Mural Depicts Hard Times In The Hard-coal Region

September 05, 1991|by BOB LAYLO, The Morning Call

When patients and visitors walk in the lobby of Coaldale Hospital, they get a reminder of why the facility was built.

An eye-catching mural of pictures from the height of the coal-mining industry lines one wall -- a tribute to the people for whom the institution was built.

"Some still come here for treatment," said hospital Administrator Frank Parano, who decided to put up the 14-picture mural.

Coaldale Hospital was built about 80 years ago so indigent coal miners from the Panther Valley could have a place for treatment. Times have changed, and the facility will no longer be a state hospital by March, probably sooner.

But there's a reminder of the past.

Most of the pictures come from the collection of two Panther Valley residents.

George Harvan, a nationally known photographer, contributed some of his pictures and others that he accumulated from collections.

One photograph Harvan, who has thousands of negatives, contributed was a well-known shot called "The Breaker Boys."

"That was taken in the 1880s," said Harvan, who acquired prints from a Wilkes-Barre studio. "It's been published a number of places."

"The Breaker Boys" photo shows young boys picking slate from a coal chute. Conditions in the anthracite mines led to child labor laws .

Harvan has been doing photography for decades, taking a strong interest in the coal-mining industry when he went to work for Lehigh Coal & Navigation Co. in 1949.

"I used to do their public relations work," he said.

Other Harvan contributions include a shot of Mike "Tarzan" Lukas using a crosscut saw to prepare tree timbers for the Lanscoal Mining Co., Lansford. Lukas still uses the hospital.

Bill Richards, a retired Lansford school teacher , opened his collection of pictures for the mural.

"I think it tells a story -- not so much the story of the hospital but how the men worked and how it looked," he said.

Richards, a collector of coal-mining memorabilia, said he contributed the pictures out of pride for the Panther Valley.

"These are just a few of the hundreds we have," he said.

The centerpiece of the mural is a shot of the No.8 breaker in Coaldale at dusk by Rudy Bednar, a retired Morning Call photographer. The breaker, one of the largest in the area, was torn down in the 1960s.

Parano said the mural, up since June, will be complete when a brief description of the photographs goes on the wall.