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Heroes and villains in Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal region – Small park pays tribute to the Molly Maguires

December 2018

The Molly Maguires was an Irish Catholic clandestine society active during the 1800s in Ireland, Liverpool and in the eastern United States, who engaged in often violent activism among the Irish communities in Pennsylvania’s anthracite region.

Back then, the work and personal lives of many Irish immigrants, and of other nationalities, were controlled by the powerful railroad and coal mine companies to the extent of making them indentured servants with no end in sight to their servitude.

After several murders and violent conflicts, twenty suspected members of The Mollies were arrested by the Coal and Iron Police, following an investigation by detectives from the Pinkerton Detective Agency. The accused were convicted of murder and hanged between 1877 and 1879 at the Carbon County Jail in Jim Thorpe and the Schuylkill County Jail in Pottsville.

On the main street through Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, is a small park named The Molly Maguires Historical Park.

The centrepiece of this park is a sculpture of a hooded man, hands tied behind his back, stands on a podium with the outline of a gallows encircling him. 

Today, there is disagreement whether the Molly Maguires were an underground movement that was motivated by personal vendettas or as a struggle between organized labor and powerful industrial coal mine operations in Pennsylvania’s anthracite region that employed many of their members.  Maybe they were a little bit of both.

However, some even argue that the Molly Maguires activities in Pennsylvania were perpetuated by coal company owners so as to destroy union organization.

The Carbon County Jail closed in 1995 and is now open to the public as the Old Jail Museum. In one cell, there is a handprint left by Alexander Campbell, an alleged Molly Maguire who was hanged in 1877, to proclaim his innocence. Legend has it that despite many attempts to remove it, including building a new wall, the mark still remains today.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

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