by Polla Horn
for The Frostburg Express
John Melvin and John Callery
John Melvin was born in Ireland in 1851. After coming to America, he married Elizabeth Casey. Elizabeth was born in 1857 in England, the daughter of James and Anna Casey. The newly-weds settled in Westernport and started a family. By 1893 they had eight children, the oldest born in 1874; the youngest in 1893. John Melvin was a coal miner.
John Callery was born in Maryland on June 6, 1860, to Irish immigrants Patrick and Annie Conway Callery. He married Annie Watson, daughter of Samuel and Margaret Holmes Watson. By 1893 John and Annie had four children, the oldest born in 1886; the youngest in 1893. John Callery was also a coal miner.
The lives of John Melvin and John Callery were parallel. Both had Irish roots, both lived in the southern end of the Georges Creek Valley, both moved to Elk Garden, WV to work in the mines, and both had daughters born in 1893. Their two little girls were the last children born to both the Melvin and Callery families.
Melvin and Callery were employed by the Manor Big Vein Coal Company in West Virginia, where it was customary for the miners living there to ride to work on an incline trip. The incline was 1,700 feet long and crossed over the Potomac River on a wire bridge 50 feet above the water. On Wednesday, November 6, 1895, John Melvin, John Callery, Lawrence Jones, and Frank Jones met at the incline plane at 7:45 AM. Making jokes and talking about the day’s work, the four men climbed into an empty trip car to cross the river; the signal was given to start the trip. For some unknown reason, the last car in the trip left the rail and ran some distance before the dump man got the signal to stop it. After giving the signal, the employee at the head of incline applied the brakes and stopped the cars. The empty trip ran up the rope for a distance of 20 feet, and then started going back; the first car struck the one that was off the track and knocked it over the bridge, pulling the other cars with it. The four men riding the trip were thrown a distance of 50 feet into the river below. John Melvin died instantly from a broken neck. John Callery suffered a broken arm and internal injuries, and died two hours later. Lawrence Jones had a badly broken leg; Frank Jones injured his back and broke an arm. They both survived.
The following day, a very large concourse of friends and relatives, along with members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, accompanied the remains of Mr. Melvin and Mr. Callery to Westernport, where a funeral was held from St. Peter’s Catholic Church. Both men were buried in the parish cemetery.
Two women lost their love, their partner, their friend, and their financial support. A total of twelve children were left without a father. This sad event was repeated over and over again in mining communities across America. Elizabeth Melvin was 36 when her husband died. She had eight children who required her strength and wisdom. Within the next five years, Elizabeth moved with her children to Fairfax, in Tucker County, WV. Four sons were coal miners; one married son lived next door with his wife and child. Elizabeth found support from within her family, along with the joy that comes from spoiling a grandchild. She later moved back to Westernport, where she died in 1924 and was buried beside her husband John in St. Peter’s Cemetery.
Annie Callery was a 27 year old woman with four children to rear when her husband died. The following year she met Hugh Gallagher, a widowed coal miner with one son. They were married in the Catholic Church in Keyser, WV on March 2, 1897. The blended family moved to Frostburg. A daughter was born of this new union in 1897. In 1910, the family was living in Midlothian, where Hugh and two sons were miners. By 1920, Annie had been widowed for a second time; she was living in Baltimore, with a son who was a car builder on the railroad. Our research has not uncovered any records of Annie’s death and burial.
We can learn a lesson from these two courageous women---hope can be found through family and faith. The Elizabeth Melvin and Annie Callery families persisted, prospered, and found happiness, in spite of the tragic events that changed their lives forever.
The Coal Miner Memorial Statue Fund is accepting contributions for the placement of a bronze statue to honor all of our Georges Creek miners and name those who perished while mining.
Tax-deductible donations can be mailed to
Foundation for Frostburg CMMSF
Frostburg, MD 21532.
We welcome updated information and encourage your participation.
Contact Polla Horn at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bucky Schriver at email@example.com
to share your thoughts and stories. Be on the lookout for future “Miner Recollections”