The Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine is a time machine -- closed in 1910 and re-opened in the 1960's for tours, it has been preserved to illustrate the experience of the coal workers who toiled underground at one of the hardest, dirtiest and most dangerous jobs in American history.

West Virginia is a land both built and ravaged by the coal industry. The abundant coal seams in the hills of WV have brought many jobs to the residents of the mountainous state, and taxes paid by coal companies account for over 60% of business taxes being paid in the state. As of 2009, over 60% of the nation's power was still produced by coal. The jobs are also dangerous (though they have become less so) and environmentally destructive, and so the coal companies have also brought a lot of death, destruction, pollution, and addiction into the community.

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If you've never seen the film 'The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia,' you should; it provides great insight into the struggle in West Virginia, focusing on the infamous criminal family, the Whites, who have a long history in the coal industry.

A trip to the Beckley mine is a time machine to West Virginia in 1910. Unlike other cave attractions which have been cleaned up and made inauthentic, the Beckley mines are as shoddy as they were in the 60's, and give you a real sense of what it was like to be a miner. Visitors climb inside of a rickety mine car for a tour led by former mine-worker Charles through the "low seam" coal mine.The ceilings are so low that standing up in the car would kill you.


There's lots of talk of death on the tour, in general. Tour guides point out "widow makers," tree stumps that would often fall on mine workers, immediately killing them. Guests also learn about "fire bosses" who held one of the most dangerous jobs in the mine: finding and burning off methane gas inside of the mine, before it has a chance to kill anyone. "We went through a lot of fire bosses," says Charles. Charles rules.

If you're planning a visit, check out their website for more information about tours. Other important things to see in Beckley include several unbelievable thrift stores, a taxidermy shop, and Biscuit World -- home of the best biscuits of all time. (Especially delicious if you spent the night before drinking with coal miners at a dive bar and are severely hung over. Theoretically speaking.)