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Knox Mine Disaster memorial events curtailed due to COVID

Every January since 1999, the Anthracite Heritage Foundation has commemorated the Knox Mine Disaster in Pittston.

That commemoration — marking the 1959 flooding of the Knox Mine when the Susquehanna River broke through the roof of the mine on Jan. 22, killing 12 — grew over the years into Anthracite Heritage Month, and the foundation was not going to let regional history go unmarked this year in spite of the current pandemic and health guidelines.

“It all came together,” said King’s College adjunct professor Bob Wolensky, vice president of the Anthracite Heritage Foundation.

Most lectures and events for the month will be held over Zoom, which Wolensky said he has found advantageous over the course of planning.

“One of the advantages of Zoom is we can bring in people like Richard Healey,” he said, highlighting the professor from the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom. Healey will speak during a program on Wednesday, Jan. 27.

“There’s a lot of people who come from far and wide to study our history,” Wolensky said.

St. John the Evangelist Church in Pittston will host the annual Knox Mine Disaster Memorial Mass at 9 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 17. There will be no ceremony at the monument outside of Baloga Funeral Home in Pittston or walk to the nearby disaster site following this year’s Mass, however. Mass will be available online at st.johnspittston.com.

On Tuesday, Jan. 19, the National Industrial History Museum in Bethlehem will host “Anthracite Today: A Photographic Narrative” featuring Dane Rhys of the International Center of Photography. The program will take place over Zoom and the meeting link is available at www.nmih.org/event/anthracite-today/.

King’s College and the Anthracite Heritage Foundation will virtually host the annual Monsignor John J. Curran Lecture on Thursday, Jan. 21. This year’s speaker, Paul Shackel of the University of Maryland, will discuss the Latimer Massacre of 1897 with moderator Thomas Mackaman of the history department at King’s College.

The Luzerne County Historical Society will host a virtual program on “Family Life in the Coal Region” on Friday, Jan. 22. Speakers will include Mark Ricetti, director of operations and programs for the historical society; Tristin Millazzo, Cumberland County Historical Society, and Nicole Kolessar, University of Delaware.

The Anthracite Heritage Museum in Scranton will host the annual Knox Mine Disaster Commemoration on Saturday, Jan. 23, featuring speaker Bode Morin and music by Jay Smar.

The ceremony also will include a tribute to William A. Hastie Sr., the last survivor of the Knox Mine Disaster who died last year at the age of 101, Wolensky said.

On Monday, Jan. 25, Michael Korb of the American Institute of Mining Engineers will present research on Northeastern Pennsylvania residents who earned the Carnegie Hero Medal, an honor bestowed to those who exhibit heroism in the course of their duties. Wolensky said he looked forward to Korb’s program in particular.

Healey will speak Wednesday, Jan. 27, as part of the Lackawanna Historical Society’s contribution to the month. He will discuss recent findings in his research on the miners of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad Coal Department during the Civil War era.

The month will close with an information session Saturday, Jan. 30, about a trip Wolensky and others in the Heritage Foundation are planning with the Anthracite Heritage museum. In July, they hope to visit Scotland, England and Wales with anyone interested in joining to see their research methods to document local history.

“We’re trying to preserve local history in Northeast Pennsylvania,” Wolensky said. “We’re working very hard, but over there, they are far ahead of us.”

Despite the changes that had to happen this year, Wolensky is looking forward to recognizing the region’s heritage as they have since 1999.

“We all thought, to keep it going, let’s try to do something,” he said. “It really came together.”

For details on the events, visit the Anthracite Heritage Foundation website at ahfdn.org.

A snowman for Parker

Last December 25, my daughter woke her little boy saying, “Guess what, Parker? It’s Christmas!” The first words out of his mouth were, “Is it snowing?”

Parker had just turned 3 and had seen enough shows on TV and had enough holiday books read to him that he naturally associated Christmas with snow. He had no way of knowing the average snowfall where he lives, in Austin, Texas, is 0.3 inches, or pretty much none. A few flakes may flutter down once in a while, but they typically melt as soon as they hit the ground.

Austin did have a measurable snowfall once, 6.5 inches to be exact. But that was on Jan. 30, 1949. The number of times Austin has had a “White Christmas” is never.

With the pandemic ruling out air travel, at least for me, I have not seen my grandson Parker in person for more than a year (he turned 4 on Dec. 2) and have yet to see his little 2-month-old brother, Bennett, and my 7-month-old grandson, Malcolm, who lives in L.A. But, thanks to the magic of FaceTime, we’ve all seen each other virtually. And that has allowed me to bring snow into Parker’s world.

I shared that Dec. 16 snow storm as it happened. I waited until nightfall when the falling snow would be more visible, and “took” Parker out to my front yard. About half of the 18 inches that would be on the ground by morning already had fallen and Parker was fascinated when I aimed the camera at my feet and trudged through the snow kicking it up with my boots as I went along. Then I pointed the camera at the streetlight on the corner where the illuminated flakes looked twice as big and we watched them together just the way I did as a kid living in this same house hoping school would be cancelled the next day. By the time we said our goodbyes and threw virtual kisses, I was covered from head to toe. Parker got a big kick out of that, too.

How different that light, fluffy snow was from the 3 inches that fell this past Sunday night into Monday, and as I shoveled Monday morning I made a mental note to explain this to Parker. Either through a text message or during our next FaceTime visit, I must tell him how some snow is good for snowballs and some not, I thought.

And then got an even better idea. I can show him.

I put down the shovel and got the ball rolling. Literally. I started to build a snowman.

I had been shoveling for about two hours and my mittens were soaked and I needed to pee, but all that discomfort went out the window when I packed together a big snowball and started rolling it around the front yard. The smile this was going to put on Parker’s face was all the motivation I needed.

I hadn’t built a snowman since my kids were little, and I must admit I did wonder how my 71-year-old body would handle this. But when the snow is as perfect as it was that day, the project starts to come together quickly. The base was done in no time, and so too, it seemed, was the middle. And that’s when the memory of just how heavy snow can be came roaring back. It took every ounce of strength I had, and some I truly didn’t, to hoist that thing into place.

I live on a busy corner and more than one friend came to a stop, put down the car window and shouted, “You’re too old to be building a snowman.”

“I appreciate the warning,” I called back to one of them, “but my knees beat you to it.”

Thanks to the heavy winds of late, finding sticks for arms was simple, as was getting my wife to toss me a carrot for his nose. But things got tricky after that. Would you believe that here in Northeastern Pennsylvania I could not find two pieces of coal for his eyes? The irony is delicious.

I settled on a couple of maraschino cherries which I must say looked eerie as I set them in place.

I loaned my snowman my own hat and scarf and then made a video for Parker.

My daughter videoed his response right back and guess what? His favorite part was what he called “his red, glowing eyes.”

I told him I was pretty sure the squirrels in the neighborhood were going to like them, too. Along with the carrot.