Spotlight: When Hollywood came to town
Motion picture favorite Sean Connery had just completed his James Bond series and was at the peak of his career when he starred in “The Molly Maguires.” DONALD SERFASS COLLECTION
In 1968, the entire village of Eckley was rented to Paramount Studios by then mine owner George Nuss. DONALD SERFASS COLLECTION
Eckley was founded in 1854 as a typical coal mining patch town. DONALD R. SERFASS/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Dr. Bode Morin, site administrator, Eckley Miners’ Village Museum, said the famous movie served as the impetus to save Eckley village. DONALD R. SERFASS/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Actors Richard Harris, left, and Sean Connery return from a day in the mines during this 1968 scene of “The Molly Maguires.” DONALD SERFASS COLLECTION
The action was aggressive. Some might even say violent.
Dramatic, rough-and-tumble scenes of a Tamaqua versus Eckley football game were witnessed coast to coast.
It’s still talked about.
Actually, it wasn’t exactly football, more a rugby match.
Scenes from that fictitious skirmish were filmed in 1968 for a motion picture and are now being studied for possible re-enactment.
It’s all part of a planned celebration to honor the 50th anniversary of the summer when Paramount Studios filmed “The Molly Maguires,” a silver screen drama about the plight of coal miners and a legendary reign of terror by the reputed clan of disgruntled Irish workers.
The movie featured big-name stars Sean Connery, Richard Harris and Samantha Eggar.
Connery, in particular, had just finished another action-packed series, James Bond, and was at the peak of his career.
The 1860s football game is being examined for accuracy.
“I have a research project going on to determine if it was rugby or a form of Gaelic football,” said Dr. Bode Morin, site administrator at Eckley Miners’ Village Museum, a Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission administered patch town.
“What I’ve found out so far is that rugby uses a football-shaped ball and Gaelic uses a round ball,” Morin said.
The museum already has begun to recruit rugby players to demonstrate the sport and perhaps re-create the iconic scenes.
That event likely would take place Saturday and Sunday, June 23-24, as part of the annual Patchtown Days festival.
The village also will welcome acting groups to act out specific movie scenes.
Event planning has kicked into high gear, Morin said.
Activities to be featured include villagewide scavenger hunts for children, live animals, vintage photos, a Sean Connery mustache contest, summer-kitchen cooking, “The Molly Maguires” props displays, a “Join the Strike” parade, “Fact or Fiction” trivia games, a beer tent, vendors and food.
“We hope to showcase some personal collections,” said Morin, adding that experiences of local residents and Eckley memorabilia would become an important part of the celebration, which might even include an “extras” reunion.
Jim Thorpe connection
“We’ll have a fundraiser on April 19 at the Mauch Chunk Opera House,” Morin said.
That setting, too, is important, as Jim Thorpe’s downtown was transformed 50 years ago for the filming.
The Broadway area received an extensive face-lift intended to resurrect the appearance of the 1860s.
While Jim Thorpe and Eckley became Hollywood-style movie sets, the summer of 1968 also included a call for locals to appear as extras, with auditions taking place in Hazleton.
Some 600 were selected as backgrounders, paid $15 a day, along with free lunch for two months.
Paramount Studios also constructed a coal breaker at Eckley. It wasn’t a working unit, but rather a large, temporary movie prop.
Miraculously, it still stands but is in need of extensive overhaul.
Eckley was founded around 1854 when Richard Sharpe, Francis Weiss, Asa Foster and John Leisenring leased land near the site for coal mining purposes.
A steam-powered sawmill cut lumber for homes. Eventually, a schoolhouse opened its doors in 1858.
The place was built as an early coal company town, with a museum founded in 1971, shortly after the movie was released. A visitors center opened four years later.
There is little doubt the movie was the best thing to happen to the town.
“The movie had a big impact,” Morin said.
“It brought a lot of attention to the anthracite story and the region. It was the impetus to saving Eckley.”
At its peak around 1917, Eckley boasted a population of up to 1,500 residents. However, decline in coal production dropped the number to the point where only about 100 residents remained when the museum was organized 54 years later.
Some tenants still live there and rent houses from the state.
Interestingly, the entire town was rented to Paramount by mine owner George Huss for filming purposes.
The town is named for Eckley Coxe, son of miners’ landlord Charles Coxe.
More information is available at http://eckleyminersvillage.com.