9 Oct

           Recently, on a rainy-all-day Saturday,  Mingo County celebrated its annual King Coal Festival. In spite of the driving rain and wind that  toppled at least one booth’s canopy, King Coal devotees and vendors turned out.  There were a few empty spots, and a few vendors, intimidated by the chill and dampness or the danger to fragile or perishable products, closed down early.  But most came and stuck the day out.

        Coal memorabilia were in evidence along the main street. “Little miners” competed for recognition, showing up with coal smudged faces and fluorescent safety tape stitched to their jeans.  Our booth had a cutout where a coal miner fan could be photographed behind a lifesize figure in mining clothes, wearing a miner’s helmet and lamp.

       Whatever the future of coal–and that’s a hot topic in Coal Country right now, the miner will always be an iconic figure for this area, as the cowboy is for the West. Going underground to do a hard, dirty job, accompanied daily by risk of injury or even death, to bring light to the cities and the country demanded courage and dedication.  Like  policemen, firefighters, and others who risk their lives daily for the common good, miners were a heroic band of brothers.

       Recent history has changed the reality. With its blasting off of the tops of mountains and its destruction of trees and rivers and streams, as “overburden” is dumped off the newly created plateaus, “mountaintop removal” has brought a new image to coal mining.  And a lot of West Virginians, even some of those who “heart coal,” deplore the damage the new method has caused.  Mountain State citizens love their mountains and don’t like to see them destroyed.  In its pursuit of speed and efficiency in coal extraction and enhanced profits for mine owners and stockholders, the industry has gone huge, with its many technological advances, its Big John,  and its diminished need for individual coal miners.

         But the image of the coal miner, with his pick and his lunch bucket, his blackened face and his helmet and lamp, will always be a symbol of  pride and courage, an icon, for West Virginia.



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