“This isn’t coal country. Not anymore. The coal still comes out of the ground, but without many workers.”
Coal mining is a changing industry, and more and more it’s leaving its workers behind. This story illustrates that point, but also serves as a reminder that while the coal industry phases out, we need to be compassionate and cooperative with the communities that will be impacted by it’s absence.
WBEZ 91.5 Chicago HEAT OF THE MOMENT
Old King Coal
A princess, a miner and a movement to stop the war
By Dan Weissmann (click link below for audio)
Photos by Bill Healy (click link below for photos)
On a warm Friday afternoon in West Frankfort, Illinois, there’s an avalanche in front of city hall.
Actually, it’s The Avalanche, a carnival ride. A dozen or more rides are jammed onto a stretch of Poplar Street and its adjacent parking lots. The area’s transformed, for a few days, into a midway filled with colored lights, music and the smell of funnel cake. This weekend marks the Old King Coal Festival, a tradition dating back 75 years for this small town.
The festival got its name because Southern Illinois produces so much coal, boosters call it the Saudi Arabia of coal. No kidding. The coal industry has shaped whole towns in Illinois, and defined their history — towns like West Frankfort. Of course, coal has been pulled right into the middle of the climate change fight. So West Frankfort and its heritage have been dragged in too.