JENKINS TWP. — On Sunday, miners who worked and died in the Knox Mine near Pittston 55 years ago were commemorated at the Baloga Funeral Home.
On Jan. 22, 1959, 12 men died in a cold watery grave and 33 others barely escaped with their lives when the Susquehanna River poured into the mine after a roof collapsed. Historians agree the disaster occurred because the Knox Mine Co. dug shafts farther out under the river than it was supposed to.
“It’s important to remember how the miners of this area suffered,” said the Rev. Peter Tomczak, assistant pastor at St. John the Evangelist Church in Pittston, who spoke at the ceremony. A memorial Mass service was held at St. John’s earlier in the day.
“They risked their lives every day to support their families,” he said. “Many of us who grew up in this area realize what they went through.”
“Those who were around that day will never forget the disaster and the efforts to rescue the lost miners,” he said.
Participants at the event included Bill Best, president of the Huber Breaker Preservation Society; Ron Faraday, president of the Greater Pittston Historical Society; Bill Hastie, co-author of a new book titled “Anthracite Labor Wars,” and other extended family members of the miners involved in the tragedy.
Back then, the families of the men who died were left without a way to support their households, said Hastie. They had to struggle after losing their primary breadwinners.
Only after an extended period of legal wrangling did some families get a very small amount of compensation for what they went through, he said.
The Baloga family, which owns the funeral home, where the commemorative event is held each year, has close connections to the event. John Baloga was one of the miners who died.
There is a Knox Mine Memorial placed in front of the funeral home, which is located a short distance from the actual disaster site.
Hastie said the Knox Mine Disaster resulted from careless “subcontracting” by the Pennsylvania Coal Co., which employed more than 12,000 workers in its heyday.
The subcontracting allowed the company to break away from union employees and gave them the ability to push immigrant workers into unsafe working conditions, he said.
Hastie pointed out the last one of the 33 rescued miners, Bucky Mazur, passed away within the last year.
It is important to keep the memories of these strong willed and hard working people alive, he said.
The disaster marked the end of deep mining in Northeastern Pennsylvania, he said.