” The Thread That Connects Us All “
I was treated to an early gift this season… it was a dusty, old, dark, and very magical treat to this photographer’s eyes. The present I am referring to, was my visit to the last intact silk mill left in the US. Built in 1907, and known as Klotz Throwing Company, it is located in Lonaconing, MD which is about a five and a half hour drive from where I live.
On rare occasions, you can feel a presence of history in a place. I felt it instantly, when I set foot inside this mill. What also set the mood was the ambient light I had to work in. The smell and feel of a past life lets your thoughts drift back to when it was a booming factory. Seeing the thousands of spools, and their links to the machinery, led you to actually imagine the sounds and visualize the people who had worked on the factory floor.
Throwing, as used in the name of the mill, constituted pulling and twisting the raw material into a thread that was used in the making of garments and later parachutes. By the 1920’s, the mill employed 359 workers. Just imagining that many people in the factory, made you realize how it must have been an incredibly busy place. The town alone, with its tiny twisting streets, seemed to be developed and tied to a company mindset where everything and everyone relied on the factory. A railroad passed through the center of town which helps to better understand its location since, WV coal mines were not very far down the road. Klotz Throwing Co., just like the Nation, went from feast to famine during the depression which was closely followed by WW II.
The mill went through a number of growing spurts that saw sanctions on raw silk from Japan, which almost closed the facility, to the start of a synthetic silk called rayon. By the 1950’s, silk demand was dwindling and the workers’ pay had also declined. In 1957, due to the poverty level of wages, they decided to strike and without warning, the owners closed the factory. The mill was shut down so quickly that to this day when you arrive on the second floor, you can still find a room with bins of shoes and other personal belongings. This sudden abandonment lends to the atmosphere of human trauma and decay that you can still feel permeates the building.
We see it throughout our nation… factories and businesses, both large and small are closing. Like a spider’s web, each thread spun is interconnected and leads to the center. The heart of our society is also woven one thread at a time. That thread of life is not just a single factory in Lonaconing but also one that connects us to each of the families that worked there. This emotion is as prevalent today as it was on that factory floor, where each incomplete severed piece of silk thread represents a family’s hopelessness…. or rebirth.