by Polla Horn
for The Frostburg Express
Thomas Walkinshaw Gracie: Investing a Quarter
At the turn of the twentieth century, the average pay for a coal miner was fifty cents per ton, or five hundred dollars a year. However, this was not a miner’s “take home” pay. Employers made deductions for sharpening tools, medical care, rent, and other miscellaneous charges. Mine operators expected a man to produce five tons of coal per day. As one miner wrote, “To dig and load five tons of coal, do necessary propping and the laying and repairing of tracks, is sufficient work for one day.” He was not paid for bailing water, posting a roof, laying track, or removing obstacles which hindered the mining operation. The company was primarily interested in the amount of coal produced. In reality, the average production per man was 3.4 tons of coal per day. This is what was expected of miner Thomas W. Gracie.
Thomas W. Gracie was born on May 17, 1865, the son of Scotland native Robert Gracie and Jennett Walkinshaw Gracie. Soon after Thomas’ first birthday, his father Robert died. His mother Jennett was left to raise four sons on her own. The 1870 census shows 14 year-old son Archibald working as a driver in the mines, the sole support of his mother and three younger brothers: nine year-old James, seven year-old John, and five year-old Thomas.
On July 20, 1886, soon after his 21st birthday, Thomas married Rachael Eckhart in the Lindell Hotel in Eckhart Mines. Rachael gave birth to five children during their marriage. Tragedy struck the family in June of 1894, when Thomas and Rachael lost two of their sons. John, two years and 20 days old, died on June 22nd. Robert, three years and 11 months old, died four days later on June 26th. The heartache of losing a loved one did not fade. Seven years after the death of their sons, 35 year- old Thomas Gracie was struck by a fall of horseback coal in Hoffman Mine, near Eckhart. The fall crushed his head, killing him instantly. Like his father before him, Thomas left behind his widow Rachael and a young family: daughters Jennett, fourteen, and Mary Ann, four; and new born son, Thomas W. Gracie, Jr.
Thomas, Sr. made a very noble gesture before he died. This hard-working husband and father donated twenty-five cents of his meager pay to help purchase the land to build State Normal School #2 in Frostburg. That quarter purchased “prosperity.” Several years later, his nephew, William A. Gracie, paid tribute to that sum of money. William attended public school at Eckhart Mines until he was thirteen. For the next five years he worked in the coal mines. After clerking for a time in the general store operated by another uncle, he decided to become a physician. He enrolled at State Normal School #2. In 1906, he began medical school at the University of Maryland in Baltimore. Dr. William A. Gracie graduated in 1910 and became a prominent physician and surgeon in the Cumberland area. His sister, Eleanor, also took advantage of the “prosperity” purchased by her Uncle Thomas and his fellow Georges Creek miners. She graduated from State Normal School and became a teacher of German and mathematics.
Today, twenty-five cents is just pocket change, left in a dish on the dresser. In 1898, when mining families earned less than $2.00 a day, a quarter was significant: a donation of twenty-five cents was a sacrifice. Oh, the power of those quarters. In 1904, eight students became the first graduates to receive teaching certificates. Today, Frostburg State University continues to offer “prosperity” for students willing to take on the challenge. Our coal-mining ancestors would be proud of the investment they made to improve the lives of their descendants and their community. They deserve to be honored for their sacrifice. The Coal Miner Memorial Statue Committee would like to thank Barbara Gracie Allen for her contribution to this Miner Recollection.
The Coal Miner Memorial Statue fund is accepting contributions for the placement of an educational memorial near the crossroads of state Route 36 and the National Road in Frostburg. A bronze statue will honor all of our Georges Creek Miners and name those who perished while mining.
Tax-deductible donations can be mailed to the
Foundation for Frostburg CMMSF
P.O. Bow 765
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.”