Pennsylvania’s Charter Day Has Eckley Miners’ Village Bustling

March 11, 2019
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Pennsylvania’s Charter Day Has Eckley Miners’ Village Bustling

FOSTER TWP. — A trip to Eckley Miners’ Village really opened Chris Sabalaske’s eyes.

“It’s interesting to learn about the past and see how people lived,” the Shavertown man said. “You realize how good you have it compared to what it was like back then.”

Sabalaske visited the preserved and restored anthracite mining town Sunday with his son, Klaus, 3. It was their first venture to the site, and Sabalaske planned it to coordinate with Eckley’s annual Charter Day celebration.

“I always wanted to come out here,” he said. “I heard about the free tour today and I decided to check it out.”

Charter Day is celebrated the second Sunday of March to commemorate the founding of Pennsylvania, and Eckley — as well as other state museums — opened its doors at no cost to visitors.

Not only did the free day come with tours of the village, visitors could peruse the museum, watch an introductory film, see art being created and listen to poetry readings.

Will and Sherry Stoner of Pine Grove brought their two sons to the event.

Sherry found out about the day while surfing the internet for things to do, Will said.

It was a first visit for all of them, except Sherry, who remembers a class trip from her Lebanon County school. Sherry and Trenton, 11, stopped inside the museum to look at old toys.

“Look at the sled,” she said, “and look at the tricycle.”

Trenton said he enjoyed learning about what children used to play with — but admitted that a toy train set was his favorite.

The Stoner family joined about two dozen other people for the first of two tours Sunday afternoon.

They stopped at the village’s churches, laborers’ tiny houses and more lavish mine boss residences to learn about what life was like during the 19th century.

Good turnout

Nicole Negron, a volunteer coordinator at Eckley, said she was pleased with the turnout.

She admitted that she had feared Sunday’s cold temperatures and rain would keep people home.

“It’s a nice turnout. Usually, we start seeing people after 1 p.m. on Sunday because they are attending church services,” she said. “But we had 20 people arrive right after we opened. They’re excited — especially for the tours.”

And once the tours were over, many visited the gift shop inside the former Immaculate Conception Church rectory.

There, they could purchase books, T-shirts, coal jewelry and Molly Maguire items.

Artist Tom Hartz of Lake Silkworth sells his original work at the museum and set up a temporary studio for Charter Day.

Hartz’s “canvasses” are pieces of slate that he collects from former mining operations.

“When I go to the breaker bank with my bucket and chisel, I’m thinking that a breaker boy or a miner handled this stuff, brought it out of the mine and discarded it,” he said of the slate. “I then turn it into something people can admire.”

He cuts the slate to size, cleans it, then paints coal miners on it. He incorporates the texture of the slate in his work, sometimes using the bumpy parts to accent lumps of coal or the innards of a coal mine.

“If people can see the mood, and the atmosphere where these guys and breaker boys worked, then my job is complete,” Hartz said, as he worked on painting a carbide lamp atop a miner’s head.

Back at the museum, attendees listened to poets read from their book, “Down the Dog Hole: 11 Poets on Northeastern Pennsylvania.” The words by Erin Delaney, Susan Jaffer, Nancy Dymond, Amanda Bradley and Laurel Radzieski were penned to reflect the Anthracite region.

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