Mahanoy City: The End Of Coal Country

Sep 21, 2016

On episode 01 of Grapple, we explore how Mahanoy City transformed from a vibrant coal town into a distressed community struggling with job loss, low home values, blight, and fire. 

You’ll hear stories about how residents have had to deal with house fires, what’s being done about blight, and poetry that captures the town’s coal mining past.


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The Miner, 1925. Painting by George Benjamin Luks
Credit National Gallery of Art

As part of his research on the lives and stories of Slavic immigrants in Pennsylvania’s coal region, Nick Kupensky, a Yale graduate student, translated some of the poems of Emil Kubek. At the turn of the 20th century — when the coal industry was booming in Mahanoy City — Kubek served as a priest at St. Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Church.  

“Lullaby to a Miner’s Child”

By Emil Kubek

Oh sleep, my sweet child!…
Underneath the ground bursts…
Do you hear the terrible noise of the earth?…
Your father is working in the mines oh so deep,
When the earth shakes, that’s him who rocks you to sleep.

Oh sleep, my sweet child!
That noise, it’s your dad,
From under the earth he’s bringing home bread;
Deep in the mines he works as hard as he can,
While peacefully dreams his young little man!

Oh you haven’t yet tasted of life’s bitterness,
My dove, my sweet child:
Right now your life’s blessed.
Someday you’ll encounter
Old age and sadness –
You’ll go to mine coal –
Amidst darkness and rubble,
You’ll fight death and will struggle…
But now sweetly sleep,
Like in heaven, my child!
God will make things all right!
Sleep my dear baby, good night!

From the depths of the night some people appear,
Mother answers the door and trembles with fear…

“Don’t cry, poor lady,” they comforted her,
“Your husband’s breathed his last breath.
In the depths of the earth he valiantly worked,
In the depths of the earth he met a quick death!

Oh what a terror! The mine suddenly shook,
A flame blazed in a terrible shock,
In a deafening blast, the walls then collapsed,
And they all were buried in piles of rocks.

Everyone died!…Only we survived
Amongst the smoke and the cries and the strife…
We found your husband just barely alive.
With sadness he quietly asked for his wife:

‘Help me, my dear, my life’s almost done’
And the last words he whispered were meant for his son,
‘Sweetly sleep,
Like in heaven, my child!
God will make things all right!
Sleep my dear orphan, good night!’”