The economy of Scranton was built on the backs and picks of these men. The tour here involves actually going down 300 feet into one of the mines.
The tours are done in groups of 10 to 20 people. We arrived at 11am, and we had to wait an hour to go down with the noon tour. While waiting, we had the option of visiting the Pennsylvania Anthracite Heritage Museum or watching a video about the mine. We opted for the video, mostly because we were told that if our tour was called early and we weren’t around, we would have to wait for the next tour. It wasn’t a bad choice because it quite an interesting video that documents some of the mining disasters that plagued the area.
Finally, it was our turn, and we, along with about 12 others, were directed into our car for the decent into the mine. We traveled 1,500 feet into the mine to a depth of 300 feet. A former miner was our guide, who led us through the shafts with a bit of humor and a lot of feeling for the men who worked here. I wasn’t too sure that I wasn’t getting claustrophobic, but there was plenty of fresh air being pumped into the mine by a huge fan on the surface.
It was quite wet in the mine because the water table is very high in this area and many of the shafts below us were flooded. The temperature in the mine was 50°F, so I would recommend bringing a sweater. If you don’t have one, they will loan you a coat. At each of the stops within the mine, you are encouraged to ask questions. It is light down in the tunnels now, but our guide showed us how dark it would have been before electric lights were introduced. It is hard to imagine how men and even children could have work 12-hour shifts in this dim and closed in space. Some of the miners worked every day in spaces less than 2 feet tall. Needless to say, most miners didn’t live to be old men. It was a hard life.
This particular mine was closed in 1966, when the demand for anthracite coal dwindled. The tours have been running since 1985. Tickets are $7 for adults. The tour lasts about an hour. There is a small gift shop and a snack bar. When you finish your tour, you are given a miner’s certificate stating that you have completed the course of instruction and are now qualified to be employed as an anthracite miner. This may come in handy if the economy doesn’t pick up.
March 18, 2004
From journal Steamy Scranton