Category Archive 'Anthracite Region'
27 Jun 2012

Remembering Lakewood Park

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Quomodo sedet sola civitas.

General readers will need to bear with me. One of the basic functions of my blog is to pass along items I would otherwise be emailing to friends.

I grew up in the Anthracite region of Northeastern Pennsylvania, one of the principal centers of Lithuanian settlement in the United States. The coal mining industry expired after WWII. Americans had en masse converted to oil for domestic heating, and new post-War environmental regulations made extracting coal below the water-table impossible.

Nothing ever replaced Anthracite coal mining. Over the next 60 years after the last colliery shut down for good, essentially everyone who could walk left after graduating from high school. Populations dwindled, and once prosperous towns became almost ghost towns.

One renowned local institution after another closed down as the years went by.

A friend from back home, now living in Maryland, last night, sent me this video remembering our long-gone local amusement park.


At least the fine old Lakewood carousel survives and is today still being enjoyed by young and old in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Would you believe that I can look at this video and find the particular horse I preferred as a small child?

Hat tip to Henry Bernatonis.

15 Mar 2012

Happy Ides of March!

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When I was in high school, I had Latin in 9th and 10th grade. Our Latin teacher had a curious personal custom. He sacrificed annually, in honor of Great Caesar, on the Ides of March, the male student in each class who had offended him by doing the least work and/or being the most disruptive influence. He sacrificed additionally one female student from each class whose selection, I fear, was based only upon his own capricious whim and covert sexual attraction.

The sacrifice consisted of the victim being bent over a desk and receiving three strokes of a paddle, delivered by a six foot, 250 lb+. Latin teacher laying on the strokes with a will and putting his weight behind them. (I won’t name him.) Mr. X’s paddle was a four foot long piece of 1 1/2″ thick pine, produced in our high school’s wood shop by General Curriculum students, who did not take Latin, but admired Mr. X. The paddle was roughly in the form of a Roman gladius, and its surface was scored by a series of regular lines, because it was generally believed that a blow from an uneven surface was more painful.

Mr. X had a fixed policy of assigning the duty of construing the day’s Latin assignment on the blackboard in strict and completely predictable order, going up and down the aisles of desks. Two or three of the smart kids would always actually do the Latin, and it was our recognized duty to supply the translations in advance to the person who would be going to the blackboard.

Readiness to translate correctly was really vital, because Mr. X would apply his dreaded paddle to anyone who failed to write out the day’s assignment correctly on the blackboard. It was rare, but every once in a while some truly feckless idiot would neglect to seek out Kenny Hollenbach, Jack Rigrotsky, or yours truly, and would arrive at the blackboard, chalk in hand, unprepared.

Mr. X typically broke the current paddle over the defaulter’s posterior, and the mental defectives in shop class would gleefully commence the fabrication of a new, yet more elaborate, edition of the famous paddle.

Every March 15th, two 9th and 10th grade Academic Curriculum sections would look on with the same sadistic interest of Roman spectators at the gladitorial games, as Mr. X conducted his sacrifices. I can recall that he struck the pretty strawberry blonde with the well-developed embonpoint so hard that he raised dust from her skirt. We were a bit puzzled that girls actually submitted to being beaten with a paddle for no reason, but all this went on undoubtedly because the legend of Mr. X the fierce disciplinarian had enormous appeal in our local community. The whole thing was fascinating, and it all made such a good story that everyone, student and adult, in their heart of hearts, enthusiastically approved.

Mr. X would never be allowed to get away with that kind of thing today, alas! In Hades, poor Caesar must do without his sacrifice. And it is my impression that Latin instruction has rather overwhelmingly also become a thing of the past. Kids today learn Spanish. Modern languages are easier and thought more relevant.

Tim de Lisle would not approve. He recently argued that Latin the best language.

If you work with words, Latin is the Pilates session that stays with you for life: it strengthens the core. It teaches you grammar and syntax, better than your own language, whose structure you will have absorbed before you are capable of noticing it. Latin offers no hiding place, no refuge for the woolly. Each piece of the sentence has to slot in with the rest; every ending has to be the right one. To learn Latin is to learn rigour.

