FRANKLIN — A few of the many people involved in the rich mining history in southeast Kansas are being recognized for their efforts with a mural at Miners Hall Museum.
On Sunday, Arizona Artist Antonio Martinez assembled the seven-piece mural at the museum.
“To be chosen as the artist was amazing,” Martinez said. The mural was unveiled to the public on Monday.
MHM Board Member and Historian Linda Knoll sent him stacks of photographs and information for the project. Martinez said working with Knoll and the museum formed a “great relationship” and through this, had created an understanding, allowing for the final product to come into fruition.
Martinez is no stranger to the museum, his relationship actually began in 2013 when Martinez and his wife, Holly Boyd-Martinez, donated their works of art “Working for the Man” and “Outspoken Persistence” to the museum.
For his current piece, which is entitled “The Spirit of the Little Balkans,” Martinez used charcoal to sketch and draw the figures from the past, which he said “is the perfect fit for the museum” because the medium is similar to coal.
Knoll applauded Martinez on his work, and said “great history deserves great art.”
When deciding on the mural’s content, Knoll said they wanted to represent the immigrants who came from afar to work.
“The number one thing about the Balkans are the nations which immigrated here,” she said.
Many of the immigrants became social reformers.
“They took mantel in order to get things changed and sometimes at great risk,” Knoll said.
Among the people in the mural is Jay Waylon who advocated for eight-hour work days.
“Ministries on Sundays, would preach against the eight-hour work days,” Knoll said. “They would say, ‘What kind of devil would they get into if they only worked one third of the day?’
“The philosophy really wasn't there these people really pushed those points and those principals.”
Independent line operators and mine owners also came from across the sea.
Charles Devlin was an Irish immigrant who was also President in the Mt. Carmel Coal Company, owned five banks and much more.
“During the first major strike in 1893, Charles recognized the United Mine Workers of America,” Knoll said. “It was the first time a mine owner had done so and it endeared him to the miners.”
He was also a “wealthy man” who donated land for the Frontenac Cemetery, Mt. Carmel Hospital and gave money to churches in Frontenac and Chicopee, “his vision is still seen here,” Knoll said.
Another individual was Archibald Kirkwood, who was once Mayor of Pittsburg. Kirkwood was a miner himself at one point and “was a welcoming ear,” regarding miners’ issues.
Emanuel Haldeman-Julius is also on the mural. He created the Little Blue Books, which started in 1919 in Girard. Reaching its 100th anniversary, the Axe Library at Pittsburg State University will host a symposium at which people can present. People can learn more about this opportunity by contacting Steve Cox at email@example.com. Proposals are due Sept. 21.
Haldeman-Julius had published over 500 million of the pocket-sized books all across the country and world.
“The only other competitor in the whole country was the U.S. Government Printing Office,” Knoll said.
Also in the mural, historian, archivist, writer, and son of “Little Balkans,” the late Gene DeGruson — also known as “the Prince of the Little Balkans” coined by his friend Charles Cagle.
His grandfather was a French coal miner who moved to the United States with his one-year-old son Henry. The tiny tot was DeGruson’s father.
DeGruson lived at Camp 50 and grew up to be a curator of sorts. One “piece” which he found was the lost edition of Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.” It was originally found by a man in Girard, who had second thoughts about throwing the old papers away. DeGruson pieced the papers together and created “The Lost Edition of The Jungle.” This is just one of his many “great finds.”
The daughter and wife of a coal miner, Mary Skubitz, was included in the mural.
She tended to her husband’s injuries almost daily after he took on dangerous tasks for a dollar extra a day as a shotfirer in the mines. Skubitz — armed with red pepper flakes — was also the leader of the “Amazon Army,” which protested unfair labor practices, poor work conditions and discrimination.
“She encouraged people to stand up for themselves,” Knoll said.
She also knew five languages and was “a great believer of education.”
Marie Mercy also joins Skubitz in the mural. She lived in Carona and was “disgusted to have to pay double for a can of beans,” so she and her husband created their own country store, Knoll said. Later, they picked up their store — board by board — and moved to Camp 50.
“She is the one who supplied the red pepper to throw in the eyes of the scabs [strike breakers],” Knoll said.
Mother Mary Harris Jones’ family came to the U.S. from Ireland after the potato famine. She is also represented in the mural.
She moved to Chicago after the death of her husband and children to Yellow Fever and set up a clothing shop and met coal miners wives. A fire then ruined her dress shop.
From there, Knoll said, Jones said “My home is going to be where my shoes take me.”
She then stumbled upon being a union organize where she protested about child labor and more.
She also spoke to miners and their wives and was “witty and wise,” in the way she spoke, Knoll said. “If you’re satisfied with prunes you better not taste strawberries,” Jones had once said to a group of miners.
“Mother Jones was part of this area more than we’ll ever know,” Knoll said.
These people represented in the mural are “just the tip of the iceberg,” Knoll said.
— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on twitter @pittstephpotter.