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Incendiary: 1938

Incendiary: 1938

September 1938. Capels, West Virginia. "Coal miner waiting for lift home." Medium-format nitrate negative by Marion Post Wolcott. View full size.


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The tough life of a coal miner

My family comes from the coal country of SW Pennsylvania. As a young kid I remember my coal miner grandpa as a worn-out old man with black lung and (later) cancer of the esophagus -- even though he couldn't have been older than his late 50s.

Visiting with my uncles recently, both well into their 80s, I learned more from them about just how tough it was to be a miner back in the '30s and '40s. One particular story sticks. During a very cold winter's day my granddad emerged from the mine soaked in his sweat and walked the five miles home, arriving with his clothes frozen stiff. He ordered one of my uncles to walk to a local store to buy a pint of vodka, which he drank before going to bed.

Apparently that was a common way for him to end his day.

Coal Miner's Granddaughter

My grandfather (papaw to the grandkids) was a coal miner in Harlan County, KY during the '30s and '40s. I remember my mom telling me that he never came home w/ coal dust on him; he always made sure to wash up before leaving work. I knew him only after his coal mining days. Even after he was retired, he would take a long shower, shave, and shine his shoes every day. He was meticulous.

Black Lung a'comin

Coal dust and Tobacco smoke, great for the lungs. I would have thought just having the sunshine on your face and fresh air would be reward enough after a hard day's work.

And a smoker too.

God that job must have sucked.


Were these men ever really able to clean up. I imagine after a while the grime just became part of the whole.

Sixteen tons

If I seen him comin', I'd step aside.

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