The Crucifixion of a Miner in Early 20th-Century Pennsylvania
Violence and mining were practically synonymous terms within the United States for many decades. From the activities attributed to the famed Molly Maquires of the anthracite coal sections of Pennsylvania, to that of the Lattimer Massacre near Hazleton, PA, on September 10, 1897, the Commonwealth state has seen its share of conflict. Perhaps less known is the Battle of Blair Mountain or Mingo County War of West Virginia when in August of 1921 Brigadier-General William (Billy) Mitchell literally flew airplanes into the coalfields and dropped bombs onto the armed and disgruntled miners resulting in numerous fatalities.
The conflict between miners, their bosses, and companies even brought at times a retrogression to earlier eras of history. Mining officials in Harlan County, Kentucky, as late as 1931-32 wore "armor" made of steel plates over their breast and backs, and steel mesh or scales on other parts of their bodies (somewhat resembling the chain mail of medieval knights) for protection, in order to cover themselves "from their necks to their thighs" so as to at least, theoretically, stop bullet penetration!
Yet perhaps the most brutal incident to transpire relative to labor in the mines was that of the literal crucifixion of a miner occuring on April 22, 1910, near the communities of Avella and Washington in western Pennsylvania. George Rabish, a mining boss and coal miner of Slavic origins, was forcibly taken from the Avella Mines of the Pittsburg and Washington Coal Company and almost beaten to death by fellow miners, before being rescued by mining officials.
Rabish was suspected by his fellow countrymen of spying on them in behalf of the Company for their breachment "of mining rules." Thus other Slavic miners (said to be intoxicated at the time) in their desire for vengeance and determination "to make an example of him" dragged Rabish from his home in the boarding house, where he was recuperating from his previous beating, and crucified him! Both national and international newspapers of the day, such as The New York Times and the Hartford (KY) Herald, attested to the fact that Rabish was "stripped of his clothing" then a plaited a crown of thorns was thrust down upon his head "until the blood coursed down over his naked body."
If the above wasn't a painful and humiliating ordeal in and of itself, George Rabish was then "hoisted to a cross which had been set up to receive him, and spikes driven through his wrists and palms, while his body was lashed fast with heavy ropes." Here he reportedly hung for two hours as stones were then hurled at the tortured miner, while the men "danced around the foot of the cross, jeering and cursing" the dying man.
Rabish had been rescued previously by Mining Superintendant C. E. Neiser, and the second time by Supt. Boggs. The four ringleaders of the mob were arrested and an immediate hearing transpired before Justice W.W. Weigmann where they were fined and placed in jail. However some accounts state he was not just beaten and crucified once, but was "twice crucified" by his tormentors. Regardless, by April 24, 1910, the Washington (D.C.) Post, mentioned that Rabish "was dying as a result of being nailed to a cross and crowned with thorns."
Avella, Pennsylvania, and the surrounding area was settled in the early 20th century by many immigrants from both eastern and southern Europe. Its growth, while it lasted, was dependent upon the mining industry as was the case in other parts of the country as well. Thankfully, such incidents of extreme violence have been relatively rare, within the overall context of conflict which has been a part of the labor history within the United States. Yet such accounts demonstrate the sordid past that can also be investigated, within the records available at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.