Where Bullets Met Strikers
In Pennsylvania’s worst labor tragedy, nineteen died and dozens were seriously wounded when a corrupt Sheriff, and deputies pulled from the coal mine police, fired upon immigrant mine workers peacefully marching towards Lattimer, Pennsylvania.
Today, the patch town of Lattimer, Pennsylvania is a quiet hamlet where about 460 people mow their lawns and work on their hobbies. Other than the monument at the intersection of Main and Quality Streets, the gated dirt road to the burned down colliery, and the sign “Lattimer Mines” above the Post Office, there is little that either remains or is a reminder of the worst labor tragedy in Pennsylvania’s history.
On September 10, 1897 a group of over 400 striking miners marched toward the Lattimer mine and colliery at Lattimer, outside of Hazleton, Pennsylvania. The coal operations, run by the Pardee family had hired Poles, Slovaks, Italians, Hungarians, and Lithuanians with the expectation that because they did not speak a common language, they would not be able to organize.
But the common bond of low pay, poor working conditions, unsafe practices and restriction to purchases at the company store made these mine workers feel they were no better than slaves. With organizers that could speak the several languages, the miners organized and went on strike.
To gather additional workers to join their strike, the miners marched to the coal mines in the Hazleton area. On September 10, they marched toward Lattimer.
The Pardee Company summoned Sheriff James L. Martin and helped provide 87 deputies from among the Coal & Iron Police and from among the anti-immigrant men at a local bar. The deputies were well armed including the newest 16 shot Winchester rifles—which they loaded with either No. 8 shot or steel-jacketed ammunition.
Jean Blass of Hazleton, now 81, learned about the Lattimer Massacre when she received a letter from her great uncle Dominic Marsilio (later changed to Marsello.) The letter was received about two years before Marsilio died at the age of 90 in 1976. The following is the text of the letter describing what Marsilio witnessed on that fateful day. (The text has been edited for clarity.)
Lattimer Massacre Letter
Dear Niece Jean,
In your letter you suggested to give you information in reference to the Lattimer Mines Massacre around late September 1897. I was in my 13th year of age.
On that afternoon at 2:00 P.M., news came about the United Mine Workers of America —John Mitchell was the President. The union members were on strike in other mining towns.
This unlucky day, the Sheriff and his men after two weeks vigilance had told the striking men not to come to Lattimer but they came anyway in spite of the warning.
They were on the roadway walking with their coats in their arms and that sheriff gave orders to shoot. The men fell like rats—a pity sight. I saw them lying in among the briers near a gum berry tree. It was a miniature war.
There had prepared six or eight open trolley cars with stretchers and slats. They picked up the bodies, placed them in the cars, and brought them to the Hazleton morgues. They were mostly Orthodox Russian and Polish men.
My sister and I went to see them at the funeral parlors. Most of them were buried at the cemetery near your old home about three or four blocks next to Vine Street.
I will never forget this reminder of the gum berry tree. The other boys and I used to go and pick berries in season during school recess. Our schoolteacher, she was a widow and very severe towards the boys. She didn’t spare the chestnut switches the day the massacre took place. She went to help. She ripped her undergown for bandages. She was seen by the Company authorities. The result was that she lost her job as a schoolteacher. Her son, who worked on a steam shovel, also lost out.
Also the strikers were Catholics and the Deputies were Protestants. No one was punished for the massacre. That night a telephone call was received at the Company office that strikers were coming to burn the town. Every or most of the people left their home barefooted and blankets over their shoulders.
The following day, the State National Guard came. The whole occurrence was uncalled for. Those days all companies were harsh to their people.
You wonder why I left for better possibilities. I told my father I was leaving when I turned 16.
It is estimated that 150 shots were fired. Officially, 19 were killed and 38 severely wounded. For fear or reprisals, many of the wounded avoided going to the hospital and were never counted.
Rather than stop the union movement, it spurred it on with 1,500 joining the strike.
In 1972, on the 75th anniversary of the Lattimer Massacre, a monument was erected at the entrance to Lattimer on property donated by Jean Blass’ sister, Amelia Cherko, and her husband Albert.
The inscription on the monument erected at Lattimer reads, “It was not a battle because they were not aggressive, nor were they defensive because they had no weapons of any kind and were simply shot down like so many worthless objects, each of the licensed life-takers trying to outdo the others in butchery.”