Adena resident Kerry George called upon his experience in the coal mining industry to write his first historic novel, “Black Damp Century,” which follows the lives of two families through the 20th Century and intertwines the bloody Battle of Blair Mountain in West Virginia. The 280-page story follows several generations of families tied to the industry and spans nearly 65 years between 1921-85.
George spent months conducting research at libraries in Cadiz, Steubenville, Wheeling, Charleston and Maryland to obtain a factual account of the fight and acknowledged those facilities and others in his book. He even used family members’ photos on the cover, with his grandfather, Ralph Dematte, representing the 1920s while father-in-law Andy Petrilla depicts the 40’s. George himself is also seen during the 1980s.
“I really got into it around July of 2010. I’ve written a lot of essays and letters that were published,” he said. “[The book] was released for publication on Nov. 13.”
His hope was to retain the history of coal mining within families, something that holds significant meaning for him since he is a fourth-generation miner.
“I believe most family histories are lost within a couple generations. I wanted my children and grandchildren and the children of other coalmining families to know what life was like for them.”
He had plenty of experience to provide some realism, including the description of mining life and the locations. He selected Maryland as a backdrop to show that coal mining exists outside of Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia, areas that are often depicted in similar books. A common thread between yesterday and today is the industry’s struggle amid Environmental Protection Agency regulations, and George said problems during the 1970s mirror what is happening in modern times.
“People my age will understand that in the late 70’s we went into a period similar to what we are now. The EPA was gaining strength and implementing rules that nearly crippled the industry. We lost up to 14,000 jobs in those years, and with the current political climate that would be repeated. I hope [readers] get a sense of what it was like for people who had that life,” he continued. “It’s more than just about mining; it’s life and relationships. There are no heroes and everybody’s flawed in some way.”
For more information, check out the “Black Damp Century” Facebook page or order a book online for $14.95 at https://www.createspace.com/3944860.
Read the complete story in this weeks print edition of the Harrison News-Herald.