Wednesday, January 04, 2006

THE BLACK MARIA RETURNS


Sabbath
Originally uploaded by joaobambu.

So all right, I was already thinking about miners, mining towns, mining families. And history. Last week, when I was in Pennsylvania, I heard the story of the Black Maria for the first time.

I heard how the mining companies used to maintain a black vehicle that served as a hearse or an ambulance as needed.

I heard how dreaded that vehicle was when it made an appearance in the towns that were built to house the miners' families.

I heard how the women in the families would go out on the ubiquitous front porches, clutching their rosary beads when one passed through the streets, praying that it would not stop in front of their house.

Sometimes the Black Maria delivered a corpse. Other times, the drivers bore a dying man up the stairs of his front porch to live out his final hours with his family.

Knowing those streets, those porches as I do, knowing the rosary beads that are still clutched in times of trouble, the image is particularly vivid to me.

Vivid, too, are the faces of the families in West Virginia who were confronted by the Black Maria yesterday. Not in the form of a hearselike car, but through the voice of a mining company executive announcing the death of twelve miners to the crowd that had gathered in a small white church.

To them, and to the nation which has lost these good men, my deepest sympathy.

22 comments:

Marilyn said...

Amen. What's happened to those families feels particularly heartbreaking...to soar with relief upon hearing good news...only to be crushed by the bad. I can't imagine.

kathryn said...

When I heard the *new* news this morning, it was particularly heart-renching. I'd never heard of the Black Maria, by the way. Interesting bit of folkore.

rdl said...

Amen, and the deepest sympathies to the men and their families.

thewailer said...

your description is vivid enough for my senses to melt, sympathies to the families affected.

irina said...

Pain is so mysterious, it comes without being called, raising so many questions and answering none... and the human being is just supposed to go on bearing it...

Patry Francis said...

marilyn: Heartbreaking, yes, but it seems to have galvanized their anger--not only about having the truth held back for hours, but about the safety conditions in the mines.

Kathryn: Only days before the mining accident in W.V. someone had told me about the Black Maria, which I believe was mostly used in the depression. It seems an odd coincidence. Or not.

R: Can always count on you for a compassionate response. THank you for visiting. Wish we could have tea.

thewailer: thanks for stopping by my blog and for the generosity of your comment.

Irina: Your words aare very profound. Like your new year's "resolution."

Deepa said...

hello
thanks for dropping by my blog. i went through yours, especially the post where you talked of how addictive blogging is, the thrill of someone reading your blog is great.
nice blog you have up here.
keep reading mine!
regards

Annie said...

My husband informed me late in the night..."twelve miners, alive!".
Next morning, the horrible, heart-breaking reversal made itself known. You've written a beautiful tribute.

SarahJane said...

amen. i couldn't believe they'd been rescued, and then it was wonderful to hear that they had. and then, i can't even imagine what those families felt hearing the truth.

Kerstin said...

Beautifully said, Patry. The life of a miner has always been a remote entity to me, but when I heard the news about these poor men, I remembered a story from my school book when I was very young, maybe 6 or 7 years old.

It was about 12 miners just like these, trapped underground, not knowing whether they would be saved or not. It is a short and simple narrative of the men counting down a minute, from 60-0. A very long minute to them. A reminder that time is relative, but never stops, either.

Why this particular story left such an impression on me, I do not know, but I always think of it when I hear of a tragedy like this one. And a great tragedy it is.

Melly said...

It's hard to believe that in this day and age it still happens. It sounds like a story from a different era, where men had no choice and children crawled down small tunnels.
I mean, there are dangerous jobs, but most of them have a purpose, like police officer, or fire fighter. This is just so pointless. Sorry, I'm ranting when this was such a heartfelt post...
I'll stop now.

My thoughts are with the families, the town, the survivor and all miners out there.

Jonathan said...

Interesting. I just posted something about the statistics surrounding miner death rates in West Virginia and how they compare to those of China...

Rexroth's Daughter said...

When we heard the news of the 12 miners surviving, we were as joyous as if we knew them. Went to sleep thinking all was well, but awoke in the middle of the night, and found that dpr was awake as well. I said, how many miners do you think are still alive? I don't know why I asked him that, but by morning we knew the answer.

Interesting story about the Black Maria.

Becca said...

My great-grandfather died in a mine accident in his son's (my grandfather's) arms ... both miners, many years ago in Scotland. My grandfather walked out of the mine that day and never went back.

this is a beautiful tribute to the WVA miners ... thank you for saying it so well.

Sharon Hurlbut said...

Being from West Virginia originally, and having had coal miners in my family, this tragedy has a reality to me that makes it almost unbearable. My heart goes out to the families of the lost miners.

Patry Francis said...

deepa: thanks for dropping by.

annie: I'm still struggling to understand how they could allow those families to rejoice for hours when the truth was known shortly after the miscommunication.

sarahj: nice to see a new face, especially when it's a poet!

kerstin: thank you for sharing such a beautiful and poignant story.

Melly: I think we're all tempted to do a little ranting at times like this.

jonathan: I'll be clicking over to check that out.

r.d.: strange, your middle of the night waking--and your question to dpr. Almost as if you knew.

Becca: Family stories like that are with us for life, and I believe, change the way we live and experience the world. Thank you for sharing it here.

sharon: my husband reacted in much the same way. This wasn't "news" to him; it was personal.

finnegan said...

Patry, the real tragedy (as usual) is the greed which allowed these men to be condemned.

Swirly said...

Beautifully said.

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