Here’s a quick quiz for anyone who grew up hearing about the legends of the Molly Maguires.
If someone asked you to describe a typical mine owner of the early 20th century, what kind of attributes would you list?
Greedy? Lacking in compassion? Valuing the mules who carried coal from the mines more than the human beings who risked their lives underground?
Actor Robert Hughes is familiar with that stereotype, and he rejects it.
In the one-person script he has written, “A Miner’s Tale,” Hughes said there are no completely villainous characters and no lily-white saints.
What he did hope to portray was a lot of conflict, along with some interesting characters who would have lived in Northeastern Pennsylvania circa 1900.
“I’m an actor who writes, not a writer who acts,” said Hughes, 73, of Clarks Summit. “I’m writing about people in lives of frustration, and I didn’t want to idealize anyone.”
Among the characters Hughes will portray Saturday afternoon at the Anthracite Heritage Museum in Scranton are an Italian immigrant who is trying to organize a union, a mine owner, a bachelor miner who spends much of his free time in a bar room, a Russian immigrant who toils in the mines and is concerned about feeding his seven children, and a miner’s wife who is even more worried about feeding the family.
“The focal point is the death of a young miner,” Hughes said, explaining that character is killed while still in his teens.
An avid researcher, Hughes also is working on a presentation about union organizer Johnny Mitchell that he hopes to perform in the future.
In his own family, Hughes said, he had an uncle who worked as a coal miner but “he never talked about it much.”