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Bachelor Miner: 1937

Bachelor Miner: 1937

March 1937. Scotts Run, West Virginia. "Employed bachelor coal miner at home in Sessa Hill. This scene is typical of hundreds of bachelors who belong to a group of immigrants whose family was separated by immigration restrictions. This man may, or may not, have a wife in another country." Photograph by Lewis Wickes Hine. Decor by Coca-Cola. Large format acetate negative. View full size.


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Cap Lamp

Don Struke is correct about carbides nature. It gives off acetylene gas when wet. I believe that even today all acetylene for cutting and welding comes from this process. As a collector of carbide lamps one of the first things I noticed was the cap lamp on the shelf behind the stove. Unfortunately the resolution of the image, my screen or my eyesight prevents me from seeing what brand of light this is.

May have ... May not have ...

As my former professor of rhetoric might say, "Guess that covers all the bases."

Garrison Keillor's bachelor Norwegian farmers could view this scene and have cause to rejoice in their own relatively less miserable surroundings.

Mr. Struke -- thanks for sharing your ancestors' stories. I suspect that the ribs or ridges on the improvised helmet were meant to give it more rigidity, making it less likely to deform under impact to the detriment of the wearer's skull. The account of the conditions under which your forebears labored (particularly the poignant death of your uncle) help explain to a largely union-averse world of today the appeal of past labor movements and pugnacious leaders like John L. Lewis.

He should have kept

those calendars, one sold for $4,000 at an auction, they are extremely collectible

About that helmet

My paternal grandfather, who emigrated from Europe in 1893 (naturalized in 1906), was a coal miner in Pennsylvania. Here’s his May 27, 1899, miner’s license, cropped and reduced to get under the Shorpy Rule of 480 so I hope it’s reasonably legible. The misspelled last name was not uncommon when non-English speaking immigrants were processed through arrival ports such as Ellis Island back then. His son Joseph, my father’s younger brother, was killed in 1928 by a falling rock in a coal mine, just as this site’s namesake died five months earlier. He was 20 and at best would have been wearing a cloth cap similar to young Higginbotham's. The helmet in the photo, known as a turtle hat, was made either of boiled leather, canvas or a composite, glued and shellacked to create some level of protection. I think the fluted areas were meant to deflect what falling debris they could. The front plate held a carbide lamp, ignited by gas given off by dampened carbide pieces. I know from personal experience if you pour a handful of carbide in a big paper bag filled with cotton waste (a thin strand byproduct of cloth manufacturing), add a little water, tie it shut and let some gas build up, the resulting explosion that happens a second after dropping a sparkler on it will blow out a neighbor’s garage window in the alley not too far from your house where your parents are trying to listen to "Fibber McGee and Mollie".

Art is where you find it

I think our miner just wanted something on his walls, and calendars were free. Maybe he's a Welshman and the picture reminds him of the ocean. Maybe he just wants a scene with sunlight. I have a miner friend here in Utah who just hates to go to movies, because he's in the dark all day and wants light.

3 calendars

Or maybe he's covering something up?

Another possible reason

Often, you'll see several calendars up, with current plus succeeding months displayed, but why a lonely miner would want that kind of scheduling, and why it would be last year's calendar, I can't guess.

Better times

Maybe he has three of them because the subject matter of the calender reminds him of better times.

Wyeth calendar

The Coca Cola 50th anniversary calendar hanging on the wall is done by the renowned illustrator N. C. Wyeth. It's a pretty picture, though why this miner wants to display three copies of the same calendar is a puzzle.

Coca Cola fan

Three copies of the Coke 50th anniversary calendar!

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