By Colleen S. Good
Times West Virginian
The Northern Appalachian Coal Mining Heritage Association (NACMHA) celebrated Miner’s Day by holding its first Coal Mining Appreciation Day Swap Meet.
The event, which took place at the Knights of Columbus Hall, lasted all day, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The swap meet had around 30 vendors from as far away as Kentucky, displaying coal memorabilia, books and documentary films. The event was free and open to the public.
Mike Rohaly, president of NACMHA, said the event was held for a variety of reasons.
“Our organization is about coal mining heritage. We’re holding this event to establish contacts with people who have coal mining collections,” Rohaly said. “We’re also hoping to raise a little money.”
The NACMHA has a small coal mining museum near Coal Country Miniature Golf, off I-79 exit 137. They are hoping to use these new contacts to expand the museum exhibits, including possibly through short-term exhibits that would change quarterly.
The NACMHA was founded in 2000, but has gained momentum in recent years as community interest has grown. This event is the NACMHA’s first fundraising event.
The event was also held to facilitate community members talking about and sharing their collective coal mining heritage.
“Fairmont came about because of coal,” Blair Montgomery, one of the event organizers, said. “The coal culture is what made us. It’s important to know where you came from. It keeps you grounded and helps you realize who you are as a person.”
Vendors said they appreciated the event’s mix of collectors and community members.
“I think it highlights the pride in coal mining in this area. It’s a lot of good history,” Colin Gatland, co-founder of Eastern Mining Collectors Association (EMCA), said. “We have a lot of families who have come through here and chatted with us about their coal mining past.
“One of the big things we try to instill is the fact that when you go home and turn on your light switch, or turn on your heat, it’s because of a miner that’s been digging coal.”
By mid-afternoon, with half the day still left, more than 150 people had been to the swap meet.
“We actually had three or four cars out asking when the show started before we even opened this morning,” Gatland said.
Chris Hacker, also with EMCA, said that he enjoyed talking with people about their coal mining memorabilia. Hacker primarily collects mining lamps and said that some people don’t realize how valuable their memorabilia really is.
“They just see grandpa’s old lamp. They may not know they’re rare,” Hacker said.
One of the lamps the EMCA brought with them, a Hansen Dry-Lite, is worth $5,000.
Danielle Petrak is the curator of the Watts Museum at West Virginia University, which is dedicated to the history of coal and petroleum industries in West Virginia. Petrak said she hopes the NACMHA is successful in its expansion efforts.
“Unfortunately, it takes money,” Petrak said.
Montgomery hopes the museum will continue to make use of displays that bring history and coal mining “down to reality” for kids.
“That’s what we want with the museum — for all the stuff to be really tangible, so kids can touch it and find out what this was all about. They can hold the miner’s light, the drip candles. ... They can hold all of these different things that they’ve never seen before and learn about them,” Montgomery said.
The swap meet took several months to organize. Raven Thomas, one of the event organizers, said the event was a success.
“We’ve been working really diligently to pull this off,” Thomas said.
Montgomery said that they plan on holding another swap meet next year. He hopes more community members will take advantage of the opportunity to have their family coal memorabilia appraised.
“Coal miner widows sitting at home, they may not have two coins to rub together, and they may have a bunch of mining memorabilia that looks like junk, and it could be worth thousands of dollars and they don’t even know it,” Montgomery said.
“They can come down next year, and treat this like an Antiques Roadshow. And maybe one of the collectors may even buy it from them.”
Email Colleen S. Good at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @CSGoodTWV.