This page by Francis J. Stefanak
A memoir of life in Nanty Glo's early years
I was born and raised in Nanty Glo. My parents, Andrew and Anna Stefanak, moved to Nanty Glo about 1905. My father was a coal minerweren't all males coal miners then? For many years I thought Nanty Glo was named for the Nanny goats that roamed the hills in the town's early days. I learned later that it was a Welsh name meaning a valley of coal.
It really was a valley of coal. In its heyday, Nanty Glo had four major industrial-type coalmines: Heisley (#3), the largest, followed by Springfield, Webster, and Lincoln. I can recall when the Webster mine tunneled under Lloyd Street and utilized mules to move the coal cars both inside the mines and outside.
Heisley Mine was the epitome of mines at the outset, with its imposing smokestack and modern tipple. It also developed a staggering slag dump that for years emitted an unforgettable sulfur odor. I remember driving into Nanty Glo with my children, years later, and that almost in unison they would say, "what smells?"
I remember all of the company stores. The Lincoln Company Store was unique. In modern terminology, I guess you would consider Lincoln a suburb of Nanty Glo, though it was rather close in proximity. Lincoln had its own script monetary system...today this script would probably be considered a real collector's item.
In the early days Nanty Glo had no sewage system or main water system. Everyone, or almost everyone, had an outhouse. During Halloween the custom then, in addition to removing fence gates, was to push over outhouses. Imagine one's surprise the morning after to find his outhouse overturned!
School discipline was expected. The teacher or the principal was always right. The school paddle was standard equipment and use of it, when necessary, was an expected and approved procedure, if needed, to maintain classroom deportment and discipline. I vividly recall Clara Leidy, the first grade schoolteacher. I think she taught all of my brothers and sisters as well as myself. Her father was a farmer who lived a few miles from Mundys Corner. With his team of horses he brought Miss Leidy in to work early Monday mornings. She roomed in town until Friday night, when her father came to pick her up for the weekend at home. On his way in on Friday afternoon, Mr. Leidy had a route selling fresh fruits and vegetables grown on his farm and, as you can well imagine, prices then compared to current ones were fantastic. I have been trying for years to find the "sheep nose" apples he produced. Here are some of my memories of growing up in Nanty Glo:
Men cutting blocks of ice out of a pond near the old field school house and storing them in a warehouse near the former Heisley Company Store (the presently American Legion Building). I believe the warehouse was operated by Ben Fresh. The ice was completely encased with sawdust and it lasted through most of the summer.
The old swimming holes upstream before the sulfur from the mines entered the streams. They were named for the depth of the pools that were constructed by the kids themselvesfour footer, six-footer, nine-footer, and so on. Of course in those days only males were allowed, and no one wore a bathing suit. We always built a fire for warmth. Any old board would do for a diving platform. Blackberry picking in the hills. It seemed like blackberries were everywhere, along with elderberries, which you seldom see nowadays.
Heisley's whistle blowing in the evening, indicating that the mines would be working the next day.
Sirens at the mines indicating an emergency and that someone at the mines had been injured. Both wives and children were alarmed when this signal was given, wondering and hoping that it did not involve one of their loved ones.
The holiday paradesthe World War I veterans, the women's auxiliary, and especially the volunteer fire department. I am sure that others are deserving, but who can forget the contributions over the many years made to the volunteer fire department by the Barr and Woodring families? The outstanding businessmen like the Syberts and their feed mill, A.A. Dietrich and his hardware store, Ben Fresh and his meat market, Fred Edwards and his meat market, John Casale and his barbershop, George Rinehart and his drug store, Mr. Edelstein and his department store, the Book brothers and their department store. Others, I'm sure, warrant mentioning, but those are the ones I most vividly recall.
My mother once told me that Mr. Edelstein initially started out in Nanty Glo as a collector of metal, clothing, and such, using a pushcart. He subsequently saved enough capital to build and operate a sizeable department store. He also built a substantial residence and raised a fine family. Only in America, as they say.