The price for the rigour is the mortis. Soon enough, someone will helpfully inform you that Latin is a dead language. In one way, sure, but in others it lives on. It is a vivid presence in English and French, it is the mother of Italian and Spanish, and it even seeps into German. More often than not, the words these languages have in common are the Latin ones: it remains a lingua franca. The words we take from Latin tend to be long, reflective, intellectual (the short, punchy words we didn’t need to import: live, die, eat, drink, love, hate). Business and academia, two worlds with little else in common, both rely more and more on long Latinate words. The European Union speaks little else. Ten years ago, for another article, I had to read the proposed European constitution. It was a long turgid parade of Latin-derived words. The burghers of Brussels were trying to build a superstate out of abstract nouns.

Management-speak and Euro-blather are Latin at its worst, but learning it will still help you cut through them to find clarity. It is a little harder to bullshit when you’ve learnt Latin (though quite possible to bluster, as Boris Johnson proves). And if you stick at it you discover, after no more than eight or nine years, that this is a glorious language per se.

Its literature has stood the test of millennia: Ovid is diverting, Lucretius is stimulating, Cicero is riveting. Horace can be a drag—like a bad weekend columnist, always wittering on about his garden and his cellar, except when coming out with quotable drivel about how sweet it is to die in battle. But his contemporary Virgil is majestic. He set himself the most daunting task—giving Rome its own “Iliad” and “Odyssey”, in a single epic, while staying on the right side of an emperor—and pulled it off. I did French and Greek too for years, and enjoyed them, but nothing quite matched up to the pleasure of reading the “Aeneid” in the original.

Hat tip to Bird Dog.

I think Mr. de Lisle is quite right about the benefits to one’s writing skills of the study of the classical languages in one’s youth, though personally I do not admire (or have good) Latin at all. I had two years of high school Latin, and I still have great difficulty in figuring out who is doing what to whom in the typical Latin sentence. I much prefer Greek, and I would far rather read The Iliad in the original than The Aeneid.

14 Mar 2012

“Yellow Wall”

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Nancy Clearwater Herman, Yellow Wall, 2012

This Hopper-esque painting of houses in Manayunk, a neighborhood in the northwest section of Philadelphia, viewed from the Cynwyd Trail by Nancy Herman reminded me very powerfully of the view of house roofs I saw looking out the attic window of my boyhood home in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. I was startled and a bit moved by nostalgia. It seems that densely built, working class Pennsylvania neighborhoods have a pretty strong degree of architectural similarity.

The artist writes:

This is the last painting from the Cynwyd Trail for now. I know I will be returning to these close-ups of Manayunk from the trail sooner or later as I love the shapes created by the roof tops. While I am painting them I imagine living in these houses, which adds to the fun. Everything looks so cheery on this sunny afternoon but what is it really like to live there?

She actually sells these for only $125. If that one weren’t already sold, I’d have liked to have acquired it.

Hat tip to Vanderleun. How did he find it, I wonder?

25 Jul 2010

Legal Contest Over Jim Thorpe’s Remains

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At the eastern edge of the Anthracite Coal Region, just west of the Poconos, lies the county seat of Carbon County, a town founded in 1818 with the colorful Indian name of Mauch Chunk (Delaware Indian: “Bear Mountain”).

Mauch Chunk has a scenic location in a mountain gap along the Lehigh River, and its higher-than-usual in the neighborhood surrounding mountains led to the town being referred to in tourist slogans as the “Switzerland of Pennsylvania.”

Mauch Chunk was prominent in the 19th century industrial development of the country. It became an important railroad and canal transportation center, shipping coal mined in the nearby mountains to the cities and manufacturing centers of the East. The industrialist Asa Packer, founder of the Lehigh Railroad and Lehigh University, had his mansion there, and his family built and endowed the architecturally impressive Episcopal Church. One group of Molly Maguire terrorist bandits was hanged at the local courthouse in the 1870s.

The Anthracite mining industry was in the process of being destroyed by post-WWII water pollution regulations as the country switched over from coal to oil for domestic heating, when the state of Oklahoma declined to erect a memorial to the famous athlete and Olympian Jim Thorpe in the immediate aftermath of his death in 1953.

Hoping to promote tourism at a time when the regional economy was sinking fast, the town fathers of Mauch Chunk approached the family offering to build a monument and rename the town after Jim Thorpe, if the great athlete would be buried there. Thorpe’s third wife agreed to the deal, and despite the fact that Jim Thorpe probably never even visited Mauch Chunk, the town assumed his name.

