BY JILL WHALEN
Eckley Miners’ Village will add some Italian flair to its annual Patchtown Days on Saturday and Sunday this weekend.
“A few years ago, we decided to make Patchtown Days a celebration of a certain ethnicity,” said site Administrator Bode Morin. “We’ve had Irish and Slovak, and this year we are having Italian.”
The event will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days and feature foods, traditions, live music and dancing. And as in previous years, it will also focus on the lives of those who scraped out a living working in the mines.
The Eckley Players celebrate their 20th anniversary this year and will be on hand for historical reenactments, including a play about the Avondale Mine Disaster.
“Eckley is pleased to recognize the contributions of Anthracite miners and their families not only in creating the regional culture we all share but also in providing the building blocks of the American economy and industry,” Morin said. “Families from across the world have come to Northeast Pennsylvania and continue to come, giving us great foods, traditions, and history. Eckley and our region are fully part of the American melting pot, and we’re happy to present a celebration of these cultural components during Patchtown Days each year.”
As in previous years, there will be tours of the village. All interpretive buildings will be open and staffed.
New this year — since the theme is Italian Fest — will be bocce, a Keystone Ballet Academy performance of the tarantella, Danny Farole on accordion and guest speaker Stephanie Longo.
Bobby Maso, coordinator of the all-volunteer Eckley Players, said the Avondale Mine Disaster performance is based on what happened when the mine near Plymouth caught fire 50 years ago. Miners had no way to escape, and 110 of them perished.
The Players, garbed as miners and villagers, have acted out skits from Eckley’s past for years at the annual Patchtown Days. The all-volunteer group started in 1999, Maso said, and its first performance was about a mine disaster’s effects on a small coal mining patch town.
“The response from the public was so positive,” Maso said. “People enjoyed the dramatics and the heartfelt nature of the story so much that they asked the group at the time if there would be other performances.”
The following year, the group advertised for members. Maso, who was in middle school at the time, signed up.
“It was a chance to do some acting. You also have the chance to learn a lot too,” he said.
Maso said he couldn’t believe that people lived the way that they did.
“There was so much struggle and strife,” he said. “These miners were constantly under the boot of the coal company, which controlled every aspect of their lives.”
Mine conditions were unsafe. Pay was poor, and if a miner died, he was quickly replaced.
“I never heard of that when I was in school,” he said. “This stuff is being forgotten about. This stuff is being lost to time.”
The players, Maso said, feel that it is their responsibility to keep the history alive.
They perform at Patchtown Days and other Eckley events. They also hold haunted lantern tours at the site in October and travel to other areas for parades or performances. The group has appeared on PBS, The Learning Channel and The History Channel.
Maso said volunteers of all ages are welcome.
“We believe just as strongly now as we did when the group formed. It’s one of the most important things that we do,” he said of bringing history back to life. “We educate people by entertaining them. We have to do our part; we want to remember this history.”
Admission to the event at Eckley is $10 for adults, $9 for seniors and $6 for youth. Children under 3 are free. For more information, call 570-636-2070, visit eckleyminersvillage.com or the Eckley Facebook page.
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