They stroll the narrow, shabby streets, chat at the corners, lean against the peeling pillars of the town saloon, the St. Michael Hotel & Restaurant, and they look more like movie actors than real human beings, because something is wrong.
Then you ask for one of them by name, in this town where it is obvious that everyone knows everyone else, and you get the reply, “Oh, he’ll be along any minute. Today’s sign-up day.” And it is borne in upon you that these men are subsisting on unemployment insurance checks, that this is a community where practically all of the able-bodied men have been out of work for many months. Where are the children? In school, although most of these people are older and no longer have small children. Where are the teenagers? Looking for work, moved away, trying their luck elsewhere. Where are the women? Working, many of them—which is a story in itself.
St. Michael is a company town (of the Berwind-White Coal Mining Co.) tucked into one of the many folds of the mountains of Western Pennsylvania. It is as American as any town you could want, by any standards you could name. But the menfolk are practically all out of work, and have been ever since the 24th of April, 1958, when Maryland Shaft #1 closed down. This may be why there is not much travel agency business for Caribbean cruises. In its own way, however, it is a tourist attraction, or would be, if tourists could ever find their way to it over the wind...
For just $19.95 a year, get access to new issues and decades' worth of archives on our site.
Print + Online
For $35 a year, get new issues delivered to your door and access to our full online archives.