Local Coal Mining Historian To Celebrate 100th Birthday
This is a year of anthracite mining anniversaries and one to be noted on Memorial Day and on the following day may be the most tearful of 2019. Bill Hastie, who lived coal mining history and then talked and wrote about it with gusto, will reach the 100-year milestone. Hastie, of West Pittston, is a guest at the Community Living Center at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center. He can still spin a yarn to a visitor or he can fill in a historical gap, helping others as they write of Northeast Pennsylvania’s anthracite era. The Hastie family reunion, timed with the 100th birthday in mind, will be held Memorial Day at Frances Slocum State Park. It will be mainly a family and by-invitation event. Bob Wolensky, the historian who collaborated with Hastie on a book, will be there because a family commitment precludes his attendance Tuesday. Hastie’s daughter, Megan, said the celebration Tuesday is 5 to 8 p.m. at the VA Community Living Center pavilion. This occasion is for friends, neighbors, family and the community. In case of bad weather, the celebration will be moved to the recreation room on the CLC’s second floor. “More important than anything will be the presence of family, friends, and neighbors,” Megan Hastie said. Hastie loves to tell stories. Some are humorous and others are deadly serious, including his role in rescuing men from the Knox Mine. He was born, second of six children, in West Pittston on May 28, 1919, son of Aaron and Sarah Tilley Hastie. His mom was Welsh-American and his dad was Scottish-American. Hastie was baptized at the Welsh Congregational Church in Pittston, but subsequently attended the First Presbyterian Church of Pittston, of which he remains a member. He lived his life in West Pittston, most of it residing in a modest home on Delaware Avenue. After graduating from West Pittston High School in 1936, where he participated in track and baseball, Hastie found it difficult to land a job in the Depression-era United States: He cut grass, picked apples and did a brief stint in a silk mill. Following service in World War II, Hastie took government-funded Green Thumb jobs, obtaining positions at WVIA public television station; the Children’s Museum in Forty Fort, where he was a guide and Wyoming Historical & Geological Society where he did an inventory of museums. But it is the mining industry connection that is Hastie’s legacy. His father-in-law, Bill Groves, a mine superintendent at Knox, helped him get a job in the 1950s. The Knox had operations on both sides of the Susquehanna River and Hastie “rode the rope” in guiding coal cars down the slope at the Schooley workings in Exeter. He then became a laborer, at $12 a day. The Knox disaster site is on the east side of the river, at Port Griffith in Jenkins Twp. Knox Coal Company, founded in 1943, leased the Ewen Colliery workings from the Pennsylvania Coal Company. On Jan. 22, 1959. Hastie was due to work the afternoon shift and he walked to work, only to meet his foreman who said, “Billy, we have trouble here.” Knox had allowed mining to within 20 feet of the river bottom, Hastie said, and the swollen stream broke into the workings at 11:20 a.m. Twelve men died and three of those miners were at the coal face where Hastie would have been working had the accident happened later in the day. Hastie helped rescue some of the 69 miners who escaped. He was on patrol on the railroad track running along the river. A miner in working clothes approached and he told Hastie that he had come out of the mine through the Eagle air shaft, a shaft that Hastie had never known of before that day. Hastie and others dropped wire cables and ropes which the miners used to scale the air shaft. Others inside had been warned to flee before the onrushing water made escape impossible. Hastie later worked in the manufacturing of truck bodies and for Conrail, the successor to the railroads that once hauled coal from the Wyoming Valley. He also served a term on West Pittston Borough Council. Hastie’s wife, the former Elizabeth Groves, died in 1996. The anthracite mining connection has shaped his legacy. In his 1990s, he co-authored Anthracite Labor Wars with Dr. Wolensky. Hastie married Elizabeth (Betty Jane) Groves in 1950. Their four children include daughter Megan Hastie, Barrytown, New York; William Jr., Madison, Alabama; Trevor, West Pittston, and Christina Hastie, Wilkes-Barre.