Finding Common Roots Deep in the Vein

What do you get when you cross a German, a Pole, and a Czech? In many cases, you get a Pennsylvanian. If you’ve lived a good portion of your life in Pennsylvania, then names with lots of consonants back-to-back, or names ending in “-ski” have been part of your every day experience, or more likely, your family tree. My years in Pennsylvania have been peppered with teachers named Korenkiewicz, directors named Kolvalcik, colleagues named Gluszczak, and friends named Salitrynski. In some areas, people grow up with chile rellenos or cannollis, but in Scranton, or Blossburg, we’re more familiar with pierogi and rugelach.

Before I get too over my head into Polish jokes, I’d like to defer to Brian Ardan’s expertise. Ardan’s recent book, The Anthracite Coal Region’s Slavic Community, yet another great title from wonderful Arcadia Publishing, details Pennsylvania’s rich history of coal mines and close-knit communities. His introduction alone is a masterpiece, obviously condensing and summarizing decades worth of research. Ardan has a master’s degree in Slavic studies, as well as a master’s degree in Library Science, and is a faculty member in the Stevenson Library at Lock Haven University.

Another strength of Mr. Ardan’s introduction is the care he takes to clearly define what he means by “Slavic People”, listing the areas they come from and the ethnic/national groups from which they are descended. Ardan divides the Slavic people into three main groups, covering as far east as “Russia”, as far south as Macedonia, and as far west as the now-dissolved Czechoslovakia. The Slavic people of Pennsylvania, however, were mostly Ukrainian, Polish, Czech, or Slovak. Brian Ardan explains this focus with concise and lucid language, so that I feel in good hands and solid ground as I start to read his book.

After the must-read introduction, I find the book organized into helpful sections, including chapters on the Old World; scenes from life of the newly-arrived; later organizations of church, ethnic, and civil groups; and work life in the mines. In keeping with Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” series, most of the book is a collection of fascinating black & white photos, with detailed captions, giving the reader a true sense of “a slice of life” at this time and place.

I have only one criticism of Mr. Ardan’s otherwise-excellent history: he is so careful to introduce the reader to both “Slavic people” in Pennsylvania and to the exact goal of his book, and yet there is no specific definition of “anthracite coal region”, nor any list of which counties of Pennsylvania this includes. I guess I should know where the anthracite coal was and is found in Pennsylvania, but upon first perusal of this book, I was confused as to why I found no mention of Blossburg, or Landrus, or coal towns in western PA. I had to satisfy my curiosity about the different coal mining regions in Pennsylvania by doing a bit more online research. Adding one or two sentences clarifying which parts of Pennsylvania would be highlighted is a simple way to educate the reader and edify the introduction.

Thus, my only criticism of The Anthracite Region’s Slavic Community issues a challenge to writers and historians of the north-central Pennsylvania area: Arcadia Publishing awaits you! A curious, willing, ready-made audience of people wants to hear more about the history of Tioga, Potter, Sullivan, and Bradford counties, and the Twin Tiers of northern PA and southern New York. I’d love to help you make a serious proposal to Arcadia about history that is just a little closer to home. In the meantime, I think Mr. Ardan’s book will transport your favorite history buff back in time, and get your mental wheels turning.

Hobo the Bookstore Cat says the canaries are free to go down into those mines: he doesn’t like to hunt birds, and he’d rather read about mining than go a-coalin’. He thinks he’d like to be invited to the next Blossburg Coal Festival: bring on the Polka and the pierogi! Check out his recipe for a good book and a poppy seed pastry at http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com.

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