This past week, I’ve been in Lake City, TN, where I’ve encountered an amazing program. I had gone there to visit their recreation center, which houses the Coal Miner’s Museum. Lake City sits on the northern edge of Anderson County, nestled among the coal-laden Cumberland Mountains.
The mines in this area were particularly dangerous places to work. During the spring months, water flooded them, and when new shafts opened, methane gas poured in, causing ceilings to collapse and floors to buckle which reminded miners of the constant threat of explosion.
One of the largest mining disasters in American history occurred in the nearby Fraterville mines on May 18, 1902. Gas leaked from a nearby abandoned mine, and at approximately 7:20 that morning, the mine exploded, trapping an entire shift of miners inside the mountain.
All 216 of the men died, some surviving for several hours, as evidenced by the letters to loved ones they wrote in the hours following the explosion as they waited in vain, hoping that rescuers would find them in time. (To learn more about the Fraterville Mine disaster, visit the Tennessee Encyclopedia‘s website, http://tennesseeencyclopedia.net/imagegallery.php?EntryID=F063).
The first research day, I arrived at about 1:30 in the afternoon and noticed a number of senior citizens leaving the building. I figured they had recently had a meeting there, headed into the museum and started sorting through documents.
The next morning, I came back to work and dove right back into my research. After a few hours, someone came through and asked me, “Hey, aren’t you going to join us for lunch?” Lunch? Umm, well, I usually skip lunch when I’m working in an archive, but in this instance, why not.
I walked back through the offices and into a room full of people. These were the same people who had been leaving the day before.
Turns out, ETHRA–the East Tennessee Human Resource Agency–will fund a daily lunch for senior citizens. Some of the nearby communities have small programs based in local nursing homes or other such facilities, but in Lake City, the meal is distributed at the recreation center and overseen by one of the recreation staff.
This community of 15-30 friends gathers together every day at noon to eat together. The attendees seemed to love it, and it was one of the most jovial meals I’ve had in a while.
And the food was good, too! One day was chicken breast with corn and carrots. Another day, they had beans and cornbread with greens. They told me about a day the week before when they had celebrated the return of spring by grilling out.
I was very impressed, so I decided to share this incredible story of community with you. I’ll leave you with one more picture: