‘Lost coal country of Northeastern Pennsylvania’
Lorena Beniquez, of South Williamsport, is the great-granddaughter of a coal miner, Stefano Pantano, who worked in Northeastern Pennsylvania, the subject of Beniquez’s first publication, “Images of America: Lost Coal Country of Northeastern Pennsylvania.”
“We never talked about his time as a coal miner,” she said. “I can only imagine how it was, working underground all the time.”
Beniquez describes her latest effort as more than just a history book. “It’s a guidebook to a disappearing history,” she said. “I wanted to preserve it for those who were workers in the industry, but also those who didn’t know.”
Beniquez was able to speak to retired coal miners and experts to explore what was once a booming industry. Photographs include Pennsylvania’s last coal breaker, the St. Nicholas coal breaker, located between Mahanoy City and Shenandoah. The sight is still owned by the Reading Anthracite Company, who granted Beniquez permission to photograph the breaker. She craftily captured the remnants, including broken down buildings, office documents scattered on crumbling floors and even a lonely shoe, that could have been one of the many workers — immigrants from Wales, England and Germany — that flocked to Schuykill County in the 19th century.
In her book she writes, “One of the most surprising revelations upon touring the facility is how well preserved it is. Despite missing windows, steel and concrete remain stubbornly intact, a testament to its solid engineering.”
The book catalogues a dying industry, each picture showing the remnants of the field that don’t just represent Northeastern Pennsylvania, but also America. Beniquez said Central Pennsylvania played a role in this industry as well. “Our wood kept those coal mines open. The industrial revolution couldn’t have happened with it.”
The chapters go on to depict the Huber Break in Ashley, which has mostly been demolished; a pictorial tour of where the Knox Mine disaster happened in Port Griffith; the rise of the railroad in Northeastern Pennsylvania; a beautiful view of the ruins of Centralia; and much more.
One of Beniquez’s favorite photos from the book is a picture of graffiti that simply reads, “Question Every Ting.” A grammatically incorrect statement, but to Beniquez it has layers. “It makes you wonder. Was that deliberate spelling? What does it mean? I think it has many layers,” she said. “I think we do need to question everything.”
Beniquez left Los Angeles in 2004 to come to Williamsport. Her mother was a poet, and she can remember that influence sticking with her. She graduated from Mansfield University with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and even had the opportunity to apprentice with Rene Miville in Ft. Myers, Florida. This opened up a world to Beniquez she didn’t know was possible.
“Being an artist, you didn’t do this unless you wanted to be poor. This taught me something I didn’t know, that it was possible to be successful,” she said.
While Beniquez has contributed to other books, this is her first solo publication, which is published by Arcadia Books.
The book is available locally at Otto bookstore, 107 W. Fourth St., and online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Target.