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Eckley Miners’ Village Unveils New Learning Series on Anthracite History image
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June 21, 2024
Eckley Miners’ Village Unveils New Learning Series on Anthracite History
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Lights, Camera, Eckley: The Making of The Molly Maguires

In 1968, a Hollywood location scout visited NEPA to find a setting for Sean Connery’s first film since his turn as James Bond. The scout made it as far as Eckley. Two years later, The Molly Maguires introduced international film audiences to the secluded, Northeastern Pennsylvania mining town that on first glance appeared to be untouched by time.

A special walking tour of Eckley on June 29th will reveal that some movie magic was behind the miracle. “The filmmakers spoke of how authentic, how real, how separate Eckley was from the hustle and bustle of New York or L.A.,” says Dr. Ed Slavishak, Professor of History at Susquehanna University. “But it took a massive amount of work to make it look that way.”

To achieve their silver-screen vision of an authentic mining community, film crews covered modern-era rolled siding with clapboard, buried power lines, and used crop dusters to blanket Eckley with powdered coal. Slavishak will guide visitors between major shot locations at Eckley to show how moviemakers blended fact and fiction to reimagine history in The Molly Maguires.

Energize Eckley: Summer 2024 Speaker Series

Slavishak’s tour is the first installment in Energize Eckley, a six-part speaker series running on most Saturdays from late June through August 2024. The programs range in topic from film history to Ukrainian dance to a virtual-reality tour of active strip mines. What they share is a sense that we’ve only begun to appreciate our region’s rich heritage and national significance.

Some guest speakers are using advanced recording technology, seismographs, and archaeological excavations to gain fresh vantage points on familiar places and uncover the vivid past buried just beneath the present. Others, like Slavishak, are reassessing Eckley to learn what new stories this historic place has yet to tell.

 

From Mining Heritage to Movie Magic

For the film crew behind The Molly Maguires, Eckley’s story was an Appalachian story. “The landscape spoke to them of this deep history of labor, remoteness,” and how newcomers to the region interacted with locals. Originally, director Martin Ritt had wanted to film in the coalfields of West Virginia or Kentucky, but NEPA offered better catering and hotels. Only later did the film crew learn of the industrial history behind seemingly quaint patch towns like Eckley.

This anecdote was the opening to an early draft of Slavishak’s book Proving Ground: Expertise and Appalachian Landscapes (2018). “What’s a better example of an outsider than Sean Connery coming to tell people about a place like Eckley?” Slavishak wonders. Join Slavishak’s June 29th tour, “Bleak Truthfulness: Hollywood Comes to Eckley” to hear how, for a moment in 1968, James Bond became a Coalcracker.

Tickets to Energize Eckley must be purchased in advance and are $12/event or $60 for a season pass to all six events. Proceeds will be matched by a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to rehabilitate several historic structures at Eckley as an interdisciplinary learning center and overnight lodging, part of a long-term effort to preserve the village and fuel curiosity about NEPA’s singular past. Energize Eckley is sponsored by PNC Bank and Mauch Chunk Trust.