Penn State W-B professor brings Lattimer drama to life

February 26, 2013

WILKES-BARRE - A radio play in the age of YouTube?

When Penn State Wilkes-Barre communications professor William Bachman completed research into the 1897 “Lattimer massacre” of 19 miners by Luzerne County sheriff’s deputies, he felt compelled to make some dramatization, and video would be too costly.

“We would need a column of 400 people,” to represent the marching miners who were fired upon, Bachman said during a presentation of his research and an audio of his radio play this week at Wilkes University’s Marts Center. So he worked up a script and drafted fellow faculty and their family members to re-enact the shooting at a road leading into the Lattimer section of Hazle Township around 4 p.m. Sept. 10.

He set the stage for his audience by noting he teaches conflict resolution. “Conflict can be avoided if you recognize the triggers,” he said, “and Lattimer could have been totally avoided.”

The first trigger was the Campbell Act passed that June, assessing foreign-born workers a 3-cents-per-day tax. For mine workers putting in six days a week, it added up to 18 cents a week. “Back then, that could by 1-1/2 pounds of round steak, or a couple pounds of butter,” Bachman said.

The second trigger: A mine foreman ordered Lattimer mule boys to stable their animals in Audenried, several miles away, forcing them to spend two hours a day walking the animals from the stables to the mines and back, without pay.

Miners also were forced to live in company towns, shop in company stores and be treated by company doctors. “Oh, an they had to buy their own blasting powder for the mines,” Bachman added.

The radio play begins the day before the massacre with a scuffle between an employee and a foreman. It dramatizes phone conversations among mine bosses and the county sheriff, who was vacationing on the New Jersey shore: “We got him elected and it’s time for him to deliver.”

It recounts a first meeting between deputies and miners as they gathered near West Hazleton, and the fateful clash as they marched into Lattimer hoping to enlist support from miners there. They carried two American flags. The deputies had 100 new Winchester rifles.

The play concludes with the murder trial of the sheriff and his men, with testimony of a teacher in a nearby school who ripped her petticoat to bandage the wounded, and one man testifying he heard a deputy say, “We’re going to shoot some Hunks.”

The play notes the miners were mostly first-generation immigrants from southern Europe, while the prosecutor, jury and judge were second generation from northern Europe. The verdict: Not guilty.

Bachman said he is booked through the summer for presentations of his findings and the play.