Celebrating cultural heritage: Anthracite Mining Heritage Month program will focus on the Irish, Italian, Polish, Rusyn and Welsh cultures of Greater Pittston miners
In 2018, the Greater Pittston Historical Society hosted an ethnic event in conjunction with Anthracite Mining Heritage Month. On Wednesday, Jan. 25, for the 2023 Heritage Month, they are reprising the event billed as a Forum on Five Northeastern Pennsylvania Ethnic Groups, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Cosgrove Room of the Pittston Memorial Library, 47 Broad St., Pittston.
Two of the speakers from 2018 are coming back — author Stephanie Longo, who will share insights on the Italians, and Jim McFarland, who will discuss the Irish.
On her website, Longo is described as an Italian American historian who “has dedicated her life to celebrating and focusing on her family’s heritage. Born in Scranton, she holds dual Italian citizenship and descends from the towns of Guardia Lombardi, Avellino Province, and Lamezia Terme, Catanzaro Province, Italy. Specializing in immigration, her books aim to give people a glimpse of Italian life in NEPA — past and present.”
In an email, she wrote, “From food to cultural events, to mining and rail work, the Italians of Northeastern Pennsylvania have placed their own unique stamp on our area’s ethnic culture, and it is a privilege and honor to be able to share this story during this program.”
McFarland’s bonafides include being the descendent of a great-grandfather and great-granduncle, Thomas and James Gallagher, who were killed in a gas explosion in a shaft in Jenkins Twp. in 1882. McFarland has done a deep dive into his own Irish background and Irish ethnicity in the Greater Pittston area.
Beth Landmesser is a new speaker at the forum. Landmesser got hooked on Welsh culture and immigration in 1990 when she attended Welsh Heritage Week in Wilkes-Barre. Today she is the executive director of Welsh Heritage Week, an organization that promotes Welsh culture one week in July all round the country and every five years in Wales. As executive director, she organizes and manages this week-long course. In 2012, in Scranton, she was presented with the Heritage Medallion at the Grand Banquet of the North American Festival of Wales, a celebration of Welsh singing and culture held annually on Labor Day weekend. She said the theme of her talk is the Welsh contribution to Anthracite region culture. The Edwardsville eisteddfod, a singing poetry competition, is one example of this influence.
Jan Lokuta, an artist and historian known for his annual church tours and children’s art events, is a newcomer to the ethnic forum. He’ll talk about the Polish and Rusyn.Lokuta, whose family has lived in Dupont since the early 1880s, will speak about the history and culture of the two similar, but distinct, Slavic people and examine how their cultures played out when they arrived in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
In an email he wrote, “In particular, I will explain how, and more importantly why, the cultural attributes and religious traditions of Poles and Rusyns, a people who speak a Ukrainian dialect, brought them into conflict with the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, and its consequences. Finally, I will suggest how attendees can still experience, first hand, aspects of these two cultures right here in the Greater Pittston area in the present day.”
Both Julio Caprari, president of the Greater Pittston Historical Society, and Bob Wolensky, chairman of the Anthracite Heritage Foundation and organizer of Anthracite Mining Heritage Month, agree the event is important and historically rich.
“Well, we knew we wanted to participate.” Caprari said of the historical society. “We brainstormed. Bob had a few ideas. We decided on the ethnic forum. It’s important we keep our ethnic ties from fading away.”
In an email Wolensky wrote, “Northeastern Pennsylvania is a true American melting pot and I think it’s important that we know about our ancestors and remember what they endured as coal miners, garment workers, and in any number of other occupations. They left us a great legacy. So good to see that the GPHS has organized this program.”
Anthracite Mining Heritage Month events
Other Anthracite Mining Heritage Month events related to Pittston include:
Saturday, Jan. 14 — “An Evening of Anthracite Region Music,” featuring musicians Jay Smar, folk singer; Don Shappelle and the Pick-ups, and John Stanky, local polka legend and member of the International Polka Hall of Fame, at Susquehanna Brewing Company, Pittston, from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Emcee is Ed Philbin. SBC beverages and a food truck will be available.
Tuesday, Jan. 17 — “A History of Anthracite Region Breakers,” which will feature Bill Lukasik, curator, Lukasik Photography, Dupont, as one of the presenters. The program, presented by the Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation (EPCAMR) and Earth Conservancy Inc., will be offered from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Earth Conservancy Building, 101 S. Main St., Ashley. In addition to Lukasik, speakers include Eric Bella, a mining engineer from Pottsville, and Sue Hand, an artist from Dallas. Moderator is Robert Hughes, EPCAMR. Refreshments will be served.
Sunday, Jan. 22 — Knox Mine Disaster commemorations include:
• Memorial Mass, 9 a.m. at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, 35 William St., Pittston.
• Public commemoration of the Knox Mine Disaster, 11 a.m. to 11:20 a.m. at the historical marker in front of Baloga Funeral Home, 1201 Main St., Port Griffith.
• The annual walk to the Knox Mine Disaster site along the Susquehanna River will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., weather permitting. Those participating will gather at the Baloga Funeral Home and travel to the site.
• Anthracite Heritage Museum’s annual Knox Mine Disaster Commemoration, “International Connections: Welsh and American Coal Heritage,” from 2 to 3:30 p.m. at the museum, 22 Bald Mountain Road, Scranton, and on Zoom and Facebook. Speakers include representatives of the Big Pit National Mining Museum in Wales. A mining memorabilia display will be presented by Mike and Linda Mostardi, Wayne. Refreshments will be served. Join the meeting at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81587673478?pwd=cDZUOCtPNkJQZHZtMlBkd0ttZUVRUT09. The program also will be broadcast on Facebook live from the AHM page.
Also, “Knox Mine Disaster,” a 2019 documentary film produced and directed by David Brocca, a West Pittston native, will be shown on WVIA-TV at noon Jan. 22, Jan. 26 and Jan. 27. “Knox ... A Disaster,” a WVIA documentary film written and narrated by Erika Funke in 1984, will follow at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 22, Jan. 26 and Jan. 27.