The Perils of Hand-Me-Down Mines

Charles Carlyle “Chill” Connor was born in Lonaconing on Nov. 10, 1905, to Charles William Connor and Anna Lillian (Hausman) Connor. In 1928, Chill married Keyser, West Virginia, native Mary Virginia Elkins, daughter of Joseph Henry Elkins and Mary Ann (Gay) Elkins.

After 11 years of marriage, Chill and Mary were the parents of three daughters and a son.

On March 5, 1939, Chill, his brother Henry Connor, and James Nightingale signed a contract to lease a former Big Vein operation of the Jackson Mine from the American Coal Co., based in Bluefield, West Virginia. By 1947, Duncan “Dunk” Haines had become a part owner of the mine, identified as the Connor-Haines Big Vein Coal Co.

At 8:30 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 1, 1947, the partners were removing the pillars (or “stumps”) in the mine. The stumps had already been removed from the right side, and timbers had been erected in their place. Chill had entered an area of the mine, 20 feet from the others, to retrieve several lumps of coal. According to the Bureau of Mines accident report, Chill had removed a strap that was nailed to the legs of the support timbers. When he pulled a lump of coal down from the roof, it hit the support from which the strap had been removed and knocked out the timber, causing the entire place to fall on him.

Henry Connor and James Nightingale quickly summoned help from nearby operations. Miners from the James E. Darrow Mine, the Waddell Mine and the Bell & Shockey Mine (operated by Harry Bell and Edward “Ock” Shockey) all came to the rescue. Even with this extra help, it was three hours before they dug their way to where Chill was buried. His body was found in the fetal position with mild abrasions to his shoulder and back and two fractured ribs; a victim of suffocation.

Chill Connor was survived by his wife, four children, three brothers and two sisters. He was a member of the Lonaconing Methodist Church and Local 2835, United Mine Workers of America.

Although the Bureau of Mines accident report was critical of the practice of removing the stumps in a mine, they had to know that it was a routine practice in the Georges Creek coal region.

Local miners, lured by the potential of making more money as mine operators, commonly created partnerships to take over sites that were previously worked by the big coal mine operators. These large coal companies moved from site to site, taking the easiest and safest of the Big Vein coal. The local operators moved in later, and engaged in a process known in coal miner’s slang as “hogging out” these hand-me-down mines. The coal was also removed from the ribs between the support timbers, making the mine even more unstable.

Although the local operators were able to extract a large amount of leftover coal from these mines, the practice accounted for a disproportionately high number of coal mine fatalities.

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.

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