Saturday, July 2, 2011

Mining Stories

Grandpa Kelly (John Lee Kelly born 4 Mar 1892, Eckhart MD, died 28 May 1969, Frostburg MD), as I remember him, was often ill. He worked in the coal mines as a young man with some of his brothers. His father and older brothers worked on the rail road, which was the better job. The younger brothers found what work they could and that was in the coal mines.

It's hard back-breaking work and dangerous too. We still see stories but in the early centuries of the 1900s it was way worse. Mine owners then and now look to the bottom line and not the welfare of the men who do the work. You can probably sense my opinion on the subject.

My Grandpa Kelly had black lung disease and died of his battle with it. It wasn't pretty to watch.

But I have other, happy memories of him. He had a playful nature, loved a joke or playing a joke on someone. His favorite activity was taking a ride in the car, the simple pleasure of enjoying the passing countryside. I love that too. And he was pretty happy watching the world out the kitchen window from his favorite rocking chair at the center of the household. He liked TV too, and before that radio. They expanded his world.

He loved Jimmy Durante and did a fair impression of him too when he'd say, "Haaa-Chhh-Chhh-Chaa," or "Goodnight Mrs. Calabash wherever you are." Always made me laugh!

He took a nap every afternoon on a daybed in the dining room. In winter, before they got the new furnace, he'd climb down to the basement and stoke the old coal furnace and climb back up again on a narrow ladder. That took a toll on him and he'd have to "rest up a minute", coughing intensely.

He was skinny as could be but Grandma would cook him anything he desired anytime of the day or night. They loved each other plenty. "Come here Cutie and give me a kiss," he'd say to her.

Sometimes when he'd get angry at a perceived injustice he say something about "getting the Molly Maguires after em'" to take care of the offending party. As a kid, I had no idea who the Mollies were but they sure did sound ominous!

A couple of years ago I asked Mom about the Molly Maguires and she didn't remember Grandpa saying anything about them. The name Molly Maguires stuck with me so clearly that I had to google that term and find out what I could. Low and behold, here they are:

It's a dramatic tale of "good" versus "evil, depending on which side you're on. Last winter surfing channels I found the movie about them! As Wikipedia makes reference, "The Molly Maguires, starring Sean Connery and Richard Harris, was released in 1970". I watched it... didn't win any Academy Awards:)

It's funny the tid-bits we remember and how they fit into the lives of our ancestors. I can remember Grandpa sitting in his rocker shaking his fist at some politician and vowing that the Mollies would right it all.

Grandpa Kelly on the right standing
with his brothers and father, Frank,
Francis Patrick Kelly (1854 - 1923)

Grandpa Kelly with Grandma, 1942


  1. It's so good to hear old stories about the Eckhart mines and miners. My grandfather, Dennis A. Boyle, (he was locally known as "the professor"), was a school teacher in Eckhart and in Frostburg. My grandmother's brothers worked as coal miners, and her Uncle Dan (Moore) had a blacksmith shop in Eckhart near the mine, where he made horse shoes and wagon wheel rims, etc. I remember vague stories about the Mollie Maguires in Eckhart. My grandmother showed me a hole in the house near a front window which she claimed came from the gun of a Mollie Maguire during some trouble at the mine. They lived in a house at the edge of Quality Hill, overlooking Rte. 40.

    1. Oh, wow! Did not there was general talk of the Mollies being in Eckhart! My Grandpop Kelly grew up right across from the Kelly Pump and now I'm thinking that his commentary about the Molly Maguires wasn't so much in the abstract but from personal experiences. Wish I knew more and sure wish he was here to talk to.
      Well, isn't it a small world?
      Thanks for stopping by,