By Leonard Hayhurst
April 9, 2018 - Sam Bennett was once a coal miner like his father.
Even though he physically left the mines long ago, they are still vivid in his mind and close to his heart. And if one walks into Bennet’s home, they will find a kitchen filled with pictures, documents and other memorabilia as a shrine to not only his family, but all who worked in coal mines in Coshocton County and beyond in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Bennett had long wanted to find a means to honor his father, Arthur S. Bennett Sr., who was killed in a 1971 mining accident. In 2013, a miner’s memorial was erected on the Coshocton Court Square. It features a list of names of men who died in mining accidents in the county dating back to 1875, memorial bricks for other miners and a statue of a miner with Arthur’s image.
Bennet knows his dad would be proud of his efforts in making the memorial a reality. He would also be struck by the more than 100 items decorating Bennett’s kitchen. They include photos, safety equipment, lunch pails and much more.
Bennett said a lot of the collection was things he kept from over the years, but some of it was bought online and other bits were given to him by those who knew he was collecting. Most of the items are local. The centerpiece is a photo of Arthur and his mining helmet. There’s also a photo of Bennett in the mines as a young man and the mining belt and hard hat he used.
“My wife had the great idea of doing something with the kitchen. She suggested, ‘you’ve got all that stuff in the basement, why not bring it upstairs,’” Bennett said. “I said ‘I don’t know if I have enough stuff down there’ and I still have stuff in the basement I haven’t brought up.”
One of Bennet’s old bosses at Peabody Coal Company died and a woman bought a powder bag filled with personal items she gave to Bennett. This included a walking stick. Bennett said bosses would walk through the mines daily and tap the top with a short cane to test integrity. The other end had a slight hook like a crowbar for dislodging loose rocks.
A miner’s basket was bought online and now hangs from Bennett’s kitchen ceiling. Workers would put their boots, work clothes, miner’s belt and other items at the end of the day in it. While working, they would use the basket to store their regular clothes, wallet and keys. The baskets were suspended from the ceiling by a chain in bathhouses. Another bathhouse relic hanging on the wall is an old phone that was used to communicate with workers in the mine. That came from Bennett’s uncle who lives in Harlan County, Kentucky.
Sam Bennett demonstrates how a miners belt, light, and helmet all connect using Arthur Bennett Sr.'s helmet. Sam's father, Arthur, died in a mining accident and a friend returned the helmet to the family.
Photo by Sara C. Tobias, The Advocate
Bennett said there’s not many underground mines left in Ohio and those that do exist often do things differently than years ago. For him, the importance of his collection is to preserve history.
“This keeps it alive. This is how men worked everyday,” Bennett said.
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