In 1963, when President Kennedy was assassinated, the former borough of Mauch Chuck offered the same deal to Jacqueline Kennedy, who declined in favor of burial in Arlington.

In the latest development in the saga, Jim Thorpe’s son is suing the borough of Jim Thorpe via the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 for repatriation of his father’s body to Oklahoma.

I’m on Jack Thorpe’s side. I’ve always like the name Mauch Chunk better, and I thought the name change deal was ridiculous. Jim Thorpe had not actually lived in Oklahoma for many decades at the time of his death, but he was born there, his family is buried there, and he never had the slightest real connection to Mauch Chunk.

23 Apr 2010

St. George’s Day

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Hans von Aachen, St. George Slaying the Dragon, c. 1600, Private Collection, London

From Robert Chambers, The Book of Days, 1869:

Butler, the historian of the Romish calendar, repudiates George of Cappadocia, and will have it that the famous saint was born of noble Christian parents, that he entered the army, and rose to a high grade in its ranks, until the persecution of his co-religionists by Diocletian compelled him to throw up his commission, and upbraid the emperor for his cruelty, by which bold conduct he lost his head and won his saintship. Whatever the real character of St. George might have been, he was held in great honour in England from a very early period. While in the calendars of the Greek and Latin churches he shared the twenty-third of April with other saints, a Saxon Martyrology declares the day dedicated to him alone; and after the Conquest his festival was celebrated after the approved fashion of Englishmen.

In 1344, this feast was made memorable by the creation of the noble Order of St. George, or the Blue Garter, the institution being inaugurated by a grand joust, in which forty of England’s best and bravest knights held the lists against the foreign chivalry attracted by the proclamation of the challenge through France, Burgundy, Hainault, Brabant, Flanders, and Germany. In the first year of the reign of Henry V, a council held at London decreed, at the instance of the king himself, that henceforth the feast of St. George should be observed by a double service; and for many years the festival was kept with great splendour at Windsor and other towns. Shakspeare, in Henry VI, makes the Regent Bedford say, on receiving the news of disasters in France:

    Bonfires in France I am forthwith to make
    To keep our great St. George’s feast withal!’

Edward VI promulgated certain statutes severing the connection between the ‘noble order’ and the saint; but on his death, Mary at once abrogated them as ‘impertinent, and tending to novelty.’ The festival continued to be observed until 1567, when, the ceremonies being thought incompatible with the reformed religion, Elizabeth ordered its discontinuance. James I, however, kept the 23rd of April to some extent, and the revival of the feast in all its glories was only prevented by the Civil War. So late as 1614, it was the custom for fashionable gentlemen to wear blue coats on St. George’s day, probably in imitation of the blue mantle worn by the Knights of the Garter.

In olden times, the standard of St. George was borne before our English kings in battle, and his name was the rallying cry of English warriors. According to Shakspeare, Henry V led the attack on Harfleur to the battle-cry of ‘God for Harry! England! and St. George!’ and ‘God and St. George’ was Talbot’s slogan on the fatal field of Patay. Edward of Wales exhorts his peace-loving parents to

    ‘Cheer these noble lords,
    And hearten those that fight in your defence;
    Unsheath your sword, good father, cry St. George!’

The fiery Richard invokes the same saint, and his rival can think of no better name to excite the ardour of his adherents:

    ‘Advance our standards, set upon our foes,
    Our ancient word of courage, fair St. George,
    Inspire us with the spleen of fiery dragons.’

England was not the only nation that fought under the banner of St. George, nor was the Order of the Garter the only chivalric institution in his honour. Sicily, Arragon, Valencia, Genoa, Malta, Barcelona, looked up to him as their guardian saint; and as to knightly orders bearing his name, a Venetian Order of St. George was created in 1200, a Spanish in 1317, an Austrian in 1470, a Genoese in 1472, and a Roman in 1492, to say nothing of the more modern ones of Bavaria (1729), Russia (1767), and Hanover (1839).


St. George, being a soldier saint, was also a favorite of the Lithuanians, and the Lithuanian parish in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania where I grew up was named for him. Our church’s cornerstone was laid in 1891, and construction was completed in 1894. In 1901, the frame church was clad in brick and twin towers erected. In 1907, a poor immigrant coal mining community spent nearly $100,000 covering the church in granite and decorating its interior in the Gothic manner of Pugin.

The diocese of Allentown in its wisdom demolished St. George Church during the winter of 2009-2010.

