Leadville is home to the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum, and today, June 15, it will open the doors to its newest permanent exhibition, “Buried Sunlight: Coal Mining in America.”
Mining in general is an industry that receives a lot of public criticism, and the mining of coal has seen the worst of it. It is dangerous business that has endured pressure from environmentalists, sparked wars and led to the formation of labor unions only after violent labor strikes and on-the-job fatalities. But it is also an industry that has critically powered the country and its conveniences for more than a hundred years. It’s a topic as much in the sphere of public consciousness today as it was in the 1920s as the industry struggles to find its place in today’s 21st century energy economy.
The national museum has dedicated an exhibit to coal for years, but the display was becoming dated and was not as memorable as the walk-through mine replica next door. But a new vision was born nearly three years ago when the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration along with the Rocky Mountain Coal Mining Institute made significant donations to the museum to redesign The Coal Room. The museum scoured their collections and gathered materials from around the country to fill the newly updated Coal Room with “Buried Sunlight: Coal Mining in America.”
A comprehensive display of coal mining past and present, Buried Sunlight includes the chance to listen to old coal miners’ songs, learn about mine rescue teams, coal wars of West Virginia and Pennsylvania, the Ludlow Massacre of Trinidad, Colo., and view artifacts such as lanterns, scuttles and possessions of important figures like Mother Jones. Museum curator Stephanie Johnson hopes the exhibit will provide “an understanding of the history, and what it was like to be a coal miner then, what it is like to be a coal miner today, and some of the struggles that still go on.”
This newest exhibition is only a small part of the mining museum’s 25,000 square feet of exhibit space spanning three stories With multiple replicas and permanent displays, the national museum takes a full day to explore. Currently, a temporary exhibition area houses photographer Laszlo Bencze’s “Onsite: Men of Mining,” a photographic representation of present-day molybdenum mines.
On Thursday, June 15, from 5:30 to 7 p.m., the public is invited to the opening of “Buried Sunlight” with wine, beer and hors d’oeuvres. Museum members may preview the exhibition for free, while non-members will be admitted for $5. Visitors will have a chance to meet Johnson and others instrumental in making this renovation of the Coal Room possible, and of course, step into the black shoes of a coal miner.
The National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum is located at 120 W. Ninth St in Leadville Visit online at mininghalloffame.org to learn more about the collections, programs and events planned throughout the summer.