JENKINS TWP. – Braving a brisk January wind, about 30 people gathered near Pittston last Sunday to commemorate the 54th anniversary of the Knox Mine Disaster.
Twelve men died during the infamous mine flood, which researchers attribute to corporate greed and corruption.
The event included the laying of a wreath at the official historical marker located in front of Baloga Funeral Home in Jenkins Township and then a walking tour to the actual site where the Susquehanna River poured into the mine located a few yards from the river's edge.
Bill Best, president of the Huber Breaker Preservation Society, spoke to the group explaining how 81 miners where trapped when about 10 billion gallons of icy river water poured in through the mine roof after the company dug too far past the stop line.
Most of the men made it out due to some heroic measures of the miners to climb out of an air shaft, but 12 never did.
Best said the corrupt Knox Mining Co. prioritizing profits over worker safety working in tandem with corrupt union supervisors caused the disaster.
The legal pursuits after the disaster netted some convictions of conspiracy and violations of the Anthracite Mine Act, he said.
Despite the corruption, it's important to commemorate all local miners including those who died, Best said.
They are a big part of our local heritage.
John Baloga, owner of the Baloga Funeral Home, whose grandfather was one of the 12 lost on Jan. 22, 1959, said his grandmother was not only devastated because of the loss of her husband but also financially buried as were the other families.
Back then, you didn't have huge lawsuit settlements like today, Baloga said.
Eventually, the family received very small financial compensation months after the disaster.
He pointed out the riverbank marker now placed where the actual giant whirlpool of river water poured in has become the gravestone for the families of the dead.
It's all we have left, he said. The families will never know how the men actually died, he said.
Best said the Knox Mine Disaster marked the end of the anthracite mining industry in Northeastern Pennsylvania, which at one time provided about 95 percent of all anthracite coal in the world.
The event was part of Mining History Week, which celebrated mining with events all over the region, Best said. The final event occurred on Tuesday when attorney John Doran spoke at the Earth Conservancy building in Ashley about The History of the Blue Coal Corporation's Bankruptcy Case.
Doran was involved in the case that was one of the very last chapters of the local mining industry, Best said.