Book takes tour of structures, sites
New book takes readers on tour of local mining structures, sites
One by one, the iconic landmarks of the anthracite industry are disappearing, some by the hands of man and others by the capriciousness of nature.
Many breakers and coal-town patches are things of memory for those who lived in the later stages of the anthracite era. For them and others too young to have experienced a Liverpool patch village, the chroniclers of history are building a record, in words and photos, that will serve contemporary and future desires to know what it meant to breath coal dust and live in coal country.
Lorena Beniquez, an author and photographer with extensive Wyoming Valley connections, has contributed a solid and enjoyable book, “Lost Coal Country of Northeastern Pennsylvania.’’ It is unique in that its dozens of photos are her photos, all reflecting a desire to share a close up and personal tie to coal country.
Beniquez shot some photos of the Huber Breaker at Ashley one month before its final structures were razed in April 2014. That spurred her to begin shooting photos for her book in a desire to “chronicle history before it is gone.’’
She credits her mother, Sandra Shumway, Wilkes-barre, for
encouraging her to act. The result, Beniquez said, is a book that she views as “a history/tour guide.’’
“Lost Coal Country of Northeastern Pennsylvania’’ is dedicated to Beniquez’s coal mining greatgrandfather, Stefano Pantano, of whom she has only scant knowledge. She does not know where he worked or when he died. He suffered from black lung disease, according to her mother.
Beniquez leads off the book with photos of the St. Nicholas Breaker near Mahanoy City. The deteriorating breaker, which opened in 1931, is being razed for its steel. It is the last of the large breakers, she said.
The Huber Breaker, which also was razed for the value of its steel, gets extensive treatment. She includes some of the final interior shots, showing the rusting pipes and walkways. A few of her blackand-white shots from years past reveal the stark nature of the breaker’s exterior as broken windows formed ghostly patterns.
The Knox Mine Disaster is recalled, albeit with photos that show the Jenkins Township landscape where, in January 1959, coal miners struggled to save entombed colleagues. The same is true of Centralia, the southern Columbia County coal town that was abandoned and then leveled due to a deep mine fire that resisted efforts to douse it. Only a few people live in the area, Beniquez notes. Her photos show the stark terrain.
“We need to draw attention to Centralia,’’ Beniquez said. “It is difficult to know what you are looking at,’’ she said, while urging its designation as a state historical site.
Meanwhile, she lauds the commonwealth for doing “an amazing job to keep the history of Eckley alive.’’ Eckley Miners’ Village near Hazleton is a marvelous example of coal patches, she said.
Eckley Miners’ Village has a coal breaker built specifically not for mining, but for the filming of the movie “The Molly Maguires,’’ which was shot in Eckley in 1970. Beniquez chuckles as she tells the story of a visit to Eckley where a military veteran taking in the village approached her and said, “You know, that’s not a real breaker!’’
Another coal patch, the unique Concrete City at the Nanticokehanover Township border, is shown in a series of photos that highlight the resistance of the company homes to nature’s best efforts to destroy them. Glen Alden Coal Co. built the concrete structures as an experiment that flopped.
Photos of Steamtown in Scranton capture some of the railroad history of the region. Beniquez’s photography post-dates the Central of New Jersey Railroad yard near the Huber Breaker and the Ashley Planes over which coal was hauled in the 19th and 20th centuries. Also lost forever are the coal patches such as Liverpool in Ashley.
Beniquez’s father, Jose Beniquez, resides in Williamsport. She has two brothers, Nikita Shumway and Dana Shumway, in Wilkes-barre.
A graduate of Dallas High School, Beniquez worked for the Dallas Post and as a reporter and Williamsport bureau chief for WBRE-TV News. She currently does freelance writing and photography and she produces and directs commercials for television and newspapers.
King’s College, Wilkes-barre, will hold an exhibit of Beniquez’s photos on Oct. 2 at its Whitman Art Gallery. Photos from the book will be featured.
Lorena Beniquez, author of “Lost Coal Country of Northeastern Pennsylvana,” right, leads off the book with photos of the St. Nicholas Breaker near Mahanoy City. The deteriorating breaker, which opened in 1931, is being razed for its steel.
A chapter in Lorena Beniquez’ new book, “Lost Coal Country in Northeastern Pennsylvania, is dedicated to the iconic Huber Breaker in Ashley, Luzerne County.
The breaker at Eckley Miners’ Village near Hazleton was never actually used to process coal. It is a massive movie prop created in 1968 for the filming of the movie, “The Mollie Maguires” in Eckley.