Gary, West Virginia: A Coal Town Flickers Out

At its peak, the town of Gary was completely alive with the sound of coal mining, lunchtime whistles, and the ethnic music that its immigrant laborers made during their rare off hours.  US Steel had built the town, and the workers were proud to be there, albeit under very difficult, even backbreaking and dangerous conditions. All that changed in the late 1980s, when the company closed the mines because Central American coal was cheaper to mine and ship. When I visited the town, there was 95 percent unemployment and wolves were roaming the streets because the town could no longer afford the streetlight electricity.

This is the first piece I did for “All Things Considered” and I was very proud when it was broadcast.

See also my story about Gary’s early 20th century ethnic life, and my many other stories about Appalachian mountain culture.

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