Mine Rescue Redux

The other day when a news anchor said that the mine rescue in Chile brought back memories of one in Pennsylvania, I expected something about an event in 1963. Instead, the story was about a rescue of nine miners in Somerset County in 2002, the implication being that it was the model for the rescue in Chile.

But not mentioned in the report was the model for Somerset County, the first time rescuers drilled into a mine from above and pulled out miners. That happened near Sheppton, Pennsylvania, in 1963. It was quite the operation and I had the privilege as a journalist of visiting the site and seeing the rescue operation under way, although I was not present when two of the three miners were pulled through a tube to the surface. (The third miner’s body was never recovered.)

The atmosphere around the site was mixed. I remember sad family members of the trapped miners sitting glumly under a tent awaiting word. Elsewhere, a local caterer had set up to serve the rescuers and the press. I remember bumping into some of my fellow journalists, including Ray Saul of the Hazleton paper.

The man leading the rescue was a guy named H. Beecher Charmbury, who was the state’s secretary of mines and had been recruited from Penn State to run the bureau. He was credited with coming up with the idea of drilling a hole to the miners, using it to send down food and for communication, and then enlarging it enough to send a man-size cylinder to retrieve the two miners.

Shortly after the rescue, I joined the Navy and didn’t give the rescue another thought.

But I had the pleasure decades later of working with Charmbury, who had returned to Penn State and had become active in Republican politics. He was the chair of the county party and I worked with him on various events, including the annual chicken barbecue.

In the late 1980s, my wife and I formed a luncheon group called the Anthracite League and decided we would have speakers. Our first speaker was Charmbury.

He gave an excellent presentation and showed his own slides. The slides stood out because they were in black and white, which added a nice tone to his presentation.

As we cheer on the rescuers in Chile, we should remember Sheppton and Beecher Charmbury and note that a mine rescue in 1963 remains an important part of world history in 2010.


Travels With Sally

My wife and I recently embarked on a trip that lasted 30 days and 6300 miles. We visited friends in Missouri, cousins in Chicago, daughters (and grandchildren) in North Carolina and New York, and friends and family in Pennsylvania.

One person I didn’t expect to encounter was my oldest sister, Sally. After all, she died 18 days before her 62nd birthday—in 1998.

On my last full day at my mother-in-law’s, I was up early (as usual) and checking e-mail (as usual) and there was a note from my older sister in New Mexico forwarded from our oldest nephew, one of Sally’s three sons, informing me that the funeral director who had presided over her services had some remaining ashes (they’re called cremains) and could I pick them up?

(For reasons not clear to me, my sister’s wishes to have some of her cremains scattered at the childhood home were not followed. For other reasons not clear to me, I don’t know why the funeral director still had some of her cremains. And the background on why there was a sudden interest in scattering her cremains at the childhood home is family business and not fodder for blogs.)

The arrangements made, I called my nephew from my car after picking up the cremains and we agreed that I should leave some of them at the house where my mother, sisters and I lived with my grandparents after my parents separated. (Sally would have been about 13 then.) My grandfather was the caretaker of a company-owned reservoir, and while we didn’t live there more than five years it is the place from which we draw many of our fondest childhood memories. It was where uncles, aunts and cousins gathered and played even before we arrived.

I called my older sister and informed her of the plan and said I knew the place to scatter some of the cremains. I had been at the house a couple of days before, taking photographs (with permission of the owner), and had noticed a modest three railroad tie footbridge across the road. I remembered going over to the spot when I lived there and told my sister that’s where I would scatter some of the cremains.
“Oh,” my sister said, “that was Sally’s favorite place.”

I had no idea.

Later that day I scattered some of Sally’s cremains under a baby pine tree. When I reported that I had accomplished the mission, my older sister said it was probably Sally’s happiest day.

Mine, too.