ASHLEY — There was a surprise for Ray Clarke after the Huber Breaker - Anthracite Coal Miners Memorial was unveiled on Monday.
A stone bearing Clarke's name was removed from a wooden crate recognizing his colossal efforts at making the new and work-in-progress Huber Breaker Historical Site and Memorial Park a reality.
Nearly 250 people attended the unveiling of the Coal Miners Memorial that was placed in the shadows of the breaker. The memorial placed on a concrete footer sits on rock and shale removed from deep coal mines and separated from anthracite coal inside the Huber Breaker.
Clarke, 79, began to sob when the stone with his name was removed from the crate. He needed a few minutes to compose himself before thanking those behind the massive project.
It's been nearly 10 years since Earth Conservancy donated 3 acres of land in front of the Huber Breaker for the historical site and memorial park.
The large, clear marble stone depicts the breaker and honors coal miners who worked in the Northern Coal Field of Northeastern Pennsylvania.
“It's been a long, long road,” said Huber Breaker Preservation Society President Bill Best. “This is just the beginning of a lot of improvements to this park, and hopefully a momentum will start and we can save the breaker for generations to come.”
The preservation society does not own the Huber Breaker, which was built in 1938 and closed in 1976. During its heyday, the breaker was one of the largest in the coal mining region removing rock and waste from coal, which was painted blue and given the name Blue Coal.
Steve Biernacki, who was master of ceremonies, said coal mining was a “backbreaking and dangerous job” from 1775 when mining of anthracite coal began near Pittston to the decline of deep-coal mining in the 1950s.
“Coal miners shaped this region,” he said. “They passed on to their families and communities the values of preservation, hard work and the will to make life better for those who come after.”
Biernacki said 31,066 miners died in deep-coal mining operations from noxious gases, accidents or explosions.
“It's fitting that we honor those whose labor and lives made us who we are today,” he said.
State representatives Gerald Mullery, D-Newport Township, Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, and state Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, spoke during the event. Each one said they had family members who worked in coal mines.
Mullery said he hopes the Huber Breaker, which is in a state of disrepair, becomes a historical museum.
“To have a monument like this, not like the one made out of marble but the one made out of steel, to allow the younger generation to come and see and touch what their forefathers went through on a daily basis to make this a better country for them to live in,” Mullery said. “For that reason, I'd like to see the Huber Breaker preserved.”