, Robert Dougherty, and August J. Lippi - the crucial role of the Pennsylvania Coal Company (PaCC) should not be forgotten.

For PaCC decided in the 1930s that the best way to boost profits was to lease coal veins and, eventually, entire collieries to a new breed of entrepreneurial subcontractor. The Knox Company was one such operation. It secured a PaCC lease in 1943, that granted access coal at the Schooley Colliery in Exeter. In 1954, Knox took another lease for sections of the Pittston and Marcy veins at the Ewen Colliery in Port Griffith. The Knox disaster occurred in the Pittston vein when the company ignored the state-sanctioned "stop lines" and removed the coal in a vein fatally close to the river bed.

Dozens of lease holding companies formed in the 1930s and 1940s to take advantage of a virtual underground land rush at PaCC. The agreements were issued mainly for so-called second and third minings, which involved "robbing the pillars" of coal remaining in a mine. The original miners left behind large blocks of anthracite to protect the internal structure of a mine. However, after the U.S. Supreme Court, in the famous "Penn Coal Case" of 1922, held that the coal companies were blameless for any damage caused by surface caving, the hurry was on to remove all the pillars. Who led the charge in the court challenges to the existing laws regarding liability for surface damage? The Pennsylvania Coal Company.

Many subcontractors and leaseholders at PaCC were well-known for disregarding mining laws, union-negotiated pay rates, and safety procedures. The miners referred to them as "butcher shops" and "slaughter houses." To make matters worse, many of the new lessee firms were owned by alleged members of organized crime, including the Knox Coal Company.

The mineworkers protested the often brutal and corrupt mining and labor practices at PaCC in a "labor war" that lasted between 1903 and 1935. In the final analysis, the workers could not overcome the powers aligned against them: the company, organized crime, and even the United Mine Workers Union which had become fully corrupt under the presidency of August J. Lippi between 1951-1965. Lippi's secret and illegal ownership of the Knox Coal Company speaks volumes about the woeful condition of the UMWA in the northern coal field.

The sad fact is that the demise of one of the country's first major business enterprises - which employed over 180,000 men and boys at its peak in 1913, and as many as 24,000 men as late as 1959 -involved not just "market" competition from other fuels.

It was also built upon malfeasance at various levels. Inadequate mining laws and weak state and federal mine inspectors did not help. And neither did coal operators such as the Pennsylvania Coal Company.

Prof. Wolensky is an adjunct professor at King's College. Mr. Hastie is a retired mineworker who lives in West Pittston. They are the co-authors of the forthcoming book, Anthracite Labor Wars, which focuses on labor relations and leasing practices at the Pennsylvania Coal Company between 1903 and 1935

Read more: ... z1k8wpdyow

Scott K
"Watch Your Top"

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