A Coal Miner in Bethel Park?

A statue can artfully remind you of local history.

Every Saturday morning I take my mom to Lady Di’s beauty shop on South Park Road in Bethel Park. I always take an old shortcut beside and behind St. Valentine’s Church and along North Pennsylvania Avenue.

As you come down the little hill there, since September of 2008, there’s been a pitch-black coal-miner statue standing outside the Jugo-Slav Club. He’s a rugged-looking character carrying a bag in his one hand – Could that be his lunch? A battery pack for his light? With a Popeye-like swagger, he looks as though he’s ready to get back to work. I’ve come to like his presence there, a weekly reminder that Bethel Park was home to many coal miners long before it became the pleasant 1950s-era suburb where I grew up.

Not too far from where the statue stands today was the Coverdale Mine (Mine No. 8 of the Pittsburgh Terminal Co.), which closed in 1948. And heading north toward town on Route 88, just before you get to the Washington Junction of the T, there was Mine No. 3 Mollenauer beside the road there. We may sometimes forget, but there was a lot of hard work done in these underground places before the post-World-War II baby boom caused lots of families (like mine) to move out there.

And apparently that’s just what the statue was intended to do: to surprise us cool, easy-going cats on our way to the beauty shop and the shopping mall and to make us think a moment about what used to be the biggest business in this part of town.

I called and met with some of the guys at the club (a private, ethnic club that’s 80 years old this year), and they told me the statue idea really started with one of their bartenders, Pam Walker, who said they ought to put something significant and interesting on a new concrete slab that was poured on the Bertha Street side of the building. Pam had a small statue of a coal miner, made out of coal, and she offered it as a suggestion of what they might do.

One of the members knew an artist in Gastonville named Kypp Pettiford, and they commissioned him to make a life-size miner like Pam’s statue. Members of the club liked the work so much they decided it was going out front, not on the Bertha Street side of the building.

Working with a variety of tools, including a chainsaw, Kypp transformed a huge hunk of a silver-maple tree into the statue that stands there today. (I was a little surprised to find that it wasn’t made from a giant lump of coal, but I should have known that the soft bituminous stuff is not a great medium for sculpting.) Kypp made the wood shiny black, and he came up with the idea of adding a miner’s lamp to the hard hat, a light that would shine every night.

I like the light too and noticed as I drove by one Saturday that it looks as though there’s a small bird (a dust-covered canary?) or a dark butterfly hovering right above the light. Turns out it’s a slim solar panel that powers the miner’s lamp. It’s a clever and slightly ironic modern touch that helps us see the miner in the darkness and helps light his way back to the Coverdale Mine.

Rick Sebak produces, writes and narrates documentaries for WQED tv13, as well as national specials for PBS. His programs are available online or call 800/274-1307.

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