Beyond the Breaker (2016) Documentary · 1 November 2016
A towering 11-story structure of steel and glass, the Huber Breaker, built in 1939, used state-of-the-art technology to process 7000 tons of Anthracite coal per day. With the decline of Anthracite and the end of the industrial age, the Huber Breaker closed in 1976 and was left to rot. The once creaking mechanical breaker that affected several generations of workers, fell silent and into decay. The coal industry was not kind to its workers and the Anthracite mining industry was no exception. Beginning in the mid 1700's, Anthracite mining became a way for immigrants to earn a living after coming to America. Working conditions were hazardous with miners facing suffocation from low oxygen, injury or death from explosions from Methane gas, etc., black lung disease from constant exposure to coal dust, and cave-ins and roof collapses due to weak mine infrastructure. In addition to job hazards, miners were abused by the companies for which they worked. They lived in company houses on company land and bought all household items in the company store. Literally every penny that a miner earned went back into the pockets of the mining company, leaving workers trapped in a cycle of debt, rarely able to free themselves from what amounts to industrial slavery. The Anthracite coal industry also used children in mines and breakers. Breaker boys would sit in coal chutes separating coal from rocks and shale. Their fingers bled, their eyesight degraded from sitting in the belly of a darkened breaker, and their backs became hunched from sitting in the same position day after day. As the Huber Breaker decayed, it began to take on a new persona, transforming from a symbol of industry into a place of exploration and reverence for an era long gone. In Ashley, Pennsylvania, the home of the breaker, community members had mixed feelings about what fate the breaker should face. Many people felt that the breaker should be preserved, left as an icon and a memorial to those who worked in the Anthracite coal fields. It represented history, ancestry, and the importance of holding on to roots of an industry that both built and destroyed many lives. Others saw the Huber Breaker as a symbol of injustice and thought that the only reverence lies in tearing it down. Beyond The Breaker explores the connections between people, place and the legacy of coal mining that still influences Pennsylvania's Anthracite region. It explores the coal fields where remnants of other collieries lay scattered like the remains of dinosaurs. And it questions whether we will continue the destructive cycles that punish those who have less or if we are able to transform our future into one that has a reverence for its mistakes and is able to overcome the problems we face because of our choices, ones that valued profit over people. - Written by Gabby Zawacki
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