In the movie “The Ten Commandments”, the misty plague of death crept under doorways and through windows of every house not marked by lamb’s blood. In the first half of the 20th century, this deadly mist seeped into coal-mining homes from Barrellville to Westernport, suffocating those who served as husbands, fathers, and sons.
Noah M. Skidmore was born in March 1847 to Noah Alan Skidmore and Susannah (Workman) Skidmore. He had seven brothers and three sisters. Noah married Mary A. Jones on August 14, 1870. The couple lived at 60 Union St. (Main St.) in Frostburg where they raised six children. Noah and Mary were respected citizens; they were members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, just a few doors away, where Noah was an earnest worker for the Lord. He provided for his family by picking coal at Union Mine No. 1 in Zihlman. He was proud of the fact that he had worked for more than 35 years without an accident. On May 8, 1903, Mary packed his lunch bucket, putting icy cold water in the bottom of the three-tiered metal container; next, a huge sandwich made with thick slabs of freshly baked bread; and on top, Noah’s favorite: a fat apple dumpling, dripping with brown sugar syrup. He left for work just as the sun was peeking over the mountains. After laboring for several hours, he and his buddies sat down for a snack. Noah had been thinking about that apple dumpling all morning; like most miners, he ate his dessert first…“just in case.” He returned to the work of taking down breast coal when a slip of “horseback” caught him on the head. The accident was fatal, and Noah was laid to rest in the Allegany Cemetery (Frostburg Memorial Park) at the age of 56.
The foggy fingers of death crept into the home of Noah’s nephew, Jonas Skidmore, son of Noah’s brother James, and his wife, Susan. Jonas lived in Borden Mines with his wife Elsie May (LaRue) and his two daughters: two year-old Beulah, and five month-old Mary Alice. He was employed by the New York Mining Company in Union Mine No.2 mine. On July 10, 1918, Jonas and two of his co-workers, Robert and William Carter, had just finished their shift and were about to leave the mine. A king bar swung out, caught Jonas, and buried him beneath tons of top coal and rock. Robert and William Carter narrowly escaped death. A force of men worked for seven hours (tunneling under the fall and retreating several times, as the sides of the mine began to slide) before reaching Jonas’ body. The grave of 32 year-old Jonas, like his Uncle Noah’s, is in Allegany Cemetery. Jonas’ widow, Elsie May, moved with their daughters to Garrett County, where they lived with her widowed father and several of her siblings. She later married George Clark.
Two years later, on July 31, 1920, Noah’s brother and sister-in-law, James and Susan Skidmore, lost another son. Jonas’ brother, Thomas A. Skidmore, was employed by the Consolidation Coal Company in No. 12 Mine. He was fatally injured by a fall of roof coal and slate around 12 noon. He was taken to Miners’ hospital, where he died several hours later. Thomas’ wife, Maud M. (Geary) and their son, Russell, were left to grieve with others in the Skidmore family.
The foggy fingers of death tried to grasp yet another of Noah’s nephews. Louis Skidmore was the son of Matthew Skidmore and Martha “Jane” (Bone). Louis was born in Borden Mines on September 17, 1884. He and his wife Nellie (Drew) lived in Midlothian. Like the rest of his family, Louis was a coal miner, employed in No.11 New Shaft Mine. It was here, in November of 1921, that Louis Skidmore cheated death. He was injured in an explosion which caused permanent blindness. However, at the age of 37, and with great resilience and fortitude, Louis (with only a fifth grade education) went on to become a grocery merchant. He and Nellie were able to purchase a home and support their four daughters and two sons. Louis lived an additional 36 years after the explosion; he died in 1957 at the age of 72.
As confirmed by the saga of Noah Skidmore and his nephews, Jonas, Thomas, and Louis: when researching one family member, the legacies of relatives are often uncovered—revealing the continued vulnerability of George’s Creek coal miners to serious injury and the misty plague of death.
Authored By: Polla Horn
How can you help?
The Coal Miner Memorial Statue Fund is accepting contributions for the placement of an educational memorial near the crossroads of the state Route 36 and the national Road in Frostburg. A bronze statue will honor our Georges Creek Valley miners and name those who perished while mining. Tax-deductible donantions can be mailed to the Foundation for Frostburg CMMSF, P.O. Box 765, Frostburg, MD 21532.Please email: Polla Horn or Bucky Schriver to share your thoughts and stories.