The coal mines of Pennsylvania were dark, dirty, and deadly. Among the many stories, folksongs, and superstitions of the coal miners comes the legend of a curious creature: The Tommy Knocker.
Tommy Knockers pronounced “knacker,” were described as small, little men who worked alongside the miners inside the mines. The creatures were known to be mischievous, described as stealing miners’ tools or food, but also benevolent helpers.
The creatures were blamed for missing tools and stolen items as well as saving the lives of many miners. The miners believed the creatures would “knock” on the side of the mine to warn miners of an impending collapse.
The legend of the Tommy Knockers was brought to the U.S. in 1820 by Welsh and Cornish immigrants who came to Western Pennsylvania to find work in the mines. They believed the Tommy Knockers were spritely spirits who dressed like the miners and performed similar duties in the mines.
The Tommy Knockers were so important to the Cornish and Welsh miners, that many would refuse to enter a mine unless the mining company assured them the Tommy Knockers were on duty. The practice of saying the Tommy Knockers were on duty became commonplace among mine owners.