Employee Record Cards, Part II

In our last blog post we talked about the employee records cards that we encountered this summer.  Here is a blog post from University of Maryland anthropology major Katie Chen, who has been working on this difficult project all semester. I asked Katie to talk about her working process:

Hi! My name is Katie Chen and I am a sophomore at the University of Maryland, College Park. I am currently studying Anthropology, but recently got interested in archaeology. During my freshman fall semester I studied abroad in London and took a course called Social Anthropology of Britain. During this semester, I started some ethnographic research on the London black cabs, learning about the cab business and the changing geography of London through interviews with the drivers.  This experience confirmed my interest in ethnographic research and anthropology. Someday I hope to return to London to continue what I started.

Recently, having become interested in archaeology, I decided to help Mike on his research on the Lattimer Massacre. I am currently making a database of miner employee records cards. My strategy has been to go through the cards and make an initial attempt at deciphering the handwriting.  After a couple days, I will go back to the cards and read them again. This method has worked almost every time, but some cards need more review time.

On several occasions, I’ve tried to look online to see if there is a name for the type of script used then.  I have not been successful yet, but I’ve been able to look at specific examples, and get an idea of what the letter could be.  Inputting data is rather tedious and can be frustrating, as I have spent more than 30 minutes looking at one card because I can’t read the names or locations. When entering data on locations, I will sometimes look up on Google if my spelling version comes up with any additional spellings. This has worked a couple times, which has been exciting. Otherwise, I will have to go back to taking a break for a couple of days and coming back to the cards.

In addition to this project, I am researching what religious or spiritual beliefs miners might hold across the globe. After reading articles about conditions in the mines and hearing stories, I wondered if there was any belief that propelled the miners to endure such harsh conditions.  The mines are extremely dangerous and miners risk their lives and health every time they go down. With this side project, I would like to find out if the conditions of mining are similar worldwide and if there are any religious, spiritual, superstitious attitudes consistent across them.

A Couple of Documents from Lattimer’s Past

This summer project researchers Paul Shackel, Mike Roller and Justin Uehlein spent more than two months living in Hazleton, each day spending about 8 hours in a collection of mining operator company archives in the Heights area of Hazleton. Joe Michel, the owner of the archive, was a generous host. Along the way we had lots of visits from local historians who contributed their knowledge of local history and lore to our proceedings. We also began a series of interviews with people in the area who taught us much about local history.

In a way, digging through archives like this was much like my experience of archaeology; there is no way to prepare for what you might find.  Of course we had ideas of what we wanted to find, but things rarely behave this way.  Besides, that would spoil the fun of it!

We went through 17 boxes of material, and many volumes of mining reports, binders of letters, boxes of photographs and shelves and shelves of maps.  Even then we only scratched the surface.  Here is a description of two things we collected and documented. We will be updating this section throughout the next few months as we catalog our material. You can click on each image to view a higher resolution version.  There is more to come, lots more!

Doublehouse, detail

The first item is the blueprint of a miner’s double house from Lattimer drawn in August of 1889. The description of the drawing is “Standard Mine Dwelling Houses”. It is hand drawn in ink on velum.  This example is just a detail from the blueprint, which also includes  plan (top) views of first and second floors of the houses.  We are interested in the building sequences of the company houses in the area.  We know that houses of different sizes were rented to those in different positions throughout the division of labor at the coal mines.  Eckley Miner’s village has a variety of these houses to view. How about Lattimer? What did the other houses look like? Were they built and maintained by the company as well? How did coal miners and their families alter or customize these houses throughout time to make them livable or to accommodate them to different and evolving lifestyles of various immigrants to the area?

It has been suggested that Northeast Pennsylvania provided some of the first examples of company housing in the coal fields. The style of the double house spread from here to the bituminous coalfields of Western Maryland and Southwestern Pennsylvania, and eventually to parts of the West.

The second item is a propaganda brochure from the Second World War. It urges coal miners to consider the importance of anthracite mining to the war effort.  Note the fantastic drawing at the bottom right corner comparing a coal miner with a pneumatic drill with a soldier and his machine gun.  The text urges miners to “Make it hot (as hot as hell) for Hitler!”  Anthracite coal was understood to be essential to the war effort, fueling factories and troop ships and maintaining the warmth of houses as petroleum supplies were being diverted into the war effort.  For this reason the federal government was dependent on workers to maintain productivity. Companies, furthermore, were pressured by the federal government to maintain stability. The result was tension upon the workers, trapped between the poles of organized labor, company pressure, and now federal intervention. On several occasions in the mid 40s the federal government seized control of the mines, making company personnel employees of the federal government.  Many items in the archive date to this period and represent aspects of this complex situation.

Historic Newspaper Images

Annie from the Greater Hazleton Historical Society turned me on to a really great historic American newspapers database (Early American Newspapers, Series I-III), which turned up some of the articles mentioned and quoted in previous posts.  While many of them leave scenes up to the imagination in a pre-photojournalist age, a few of them included really telling, sometimes powerful images.  I hope you enjoy or are inspired by a few of them here:

(click on an image to enlarge)

Firing on the Miners

Philadelphia Inquirer, 12 September 1897

“Firing on the Miners.  An Accurate View of the Field Where the Tragedy Took Place” by a Philadelphia Inquirer staff person, 12 September 1897, front page.  It looks like the deputies were amassed just north of the massacre monument, across Main St.

Identifying Bodies

Philadelphia Inquirer, 12 September 1897

Again, a staff drawing from the 12 September 1897 Philadelphia Inquirer, this time page 4: “Identifying Bodies in the Stable of Undertaker Boyle”.  I can’t imagine what that must  have been like; although, I gather from talking with people in the region that this is possible more humane than usual.  It used to be that the coal companies would just drop a dead body off at their home when someone died in a mine accident, right on the front porch.

Church Scene

Philadelphia Inquirer, 14 September 1897

“Crowds in Front of St. Stanislaus Church While Funeral Services Were Going On” in the Philadelphia Inquirer, 14 September 1897, front page.

New York Evening Journal, 10 March 1898

From the New  York Evening Journal, 10 March 1898, p. 5 (the signature appears to read “Davenport”).  Granted, the New York Evening Journal’s articles were a little more sensational than other newspapers’ at the time; however, there must have been some sense that money and power came before justice, and public sentiment around the country must have in part been that the deputies were guilty of murder despite their acquittal.   Of course, the other trial, which seemed certain for Sheriff Martin, never happened.

Deputies Carrying Arms

NY Evening Journal, 17 March 1898

The title and date of this are really interesting – “Lattimer Deputies Again Carrying Arms, Ready to Murder More Strikers” in the New York Evening Journal, 17 March 1898 (I think the artist’s signature reads J.A. Williams).  It must have looked like the deputies were still riled up against the miners, and again, that the deputies were in fact guilty of murder.

Lattimersky Sud

Narodny Kalendar, 1899

What a great image!  Two years after the massacre this rendition of a not-so-blind justice appears in Narodny Kalendar, a Slovak publication.  I’m working on trying to find an original copy, but meanwhile the image shows up in the journal Pennsylvania History: 2002 vol. 69 (1), p. 41.  It’s in an article called “A Slovak Perspective on the Lattimer Massacre” by M. Mark Stolarik.

These and still more images are in the gallery, below.

– Kristin

(click on an image to enlarge)