Quomodo sedet sola civitas…

Main Altar, St. George Church, Christmas 1979

28 Jan 2010

Email Humor

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nullclick on photo for larger version

People in Schuylkill County (where I grew up) have a warped sense of humor. It must be something in the coal-infused water.

This is the pull off at SR 61 and Adamsdale Road. A deer was hit there. The couch was dumped there previously.

Day two: the deer was on the couch. Day three: the end table and lamp showed up. Day four: the TV and TV stand showed up.

The Trooper had to call PENN DOT because of all the people stopping to take pictures.


The cardboard caption in front of the deer on the couch reads,

“Sorry Hunters.
Obama ruined healthcare.
We can’t afford to have injured hunters on our conscience,
so I’m staying home!
the Deer.”

No guarantees on the accuracy of the alleged photo location.

Hat tip to Henry Bernatonis.

21 Oct 2008

24 Ghost Towns

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Pripyat, Ukraine

For Halloween, Web Urbanist has photographs of 24 abandoned towns and cities round the world.

Centralia, Pennsylvania, just down the road from my own Pennsylvania hometown makes the list. Someone burning trash in a stripping pit near the town in 1962 managed to set fire to a vein of coal. The subterranean fire gradually encroached on residences, and in the mid-1980s the federal government ultimately gave Centralians new houses in order to induce them to move away from the hazard. Some diehards angling for larger payoffs refused to move and remain in residence today. When I was a kid, we used to find it terribly amusing to see smoke rising from the ground of Centralia’s cemetery.

21 Sep 2008

Joe Biden, Coal Miner

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Campaigning in Virginia coal country, Joe Biden actually described himself as “a coal miner” from the Northeastern Pennsylvania anthracite region.

In his first visit to Southwest Virginia, Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden, speaking at the United Mine Workers’ annual fish fry here on Saturday, was quick to tout his ties to coal.

“I hope you won’t hold it against me, but I am a hard-coal miner, anthracite coal, Scranton, Pa.,” Biden said. “It’s nice to be back in coal country. … It’s a different accent [in Southwest Virginia] … but it’s the same deal. We were taught that our faith and our family was the only really important thing, and our faith and our family informed everything we did.”

Biden, a U.S. senator from Delaware, told the story of his great-grandfather, a mining engineer who was elected to the state Senate in 1904 and was rumored to be a Molly Maguire, a member of a secret organization tied to union activism and crime in the Pennsylvania coalfields in the 19th century.

“He went out of his way to prove that he wasn’t, and we were all praying that he was,” he said.

The mines closed when Joe Biden and I were kids. Biden obviously was never a coal miner personally. Still, those of us from miner’s families do identify with a certain kind of culture and tradition, and consider ourselves connected to our father’s and grandfathers’ lives of hardship, danger, and hard labor.

Joe Biden moved from Scranton to the Delaware suburbs at the age of ten. Biden campaigns on his purported coal mining, Roman Catholic roots, but his politics have always been upper middle class suburban liberal.

I haven’t read Biden’s autobiography, but Ann Coulter has, and she reports that Biden tells a very different story there.

According to Vice Plagiarist Biden’s own autobiography, his father was to the manor born. Biden’s grandfather was an executive with the American Oil Co., and his father had all the advantages in life. “My dad,” Biden writes in “Promises to Keep,” “grew up well polished by gentlemanly pursuits. He would ride to the hounds, drive fast, fly airplanes. He knew good clothes, fine horses, the newest dance steps.”

20 Apr 2008

Pottsville Maroons

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Few living outside the Anthracite Coal Region of Northeastern Pennsylvania remember that Pottsville, county seat of Schuylkill County and birthplace of Jude Wanniski and John O’Hara once hosted an NFL franchise, or that the once famous Pottsville Maroons won the NFL Championship in 1925, but were deprived of their title for playing an exhibition game against Notre Dame in Philadelphia on the same day another NFL team, the Frankford Yellow Jackets were scheduled to play in the same city.

Last Friday, David Fleming, sports historian and author of Breaker Boys: The NFL’s Greatest Team and the Stolen 1925 Championship debated Joe Horrigan, the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s vice president of communications and exhibits at the Sovereign Majestic Theater in Pottsville on the topic: Do the Pottsville Maroons deserve the 1925 NFL title?

Pottsville Republican debate report.

