From the Stacks
By Carol Ann Robb, PPL Reference Librarian
My family “immigrated” to Pittsburg from northeast Kansas before I was born so there are no longstanding family ties to this area. While I can appreciate the coal mining heritage of the region, I have no real connection to it like so many families do. Fortunately, the library provides those of us with no mining background ways to learn more about what life was like for those who went underground day after day to earn a living.
Two compilations of first-hand accounts can be found on the library’s shelves: “Coal Mining Days in the Weir-Pittsburg Field,” by Debby Ossana Close and “Raisin Pie in a Coal Miner’s Bucket” compiled by Carolyn Loss Winters and Kaye Lynn Webb. Historians love primary resources like these that tell exactly the way things happen, usually without sugar-coating the cold, hard, dirty facts. Even those who come from coal mining families enjoy looking through these.
Novels often take liberty with facts but they can also help set the stage and help the reader travel back to earlier times and learn how those who were tied to the mines lived. Take a look at “Coal River” by Ellen Marie Wiseman, “Book Woman of Troublesome Creek” by Kim Michelle Richardson, or “Midwife of Hope River” by Patricia Harman to get a taste of mining life in the US during the early 20th century. Jennifer Haigh’s “Baker Towers” is set in a Pennsylvania coal town during the late 1940’s and John Grisham gives a more contemporary look at the effects of coal mining in “Gray Mountain.”
If your tastes lean more towards nonfiction, then grab “Reckoning at Eagle Creek” by Jeff Biggers. He chronicles the life and destruction in an Illinois strip-mining town—perhaps not the most uplifting reading for the long holiday weekend but one that might resonate with many in the area.
I may not personally relate much to the mining tradition but can appreciate the struggles made by miners, something I got from reading a selection of these books. And perhaps as an homage to early miners in this area, I just might find a recipe from one of the Little Balkans Days cookbooks to make this weekend.
NOTE: Pittsburg Public Library will be closed for the holiday weekend so come get your stash of books by Friday afternoon. Better yet, come to the Friends of the Library Book Sale on Saturday morning from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. on our south patio area to replenish your supply at home while supporting a most excellent cause.