Abe Book and his brother also operated a department store in Nanty Glo. For some reason, this enterprise was not successful. Abe, nicknamed "Bookie," subsequently went into the meat business, had a meat route, and eventually owned and operated a grocery and meat market of his own. He was a very enterprising and innovative individual who wouldn't let anything get him down. Everyone was broke after the Nanty Glo bank failed in the 1930's. I remember one of our older neighbors sitting on the bank steps crying uncontrollably the morning after. It was a trying period for all concerned. However, it taught me and thousands of others a lesson, or should I say a different philosophy or outlook on life. I daresay that everyone living through that period, or at least a large proportion of people, developed a new perspective about spending money and preparing for financial independence. This outlook is completely foreign to most people today who were not part of the Depression of the '30's.
Nanty Glo's baseball team was always a joy to watch on Sunday afternoons. I've forgotten the names of many of my favorites, but I do remember "Rip" Collins, who graduated from the hometown sandlots to become a big leaguer as a first baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals. As a rookie, he was a pinch hitter for the Cardinals in the World Series against Philadelphia. He faced, I believe, the great pitcher Ehrenshaw. It was one, two, three, you're out. He later said he never saw any of the strikes and never took his bat off his shoulder. However, he became the regular first baseman for the Cardinals, enjoyed some good seasons with them, and was a member of what they referred to as "the Gashouse Gang."
The public school system in Nanty Glo was good. The teachers as a whole were competent and, as mentioned previously, discipline was no problem. Drugs of any kind were unheard of. Two other things unheard of during this period were busing children to school and snow days. Snow days in my area now are almost like a baseball gamethree flakes and you're out.
I'll conclude by telling a story about myself that occurred in Nanty Glo many years ago. I was 11 years old at the time. I had three close friends: Steve Morrison, who lived next door; Charles Ramsey, who lived across the street, and Marty Furgal, who lived just up the street. The four of us roamed the hills throughout the summer months. We knew where to find fresh spring water, what to find chestnuts, and so on.
One day Furgal and I went up to the hills without the other two. Upon returning in the late afternoon, we talked to Charley Ramsey and told him this story. We said we happened to tap an old oak tree with an axe. The tree was rotten near the bottom and had developed a crevice. To our surprise, some old silver and gold coins rolled out of the crevice. We, of course, then really pounded the tree, which resulted in additional coins which we collected and stashed. We suspected that many years ago, pirates had come ashore and secreted their plunder in this oak tree and were never able to return for their booty. (In reality, this was not exactly a plausible story, as we were hundreds of miles from the sea and it's not likely that any pirates ever set foot in this area of Pennsylvania. Despite this, the story was told and retold.) Charley's father even approached my mother for part of the loot. People speculated that I might be obligated to advise the Federal Government of this finding. It was also rumored that the money may have been proceeds of an unsolved train robbery that had previously occurred in the area. Prople pointed me out, saying, "That's the kid who found all that money." No one ever mentioned Furgal, who was with me during the supposed finding. To further foster the rumor, my brother bought a new car and later in the year I found cheap flights and went to visit a sister in Ohio and decided to attend school there for two years. These occurrences just added fuel to the rumor fire and, would you believe, many years later a relative by marriage inquired of me as to whether there were any truth to the story of my finding all that money.
Nanty Glo native Francis J. Stefanak, 86, died in Alexandria, Va., on March 4, 1999. He graduated from the former Nanty Glo High School and in 1935 graduated from St. Francis College in Loretto, with a BS in biology. After service in the United States Navy in the Pacific War Theater in World War II, he joined the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a special agent working in Cincinnati, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., respectively. Retiring in the FBI in 1973, he worked as a consultant for a think tank, the Mitre Corporation.
Married to the former Kathryn Taubler of Greensburg, the Stefanaks were the parents of five children. Besides his wife and children, he was survived by his sister, Katherine Trombley of Nanty Glo, retired from the Nanty Glo, Nanty Glo-Vintondale, and Blacklick Valley High Schools. Stefanak was also survived by 13 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. The Washington Post obituary reported that he was a member of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Alexandria.
The accompanying memoir by Mr. Stefanak of his youth in Nanty Glo was originally published in 1990. It is republished here with the permission of his daughter, Suzanne Furey Craven, of Alexandria, Va.
© Jon Kennedy 1998