It will be 57 years since the Knox Mine Disaster occurred and shook a community. On Jan. 22, 1959, the ice-laden waters of the Susquehanna River broke into the Knox Mine at Port Griffith and swept away 12 men.
The Anthracite Heritage Museum, 22 Bald Mountain Road in Scranton, is commemorating the miners and the event on Saturday, Jan. 23, at 2 p.m. The program will feature director David Brocca, showing a special video tribute to miner Myron Thomas as well as speaking about his documentary on the Knox Mine Disaster.
Brocca, a West Pittston native who moved to Los Angeles, became interested in the Knox Mine Disaster when his uncle introduced him to Robert Wolensky, a co-author of “The Knox Mine Disaster: The Final Years of the Northern Anthracite Industry and the Effort to Rebuild a Regional Economy.”
After reading Wolensky’s writing and knowing he would be able to interview some survivors, Brocca agreed to make a documentary about the disaster. Brocca released a short 10-minute film for the 50th anniversary back in 2009, but the community reached out to him and recommended speaking to other various people connected to the disaster.
“I shot the first interview in 2008, not knowing it would turn into feature length documentary,” said Brocca.
The community also became involved over social media. Brocca was able to indentify many of the miners in old film reels by posting them on Facebook. Users shared the images, and someone would recognize a relative and be able to verify their identification to Brocca.
Brocca acknowledges that the disaster didn’t conclude with the death of the 12 men, but the economic effects faced in the aftermath.
“It doesn’t end with the miners escaping the mine. A community has to survive after their regional economy has been destroyed because mining was a major industry in the area. That was devastating,” said Brocca.
Last year the film was accepted into the international documentary association fiscal sponsorship program, which allows tax-deductible donations to the film.
If funding goes well, Brocca anticipates releasing the documentary in the fall of 2016. Their goal of $60,000 includes post-production and an illustrated reenactment of the survivors’ interviews by artist Ben Mackey.
Brocca said that his video tribute is to Myron Thomas because he was the “unsung hero of the Knox Mine Disaster.” Thomas was the last man to escape the mine because he wanted to ensure the safety of others first. Robert Thomas, the grandson of Myron Thomas, will be speaking at the program.
Thomas was a coal miner for years before the Knox Mine Disaster, and was promoted to foreman during the time of the Knox Mine disaster. Thomas led a group of 24 men on a difficult search before escaping. “They didn’t have maps with them. They would travel through different veins of the tunnels, but because of other people exiting some doors would already be sealed. My grandfather had nearly committed the maps to memory and was able to navigate the mines,” said his grandson.
During the escape, ice-cold water was pouring into the mines. Myron Thomas and the men he led were chest deep for 7 hours by the time they exited to safety through the Eagle Air Shaft. Thomas had saved the lives of those 24 miners.
“My family is happy that the Anthracite Museum and David Brocca are recognizing my grandfather’s role on that day. We have a great sense of pride for his actions,” said Robert Thomas.
The program will also exhibit a large needlework that was designed and embroidered by Audrey Baloga Calvey, as a tribute to her father, victim John Baloga, and the other men lost that day. Refreshments will be served after the program.
The program is open, free of charge, to the public. Admission is charged for the Museum’s main exhibit, “Anthracite People: Immigration and Ethnicity in Pennsylvania’s Hard Coal Region.”
For more information about the film, visit knoxminedisaster.com. For more information about the Anthracite Heritage Museum, visit anthracitemuseum.org or call 570-963-4804.