BLAKELY – Exiting the breaker with a pickax slung over his shoulder, a lighted hard hat atop his head, work boots on his feet, and carrying his lunch pail, a coal miner stands poised forever still and proud for all to see. With a quiet smile on his chiseled face, glad to have finished another grueling day in the mine below, “this particular miner is made of solid granite, and he stands here to remind everyone that he and his fellow coal miners will never be forgotten,” said Silvia Passeri of Peckville.
As founder of the Coal Miners Remembered program she began in mid-2016, Passeri has dedicated her time and energy to ensuring that hundreds of miners from throughout the region will always be remembered, never forgotten. On October 7th, the Coal Miners Remembered memorial was officially dedicated at the Blakely Borough Recreational Center. And with 616 names currently engraved on granite ‘wings’ that stand adjacent to the 5 ft. statue, “these beloved family members and friends from throughout this coal region are honored here and will live on forever,” added Passeri.
This history of the coal industry throughout NEPA is well known -- from founding of the first bituminous coal mine in 1761 to the first anthracite mine a year later and its initial commercial use in 1792, coal mining was the region’s primary industry until its eventual decline in the mid-1900s. But without the hard-working miners themselves, this era in history would not be the same.
“This monument remembers all of those men, young boys, and women too who worked the mines,” said Passeri. “They literally gave their very lives to bring energy up and out of the ground for us all throughout the valley, the Northern seaboard, and New York also relied on the miners for their heating fuel.
“My father, Robert Passeri, was an Italian immigrant who left school in the sixth grade and was only 12 when he went to work in the mines,” Passeri shared. “He did it to help care for his six brothers and sisters. Mining was his livelihood, and he was only 56 when he died from black lung disease. Along with my father, my grandfather and three uncles also worked in the mines.”
Like countless other families whose lives are owed to the coal mining industry, Passeri deems her efforts to help develop this project her “personal legacy to my father and all the miners. Everyone owes each of them a huge debt of gratitude, as their sacrifices enriched all of us. We can’t change history and how mining affected their lives, but we can honor and remember them always.”
During periodic walks around the local park, Passeri recalled often looking at an empty space in the grass and visualized a monument to these regional heroes. After the Blakeley Borough town council approved her suggestion to conceive and erect a monument, Passeri reached out to neighbors, friends, and ancestors of area miners to form a committee that shared her dream of remembrance. In no time, they opened a bank account and secured a tax-free number that encouraged their forward movement.
In no time, the committee wrote letters and informative flyers were distributed, news ads were printed, and Facebook posts quickly spread word of the special project. Fundraising began through individual donations and locally made coal-like soap sales, raising an initial $21k. Subsequent grants were also written, bringing in $6k from the Lackawanna County and $35k from the State. “It was amazing to see how quickly people came together to share the same cause,” Passeri said.
“As word spread, local residents were joined by others from throughout the region who also wanted to remember their parents and grandparents, siblings, or other family members,” Passeri continued. “Donations even came in from families who’d moved out of state and wanted a name added to the memorial. For each engraved name, people donated $100. And Jeff Parise of Monuments by Parise in Blakely helped us develop the great idea of the miner exiting from the darkened breaker, with the finished memorial done in amazing detail. Since we started, we’ve raised nearly $114k. It just all came together so beautifully.”
Along with each miner’s engraved name on the adjacent polished granite modules, a small star is carved next to the names of those who were killed on the job. “We’ve tried to be as inclusive as possible,” said Passeri. “This memorial is so important to all of the coal-mining families and to the region itself, and each name literally shares a story of its own. During the dedication and afterward, I’ve sometimes noticed someone touching a name or taking a picture alongside the monument, or simply stopping to reflect and remember. It’s so meaningful and so touching to know our loved ones are not forgotten.”
Passeri said that “there is still space on the side monuments for about 125 more names. Once the existing space is filled, we can order additional modules.” Donations are welcomed, and names may be added for $100 apiece. Checks may be sent to Coal Miners Remembered, 1234 Main Street, Peckville PA 18452.