The firehall whistle blew in town a few miles away, marking the big moment of the night: the crowning of the 2018 Bituminous Coal Queen at Carmichaels High School.
Craig Baily, retired school superintendent and master of pageant ceremonies, wore a black tuxedo and tails. Teenage girls packing the school auditorium shrieked.
Albert Gallatin High School senior Holly Lesko (“Go Colonials!”) crouched slightly in her heels and gown and smiled wide as the crown was placed on her head by Gary Wilson, superintendent of the Cumberland Mine, a coal operation 20 miles from the high school.
The crowning of the queen is a Greene County tradition that started in 1954, a time when bituminous coal fueled an economy — feeding, clothing and schooling generations. But King Coal’s grip is slipping.
Bituminous represents 90 percent of all coal burned in the United States, but most of the mines around Carmichaels played out years ago. Two big Greene County mines closed in the past year. Production at a third, Cumberland, has been falling in recent years.