MCALESTER, Okla. (KFOR) — The stone sits heavily now just outside the old high school.
A sign bolted to it states that it’s the largest lump of McAlester coal at two-and-a-half tons, cut from beneath the city itself more than a century ago, and presented as a gift from the city’s namesake, J.J. McAlester, who was the first to open coal mines there.
Jesse Alexander is one of a small handful of keepers at the McAlester Building Foundation Museum which occupies the third floor of the school.
An entire classroom is devoted to the local coal mining industry founded by McAlester, who made an important discovery in the 1870s.
Alexander says, “He actually found lumps of coal on the ground.”
He married a Chickasaw woman, and by doing so, gained rights to open coal mines all over the surrounding area.
Alexander continues, “He persuaded the railroads to come through here and that’s how it all started.”
The last thing Jesse’s three-year-old son Ezra would want to see in his Christmas stocking is a big lump of coal, but the city itself was built on the stuff.
“We still have family members of miners, still alive, who come in and show support,” Jesse insists as we tour the mining artifacts.
Mine shafts still honeycomb the hills upon which the miners descendants still live.
The giant lump of coal is decreasing in size and weight as the seasons turn.
People come by to look once in a while.
“A lot of history has been lost,” Alexander laments. “Lots of people don’t even know about it anymore.”
The last mines around the county closed generations ago, which means people tend to forget the fortunes built, the sacrifices made, and what truly proved a gift to McAlester.
The big lump of coal is a monument that forms part of this city’s very foundation.
“It’s a big part of our history and landscape,” he argues.
The specimen was sent to the World’s Fair in 1921 as part of a coal mining exhibit.
It sat in J.J. McAlester’s backyard for several years.
Workers moved lump of coal to its present location on the west side of the high school when the museum opened in the mid-1980s.
Great State is sponsored by Oklahoma Proton Center