A great deal of scholarly research has been and continues to be done on the anthracite region’s rich heritage, and the reader is directed to resources that cover the topic in greater depth such as the link above to the University of Maryland’s work, as well as the Pennsylvania Anthracite Heritage Museum, and Eckley Miners’ Village. The goal of the field school was to recover material culture related to the lives of immigrant and first-generation coal laborers to address research themes including land usage, demographics, consumer behavior and health. Excavations in Pardeesville focused on the side and back yard of the eastern half of the duplex residence on lot #57, the Yanac House, where a single family, the Berish’s, lived from at least 1930 through 2000.
After a preliminary surface survey of the property, a series of shovel tests and test units were excavated over the course of several weeks. The most prolific artifact deposit (3,180 artifacts) was identified in test unit #1, abutting the southwest corner of the house. Metal objects, such as cut and wire nails and spikes, comprised nearly half of the recovered artifacts, followed by glass objects including window and container glass as well as several whole medicinal vials and jars.
Stockings from the Yanac House (36LU0321) Feature 2 - cataloged, labeled and packaged for curation
This rectangular pit, measuring 4’ wide, 5’ long and 5’ in depth and designated as Feature 2, was interpreted to be a refuse pit or privy. Analysis of the ceramic and glass objects recovered from the feature revealed a date range spanning the 1940s to the 1960s. The feature’s most unusual contents were found near the bottom of the excavation unit – 232 semi-complete rayon or nylon stockings. This seemingly odd horde prompted some hypothesizing on the part of the field school team, informed by thorough historic background research to provide some context for what we could consider an unusual quantity of an everyday domestic item, specifically a feminine item.
A daughter of George, coal miner and patriarch of the Berish family, worked in a nearby silk mill up until the time of its closing in the 1950s. She could have had access to surplus stocking inventory, but this doesn’t necessarily explain such an abundance of material. The team considered the possibility that the large quantity of nylons was related to the manufacture of rag rugs and carpets. Constructing rag rugs, durable and often multicolored, was a popular craft in the post-war period, and may have been a cottage industry for the Berish women and children, supplementing their family’s income. However, if the stockings were acquired a few years earlier, they would have been an even more precious and profitable commodity.
As with many material goods during WWII, synthetic fabrics such as rayon and nylon (then relatively recent inventions) were diverted from consumers to support the war effort. Following the end of the war, nylon manufactures refocused production and supply on the domestic market, though initially they could not meet the pent-up market demand. In 1946, cities across the U.S. experienced the unpleasantries of classic economics that unfold when too many dollars chase too few goods.
The Nylon Riots – no, it’s not the next up and coming girl punk rock band – although someone should probably trademark the name – the closest analogy seems like something between a Black Friday mob in the days before Internet shopping meets a reality TV show pitting brides-to-be against each other, scrambling for the best deal on the perfect dress. A snapshot from the Pittsburgh Press captured the commotion when 40,000 women lined up for only 10,000 pairs of stockings. Certainly, an obscure historical event, but one that speaks to the influence beauty standards have, how and why they change, and the lengths people are willing to go to achieve perceived status.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s look at an unusual artifact from the anthracite region of Pennsylvania and its connections to forgotten post-war history. This archaeological investigation is just one component of the Anthracite Heritage Program’s efforts to preserve the stories and cultural heritage of the region. This interdisciplinary approach to understanding and preserving the past provides students an opportunity to examine and appreciate historic and contemporary issues in their communities.
Jones, Sean M.; V. Camille Westmont; Paul A. Schackel
Archaeological Investigations of Site 36LU321, Yanac House, Pardeesville, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania
Final Report prepared by University of Maryland, Department of Anthropology – January 2021 (manuscript on file – Section of Archaeology, State Museum of Pennsylvania)
Warfel, Steven G.
A Patch of Land Owned by the Company – Historical and Archaeological Investigations of House Lots #117/119 Main Street, Eckley Miners’ Village, Eckley Pennsylvania PHMC in association with Eckley Miners’ Village Associates and Friends of the State Museum, Harrisburg - 1993