0:1:45 preview video

1:50:42 Debate video


Petition demanding restoration of Maroons’ 1925 Championship title.

26 Jul 2007

Wilkes-Barre Evicts Man for Owning Books

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The city fathers of Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania would obviously would never have allowed Thomas Jefferson to reside within the jurisdiction of their dismal Anthracite region rust bucket community. Jefferson also owned too many books.


A bookstore owner’s obsession with the written word has cost him his Pennsylvania home after local officials deemed his book collection a fire hazard.

Authorities in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., condemned John Puchniak’s apartment this year when a routine inspection raised concern the bookstore owner’s collection of nearly 3,000 texts could cause a fire, The (Wilkes-Barre) Times Leader reported Wednesday.

Puchniak now resides in a local hotel, while attempting to limit the stacks upon stacks of books that decorate his condemned apartment.

But even if he can restore the apartment to acceptable living standards, Puchniak has said he cannot afford to appeal the city to reopen his home.

Attorney Jim Hayward has become a champion for the troubled literary fan, attempting to convince local officials to let the 59-year-old store his growing collection as he sees fit.

Wilkes-Barre Times Leader story.

10 Nov 2006

Jack Palance, February 18, 1919 — November 10, 2006

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Jack Palance as Jack Wilson in Shane (1953)

Jack Palance was the son of an immigrant Ukrainian miner, born Volodymyr Palanyuk (Ðu2019олодимиÑu20ac Ðu0178аланÑu017dк) in the coal patch of Lattimer Mines (the site of the famous Lattimer Massacre of 1897).

He began his career as a professional heavyweight boxer, fighting as “Jack Brazzo.” He won 15 fights, 12 by knockout before losing a 4th round decision to Joe Baksi on Dec. 17, 1940.

Upon the outbreak of WWII, he enlisted in the Army Air Force. He sustained serious burns, and required facial reconstruction, after the B-24 bomber he was piloting crashed off the coast of California. Some of his distinctive leathery appearance was attributed to the surgery.

He graduated from Stanford University in 1947 with an AB in Drama. He survived as an aspiring actor via the usual sorts of short-term jobs as photographer’s model, lifeguard, and short-order cook.

He got his big break in 1947, when he was hired as Marlon Brando’s understudy for the Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire. The NNBD article reports that

Brando invited Palance to work out with him in the theater’s basement. The actors were pounding a punching bag when Palance missed the bag and splattered Brando’s nose. Brando was taken to a hospital for medical attention, while Palance took the stage in the lead, and his performance drew a contract offer from 20th Century Fox. Palance always maintained that making his own “big break” was an accident.

He appeared in more than 100 films. He received an Emmy award in 1957 for Playhouse 90’s production of Requiem for a Heavyweight. He won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and the Golden Globe in 1992 for City Slickers. Upon receiving his Oscar, at the age of 72, he performed a number of one-handed pushups to demonstrate his fitness.

He is most commonly remembered for his role as the villainous gunfighter Jack Wilson in Shane, but sophisticated critics are more likely to mention his performance as film producer Jeremy Prokosch in Jean-Luc Godard’s Le Mépris (Contempt – 1963).

Variety reports his death at age 87.


Film Tribute site.


Palance and Bardot in Godard’s Contempt

01 Nov 2006

Federal Court Restrains Enforcement of Hazleton, Pa Anti-Immigration Ordinances

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US District Judge James Munley yesterday issued a temporary restraining order blocking enforcement of the Pennsylvania Anthracite Region city of Hazleton’s pair of anti-Illegal Immigration ordinances:

Illegal Immigration Relief Act

Ordinance 2006-13

Jurist, University of Pittsburgh School of Law summary

But, even so, Hazleton’s ordinance is driving people and businesses away from what would otherwise be rapidly turning into a mining ghost town.

On Wednesday, a tough, first-of-its-kind law targeting illegal immigrants was to take effect in this small hillside city in northeastern Pennsylvania. A federal judge on Tuesday blocked the measure for at least two weeks, but the evidence suggests many Hispanics _ illegal or otherwise _ have already left.

That, in turn, has hobbled the city’s Hispanic business district, where some shops have closed and others are struggling to stay open.

“Before, it was a nice place,” said Soto, 27, who came to the United States from the Dominican Republic a decade ago. “Now, we have a war against us. I am legal but I feel the pressure also.

Read the whole thing.

Earlier posting.

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