Digital Exclusive: ‘Knox Mine Disaster’ screening for next generation

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YATESVILLE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) January 22, 1959 is one of the darkest days in Northeastern Pennsylvania history and the end of anthracite coal mining in the area as we knew it.

In order to figure out exactly what happened here — two alumni of this local high school put in 10 years worth of work and are now bringing their documentary to the big screen in their old auditorium.

Cousins and Pittston Area Senior High alumni David and Albert Brocca set out on a journey, more than a decade ago, to tell the entire story of the Knox Mine Disaster, where 12 coal miners died during a mine collapse under the Susquehanna River in nearby Port Griffith.

“The number one thing was that it’s a really great story and I was fascinated with how the miners actually escaped the river caving in on them,” said David.

The documentary encompasses the tragic events and heroic rescues. It also highlights legal battles from the time which the coal industry still faces today.

“We just wanted to make sure we got everything right,” said Albert. “That involved checking all our facts and making sure that what we put out in our final product was 100 percent accurate.”

Part of that process was reaching out to Eyewitness News for a majority of our archival footage. Other parts included reaching out to the few remaining survivors and their families.

“My grandfather always had the map,” said Tina Kayden, whose grandfather, Joe Stella, is prominently featured in the documentary. “We learned in detail about the eagle air shaft, the escape and the rescue of the miners that my grandfather brought out.”

Whether you have coal miners’ blood in your veins or are new to the area, the Brocca cousins made this movie with everyone in mind.

“The way we approached this film is we wanted to make it for everybody,” noted Albert. “If there was someone from the area that didn’t know anything about coal mining, we wanted to incorporate a history lesson, a backstory.”

That lesson, now being imparted to today’s youth with a ‘coal mine tour’ — a series of screenings from their alma mater to other schools in the region in former and current mining towns.

“We want to incorporate the schools into this because I didn’t learn about it when I went to school here. It’s such a big part of local history,” said David. “I thought it would be important to get it integrated into the school system. Pittston Area did a great job where they focused on local history this month and here we are, showing it to the kids.”

Students actively watched — many putting their phones down and soaking in their heritage.

“I think it’s really great that we, as Pittston Area students, get to see two kids who went to Pittston Area do something so successful and show the rich history that we have that should be acknowledged,” said Pittston Area senior Hannah Waleski.

“Movie-making has always been interesting to watch so seeing how something like this took them 10 years, when it only happened over a matter of hours, shows how painstaking it was for them to get every detail,” added fellow senior TJ Connors.

“I thought it was amazing. I’ve heard it from my grandparents. They’ve told me but just seeing this film really opens my mind to a whole new chapter,” said Ryan Croughn.

“Like in the film, they show history can repeat itself. They’re teaching us about all of this stuff that could happen and if we don’t learn from our past mistakes — it’s going to keep repeating itself,” added John Galonis. “I think it’s a great idea to bring this to the high school and teach us right now before anything else can actually happen.”

In telling the whole story and focusing on the escape and rescue efforts, filmmakers and family either learned or were reminded what kind of men perished and escaped that day.

“These guys that survived this disaster; they’re really not looking for your sympathy. They just happened to be there that day and wanted to help their fellow miners,” David noted.

“My grandfather never wanted to be called a hero,” Kayden added. “He was very humble. They did what they had to that day.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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