by Polla Horn
for The Frostburg Express
Murphy and Tippen
James Bernard Murphy
December 1907 proved to be a disastrous month for coal mining in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. On December 1, 1907 an explosion in the Naomi Mine at Bellevernon, PA killed 35 men. On December 6, 1907 more than 367 men and boys were killed in the No. 6 and 8 mines of the Fairmont Coal Company in Monongah, WV. The Darr Mine at Jacobs Creek, PA exploded on December 19, 1907, killing 239 men. These three disasters were caused by “damp.” Most likely originating from the German word "dampf", meaning vapor, “damp” described the build-up of gases in the mines: methane, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, or a mixture of unbreathable gases. Explosions such as these were rare in Western Maryland. The mines were shorter and shallower, with many entrances; the coal was layered in such a way as to cause deep fractures, allowing gases to more easily escape.
Recently, during a fall cleanup at St. Michael’s Cemetery in Frostburg, a local resident cleaned off a stone that named both a father and son who died the same day. He wondered if they were coal miners. Here’s the answer. On April 30, 1927, an explosion roared through the Federal No.3 mine in Everettville, WV located between Fairmont and Morgantown. Flames and debris blown out of the mine destroyed a nearby tipple, killing six workers and injuring several others. One miner made his way to safety and returned with a rescue team to save eight of his co-workers. No other miners survived. The explosion, subsequent fire, and gas killed a total of 111 men. Four of these men---two brothers, a son, and a nephew---are buried in St. Michael’s Cemetery.
James Murphy and Bernard Murphy were sons of Bernard and Eleanor (Bevans) Murphy. They were reared, along with their brother Ambrose and sisters Agnes and Annie, in the mining village of Midlothian, MD. Mr. Murphy and his three sons were coal miners. His daughter Annie married Frank Tippen of Frostburg, also a coal miner.
The early 1920’s marked the beginning of more than fifteen years of decline in the region’s bituminous coal industry. The number of operating companies dropped from 99 in 1923 to 72 in 1930. Due to intense competition from West Virginia and Pennsylvania, few Maryland operators made a profit. Perhaps these difficult economic conditions caused the Murphy and Tippen families to search for greener pastures. The Murphys relocated to West Virginia; Frank and Annie Tippen settled in Pontiac, Michigan, leaving their son Bernard with his uncles, James and Bernard Murphy.
On April 30, 1927, James Murphy, 45; his son Lewis, 17; his brother Bernard, 42; and his nephew Bernard Tippen, 22, entered West Virginia’s Everetteville Mine. It was the last time they saw daylight. The mine exploded, killing all of them. Rescue efforts were begun immediately but were hampered by the risk of another explosion, and the fire that continued to rage in the mine. Messages, found later by rescue teams near the bodies of the entombed miners, indicated that some of the men had survived for several hours after the blast. It took nearly a week to recover the bodies of James, Bernard, and Lewis Murphy. Bernard Tippen’s body was found the following week.
Sarah Ellen (Steinly) Murphy and her remaining eight children were left to grieve the loss of her husband James and her son Lewis. Elivia (Labin) Murphy not only lost her husband Bernard, she lost her father, Matthew Labin, who died of shock upon hearing of the disaster. Annie (Murphy) Tippen and her husband Frank mourned the loss of their son Bernard. An entire Western Maryland family and community were devastated by this horrendous accident.
Although hundreds of our local miners experienced tragic deaths from roof collapses, tram collisions, and electrocution, few died from massive explosions. No matter the cause, no matter the location, the grief was always paralyzing. Countless wives, mothers, and children managed to persevere, weathering the vicissitudes of life in our coal mining communities.
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”.